Sunday, January 20, 2008

LeClere's emergence key to UI's rise

No. 1 Hawks to tangle with former-No. 1 Nittany Lions

By Andy Hamilton
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Iowa's Dan LeClere, left, battles Nebraska's Mike Rowe Jan. 13 at the National Duals in Cedar Falls. Des Moines Register / Harry Baumert

Penn State at Iowa
? When, where: 2 p.m. today at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
? Radio: KXIC AM-800.
? Online: Get up-to-the-minute results from the dual at
? Rankings, records: No. 1 Iowa is 12-1; No. 7 Penn State is 8-2.

Dan LeClere spent the first couple weeks of the college wrestling season figuring out how to do everything better before the start of a match. Now the Iowa sophomore is trying to master finishing.

Finishing shots. Finishing matches. Finishing the climb up the 141-pound rankings.

LeClere took a step in all three categories Friday night when he defeated Ohio State's J Jaggers for his first victory this season against a returning All-American.

"I've proved I can wrestle with anybody in the country, I've just got to put the finishing touch on a match," LeClere said. "I've went out and got early leads, and I've got to continue to attack throughout the match and I'll be fine with anybody."

LeClere has won 12 of his last 14 matches and hasn't lost to a wrestler outside of the top three since November. His emergence has helped the Hawkeyes claim titles at the Midlands and National Duals and regain their grip on the No. 1 ranking.

Iowa (12-1) wrestles seventh-ranked Penn State (8-2) at 2 p.m. today at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where LeClere faces another challenge -- either highly touted freshman Garrett Scott or fifth-ranked junior Jake Strayer -- in one of this afternoon's marquee bouts.

The Nittany Lions held the No. 1 ranking for one week. They seized the top spot after Iowa lost to Oklahoma State, but Penn State went 3-2 at last weekend's National Duals and placed sixth.

"There's a lot to gain from a loss or two," said Penn State senior Phil Davis, a three-time All-American who is ranked second at 197. "Obviously, I would script a perfect season for Penn State, but I think we grew a lot (at the National Duals) and we learned some things that can't happen. We can't give up bonus points, we can't give up late-period points. Those things haunt you every time, and we're going to make the necessary changes to wrestle a tough match against Iowa."

Similarly, a couple of early-season losses helped LeClere learn some lessons that led to vital changes.

"We keep giving LeClere little reminders," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "If we don't give him those daily reminders, he tends to stray a little bit. But because we're giving him daily reminders and because it's consistent, he's starting to wrestle tough and he's starting to develop his own confidence in his own style."

Those "basic LeClere position reminders," as Brands calls them, along with a better pre-match routine have helped LeClere crack the top 10.

The four-time Iowa state high school champion from North Linn dropped out of the national rankings in November after going 2-2 on Iowa's season-opening road trip at the St. Edward Duals. LeClere lost matches to Old Dominion's Ryan Williams and North Carolina State's Joe Caramanica, but he said his main problem in those early-season matches stemmed from match preparation issues involving nutrition and weight management.

"I've got a good routine now," LeClere said. "I've got that down to where I have a good idea of what I need to do to prepare for every match. That gives me a better opportunity when I get out there."

LeClere said a few technical adjustments have led to better results, too.

"But I think a lot of it's just mentality and having confidence against anybody," he said. "I know I can go out there and wrestle with anybody."

As good as he's been during the past two months, LeClere has obvious areas where he can still make major gains. His aggressiveness has provided him with abundant scoring opportunities, but Brands would like to see LeClere finish a higher percentage of his shots.

"The conversion rate comes from following through on a shot, getting angles and not letting guys string you out and grab your ankle and get the corner on you," Brands said. "He's come a long way, and it's because of his pace and effort and continuing to wrestle."

LeClere said he still has "a long way to go before I reach where I want to be."

"If I finish a higher percentage of my takedowns, I'm going to score a lot more points," he said. "The way I'm attacking, I'm giving myself a lot of opportunities. If I can just finish on those opportunities, I'm going to have a lot of success, I think."

Iowa vs. Penn State

When: 2 p.m.

Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Radio: KXIC AM-800.

Online: Get up-to-the-minute results at

Rankings, records: No. 1 Iowa is 12-1; No. 7 Penn State is 8-2.

Probable match-ups, InterMat rankings: (Iowa wrestler listed first) 125 pounds -- No. 3 Charlie Falck (18-1) vs. No. 8 Mark McKnight (8-2); 133 -- No. 4 Joey Slaton (16-2) vs. Tim Haas (2-7) or Mike Eagen (5-8); 141 -- No. 10 Dan LeClere (14-4) vs. Garrett Scott (12-2) or No. 5 Jake Strayer (9-3); 149 -- No. 3 Brent Metcalf (17-1) vs. No. 6 Bubba Jenkins (13-1); 157 -- No. 16 Ryan Morningstar (15-4) vs. No. 4 Dan Vallimont (17-0); 165 -- No. 1 Mark Perry Jr. (13-2) or Aaron Janssen (6-2) vs. Dave Rella (8-9); 174 -- No. 3 Jay Borschel (16-2) vs. No. 16 David Erwin (19-5) or Mark Friend (14-4); 184 -- No. 8 Phil Keddy (13-6) vs. No. 15 Phillip Bomberger (12-4); 197 -- Chad Beatty (7-5) or Rick Loera (7-8) vs. No. 2 Phil Davis (10-0); Hwt. -- No. 6 Matt Fields (16-3) vs. No. 15 John Laboranti (18-3) or Stefan Tighe (4-3).

Reach Andy Hamilton at 339-7368 or