Saturday, June 9, 2007

Former Iowa champ out to prove himself again

Schwab heads to World Team Trials with renewed focus

By Andy Hamilton
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Doug Schwab, right, locks up with Jared Lawrence at the 2004 Olympic trials in Indianapolis. Gannett News Service file photo

Leaning against a stationary bike off to the side of a workout nearing its end inside Iowa's wrestling room last week, Doug Schwab reflected on a year in which he's been on the periphery of his weight class.

He hasn't been ranked in the top five nationally at his weight for a little more than a year now. He's coming off a seventh-place finish in April at the freestyle U.S. Nationals. And he's been reduced to little more than a footnote at the bottom of a couple of preview stories about this weekend's World Team Trials.

But Schwab, a former NCAA champion at Iowa and current volunteer assistant coach for the Hawkeyes, couldn't be more thrilled about his recent training, his off-the-radar status and his chances of finally hitting the jackpot at 145.5 pounds this weekend in Las Vegas.

"I definitely need a breakthrough," Schwab said. "This is a great opportunity for me to prove everybody wrong because I don't think too many people are thinking about me at 145 pounds.

"You've got the reigning World champ (Bill Zadick), you've got a guy who's been a multiple-time World Team member (Chris Bono), you've got some other young guys who everybody talks about, and I think people are forgetting about me. But I've got the opportunity to go out there and take advantage of that and make sure people take notice. I have it within my hands, I have the power to do it, and it's just going out there to win every period, win every position, and that's my main focus."

Schwab is among at least eight wrestlers with Iowa connections who are expected to compete today and Sunday for spots on the U.S. freestyle team at the Sept. 17-23 World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The Zadick brothers, Bill and Mike, are looking for a repeat of their 2006 World Team Trials performance when the former Hawkeyes earned spots on the U.S. team. Bill eventually went on to win the 145.5-pound World title in China and Mike took the silver at 132. The Zadicks, Iowa sophomore-to-be Brent Metcalf, Schwab and several others with Iowa ties will have to get through the challenge tournament to gain a spot in the best-of-three championship series.

There have been times when Schwab, 29, has been close to breaking the grip Zadick and Bono have held on the U.S. 145.5-pound spot since Jamill Kelly's exit from the weight after claiming the silver medal at the 2004 Olympics.

Schwab has beaten Zadick and Bono twice each but never to win a significant freestyle tournament and never on a consistent basis.

"You get your hand raised or you don't get your hand raised," Schwab said. "That's what we talk about every day in (the Iowa wrestling room). What (Iowa coach) Tom (Brands) talks about is you win or you lose and you've got to do everything within your power to make sure you get your hand raised.

"I've beaten every guy at my weight, but I've got to beat them all in one day. That's what I've talked about in putting matches together with consistency and staying where I'm good. I've got to do it every period, every match and win every period. And that's really what's been the focus of my training -- to win every period, win every position. And if I don't win a position, then I get right back to where I'm good and then win the next position and get the lead back."

Brands and others have noticed a difference in Schwab's training during the past two months. Throughout Iowa's season, helping the Hawkeyes was a focal point for Schwab, and his workouts might not have been as productive as they have in recent weeks.

"In the last two months, he's taken a pretty good step to realizing how important this is to him," Brands said. "He trained with more of a purpose this time around. I feel like he's as ready as he's ever been."

Schwab said he can't recall how long it's been since he's felt this good about a two-month training stretch. He said he spent a lot of that time polishing areas that have cost him matches in the past and "working on my lesser strengths and making every position a strength."

Schwab has frequently worked out against Iowa 165-pound NCAA champion Mark Perry Jr., whose countering and scrambling skills force an opponent to stay sound technically on leg attacks.

"I would definitely say in the last seven, eight weeks, he's made huge leaps, and I notice it when I wrestle him," Perry said. "He's getting better technically, and the positions where I've been successful with him, he's starting to learn how to finish those shots, and I think that'll be huge for him at that weight class. He can get to pretty much anybody's leg, and a lot of guys at his weight (are) difficult to score on because they have good funk or have funky knees or they're just good at freestyle."

Meanwhile, Schwab enters this weekend seemingly as just another NCAA champion in a weight filled with them. Eight wrestlers at the weight once stood on the top step of the medal stand at the NCAA Tournament, including three who have represented the U.S. in World or Olympic championships. Schwab figures many of the sport's followers probably expect Zadick or Bono to emerge as the champion of the weight class, and he doubts too many people are picking him to come away victorious.

"It fires me up," he said. "What more fuel do you need than to prove people wrong? To prove it myself. To prove it to the coaches in here who see me do it. They see me do it in practice, but it's time to do it in competition. I feel relaxed and I feel prepared, and that's the best way to feel."

Reach Andy Hamilton at 339-7368 or