One match into the NCAA Div. III Central Regional wrestling championships, Matt Burns was not in very good shape.|
The Augustana College senior had lost that opening match and looked bad doing it, according to Viking coach Eric Juergens. Finishing among the top three and earning at spot at the D3 National Meet in a brutally tough 174-pound bracket did not look like much of a possibility.
"He went out in his first match – he told me later that he didn't think he could win against the No. 2 seed – and just lay down and didn't really fight that hard,'' said Juergens. "That's how I know if he's giving his best effort. Even if he loses, he's fighting, kicking, clawing, scratching. … Myself and Coach (John) Fotos were a little angry at him and let him know it. … After we yelled at him, he gritted his teeth and said `I'm going out there to fight.'''
Burns (34-9) responded to that wake-up call. After an 11-4 opening loss, Burns rallied with two pins and then a 4-0 defeat of previously top-seeded Derek Mizaur, of Dubuque, a junior and former Sherrard High School standout.
"Surprisingly enough, he rattled off three straight wins against kids who had beaten him this year, against kids ranked well ahead of him,'' said Juergens. "When he believes he can win, and he truly gives a good effort, he can be tough to beat.''
Burns is hoping he responds with his best effort this week in his second trip to the NCAA Division III National Championships. Action at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena is on Friday and Saturday.
"There were some good guys that I had to beat to get to Nationals,'' said Burns. "That helps reaffirm where I'm at and how my wrestling is at this point. That is kind of a confidence boost to know that I earned where I got.''
Burns, who was not even a state-qualifier in high school at Naperville Central, now has an opportunity of which he hopes to make the most.
"I qualified last year and wasn't able to all-American,'' said Burns of missing a top-eight national finish. "This year, I've set my goals even higher, looking at a national title and everything. You have to set your goals high to get where you want to be.''
Juergens can't wait to see how Burns responds to the bright lights. Despite being a No. 11 seed in the 16-man bracket, the coach thinks Burns can be a tough out.
"On his best day, if he wrestles his match, I think it is possible,'' said Juergens of Burns being a national champ.
The coach feels that Burns' style – heavy hands to his opponent's head and his legs protected – make it tough as Burns just wears on guys and take away their stamina.
"I'm not the most athletic kid out there, not the fastest, not the strongest,'' admitted Burns. "I try to stay in my positions and wear the guy out to where I bring his ability down and raise mine up.''
Burns is hoping that is the winning recipe.
"This is my last chance to show what I've got and hopefully that means go out there and win a national title,'' said Burns. "If I put everything I've got out there, I can't be disappointed with how I wrestle.''
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