Ruled by Giants
While Oklahoma State won a record 31st NCAA team title, Iowa
heavyweight Steve Mocco stole the show
It's high praise indeed that within the tightly wound culture of
amateur wrestling, Iowa heavyweight Steve Mocco is renowned for
his intensity. Witness his deportment at the NCAA Division I
championships in Kansas City last week, as the 6-foot, 275-pound
sophomore from North Bergen, N.J., steamrollered his way to the
finals for the second straight year: He spoke to no one, glowered
at everyone and punctuated each of his early wins by bolting from
the mat to run solitary sprints in a Kemper Arena hallway. So
exaggerated was his bluster that the stands buzzed with
speculation about a future for him in professional wrestling (a
possibility he doesn't dismiss).
To be sure, Mocco's attitude wasn't an act for the benefit of the
95,808 fans who turned out over the course of the three-day event
and saw Oklahoma State edge two-time defending champ Minnesota
for the team title. Mocco had worn the same scowl all season,
going 35--0 for the Hawkeyes and earning a reputation as the most
dominant collegiate wrestler in the land. After Mocco defeated
Air Force senior Kevin Hoy 8-3 to win his first national title
last Saturday, he loosened up enough to smile and then said, "I
thought I would feel a sense of relief, but I don't. I still want
to get to that next level."
Mocco is quicker and more agile than most wrestlers his
size--"like a gymnast," says Iowa strength-and-conditioning coach
Royce Alger--a huge asset in the lumbering heavyweight division.
As a freshman he went 37-3 and made the national finals, mostly
on raw talent. This season he worked to improve his offensive
technique. "He was just trying to bash people into the ground
last year," says Alger. "He wasn't moving around to create any
angles to score with leg attacks."
While Mocco has two years of eligibility remaining, his immediate
plans are unclear. He hinted last week that he might redshirt
next season in order to prepare for the 2004 Olympics, one of his
goals and the logical "next level" for a wrestler of his ability.
"He's the most durable wrestler that I've ever seen," says Iowa
assistant coach Tom Brands, a gold medalist at the 1996 Olympics
and one of Mocco's closest friends. "What he can do in this sport
COLOR PHOTO: DICK WHIPPLE/AP Oklahoma State's 133-pound Johnny Thompson (in orange) beat Minnesota's Ryan Lewis to join Mocco (above) as a national champ.
COLOR PHOTO: REED HOFFMANN/NCAA PHOTOS [See caption above]
The Sooner State dominated last weekend's NCAA championships,
with Oklahoma State finishing first and Oklahoma third. Together
those two schools won 32 of the first 38 NCAA team titles, but
before the weekend neither had won a championship since the
Cowboys did so in 1994. Conversely, the traditional powers from
Iowa turned in their most dismal performances in years. The
Hawkeyes' eighth-place finish was their lowest since 1972, and
Iowa State's 19th-place showing was the Cyclones' worst since the
Kennedy Administration. Herewith, a two-state score sheet.
Team Titles First Most Recent
Oklahoma State 31 1928 2003
Iowa 20 1975 2000
Iowa State 8 1933 1987
Oklahoma 7 1936 1974
Northern Iowa 1 1950 1950