Slaton recalls the pain
Iowa wrestler still upset about loss in national title match.
By MATT LEVINS
Joey Slaton sat on the back of the stage at the Hawk Club celebration at the Renaissance Grand Hotel in St. Louis, unable to face the faithful Iowa wrestling fans.
Just a few hours earlier, Slaton was wrestling for the 133-pound championship in the NCAA Wrestling Championships at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
Slaton was on the precipice of realizing a lifelong dream. But that dream was shattered in 49 heartbreaking seconds. Slaton was pinned by Coleman Scott of Oklahoma State, dashing Slaton's hopes of winning a national championship in his sophomore season at the University of Iowa.
But Slaton now realizes it is just another bridge he must cross, just another mountain he must scale to get to where he wants to be.
"I was pretty down right after that," Slaton said Sunday evening at Clark Fieldhouse, where he was the featured clinician for the Burlington Wrestling Camp. "One of my goals and dreams since I was a young kid was to be a national champion. I just have to take it day by day. There is always next season. I have to work even harder in the offseason and next season to get that shot at a national title."
It was just another trial that Slaton has had to overcome in his career.
Slaton was a two-time state champion for Cedar Rapids Kennedy, earning AISIC's Al-American honors his senior year.
Then came a series of events which led Slaton first to Virginia Tech, then back to Iowa.
When Virginia Tech hired Tom Brands as its head wrestling coach, Slaton followed him. Then, less than two years later, Brands landed the coaching job at Iowa. Slaton, along with fellow Iowa natives Jay Borschel and Dan LeClere, were right behind.
The move cost the trio a year of eligibility, but they would have it no other way. Wherever Brands went, that is where they were going.
"I love the guy," Slaton said of Brands. "He is upfront, a real straight shooter. He really knows what he's doing. I love to wrestle under him. I talk to him pretty much every day. We have a great relationship. He knows when to push my buttons. He's going to help me get to where I need to be."
Slaton started last season season by winning his first 17 matches. Then came consecutive losses to Scott and Mike Grey of Cornell. Slaton lost to Jimmy Kennedy of Illinois in the Hawkeyes' final dual meet of the season, then suffered a 10-8 setback to top-ranked Franklin Gomez of Michigan State in the Big Ten Championships. Slaton eventually placed third.
He won his first four matches at the NCAA Championships, including one in a tiebreaker and another in sudden victory.
While he lost to Scott in the national title match, Slaton played a major role in helping Iowa win its first NCAA team championship since 2000.
While the team title helped ease some of Slaton's personal pain, what made the season that much more special was sharing it with Borshcel, LeClere and Ryan Morningstar. Those four spent countless hours together, practicing wrestling and piling into one another's family vans to travel to compete in freestyle tournaments across the Midwest.
Slaton and Morningstar are roommates at Iowa. Whenever one needs to talk, the other is always there to listen.
"Ryan is one of my best friends. It's nice to have someone you know to go through the same things together," Slaton said. "It was a wonderful feeling (winning the national championship). It was nice to go through it with my friends."
Slaton said he has spent part of the summer relaxing. He spends a lot of time FISHING.
But wrestling is never far from his mind. He said he, along with many of his Iowa teammates, lifts weights twice a week. They also work out together on almost a daily basis. And having assistant coaches Doug Schwab and Mike Zadick in the room preparing for this week's Olympic Trials has only made all of them that much better.
"It helps out a lot. It brings up our level of competition in the room," Slaton said. "I have learned so much from those guys already."
Slaton said he loves giving back to the sport, which is one reason he was working the Burlington Wrestling Camp Sunday. He said he remembers when he was a kid, going to Mark Ironside's camp every single year. He wants to give back to the sport, help build a foundation for the future.
"I like to work with kids. It's a good way to give back to the sport," Slaton said. "I remember what Ironside and those guys did for me when I went through it. I think I went to their camp like 10 years straight. You have to give back to the kids. It's fun to teach the kids some of the skills you have."