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Never-say-die Schwab thrives in underdog role at U.S. World Team Trials

It was going to take something big for Doug Schwab to break his plans for Sept. 15.

That was when Schwab and his brother, Mike, both die-hard Boston Red Sox fans, planned to travel to Boston's Fenway Park to take in a pair of weekend baseball games between the Red Sox and New York Yankees.

But something big happened just over a week ago when Schwab hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.

Just like the Red Sox did in 2004 - when they rallied from a three games to none deficit to beat the Yankees en route to winning the World Series - Schwab delivered an improbable, unthinkable, come-from-behind performance to win the U.S. World Team Trials.

Schwab rallied from behind against his final three opponents, including taking down U.S. Nationals freestyle champion Chris Bono with 15 seconds left in the third and deciding match, to punch his ticket to September's World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan. Schwab landed a spot on his first U.S. World Team.

The 29-year-old Schwab capped an amazing one-day, seven match performance at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. as the No. 6 seed in the Challenge Tournament after placing seventh at April's U.S. Nationals.

"It always fires you up to have people doubt you," said Schwab, who competes for the Gator Wrestling Club. "I love proving people wrong. Not too many people were penciling me in to be on the World Team this year. Maybe that was an advantage because guys didn't prepare for me and didn't think about me. I looked at this as a great opportunity and I made the most of it.

"It feels damn good to show people up. It was extra motivation being an underdog and I fed off that. My name wasn't being mentioned and with good reason. I hadn't done much this year, but I knew I had it in me to win it."

Schwab started his magical run on June 10 at the World Team Trials with a win over two-time NCAA champion Teyon Ware. He followed by knocking off No. 3 seed Jared Lawrence, No. 2 seed Zack Esposito and No. 1 seed Jared Frayer to win the Challenge Tournament.

Schwab then outlasted Bono, who had sat out all day after clinching a spot in the finals, in the best-of-3 finals series on Sunday night. Bono beat Schwab 2-1, 3-0 in the first match before Schwab won 2-1, 2-1 in the second match and 0-1, 1-0, 1-1 in the third bout.

That's six wins over five wrestlers who had won a combined five NCAA titles, made a combined 14 U.S. National Teams and made three U.S. World Teams.

Not bad for a guy who had never placed higher than fifth at the World or Olympic Team Trials.

Schwab, a past NCAA champion for Iowa, had beaten three-time World Team member Bono and other wrestlers of that caliber before. But he had never swept through a top-caliber, star-studded group like that all in one day.

He won a weight class that also included 2006 World champion Bill Zadick and past Olympic gold medalist Kendall Cross. The top-seeded Frayer beat Zadick in the semifinals of the Challenge Tournament and looked poised to do the same thing against Schwab in the finals.

Frayer caught Schwab and launched him to his back with a lateral drop en route to winning the first period 7-2. But Schwab quickly regrouped to win the final two periods 3-0, 1-0. He did the same thing in the quarterfinals against Esposito, dropping the first period 5-0 before regrouping to win 1-1, 1-0.

In the best-of-3 final match series against the rested Bono, who sat out all day as the U.S. Nationals champion and multiple World Team member, Schwab dropped the first match in consecutive periods.

Many wrestling observers thought Schwab's run was about to end. But Schwab had other ideas. Schwab came back to sweep the second match. The decisive third match went to a decisive third period and Bono fired in on a textbook single-leg shot, finishing for a takedown to lead 1-0.

But the persistent Schwab came right back by shooting in on a high-crotch maneuver late in the two-minute period and he was not going to be denied. He dumped Bono to the mat for the winning takedown with 15 seconds left to tie it 1-1. He then fought off Bono's late scoring attempts and won the period by virtue of scoring last, qualifying for his first World Championships.

"I had beaten Bono twice before that, but he had beaten me in the semifinals of the U.S. Open three years in a row and he beat me at the World Team Trials a couple of times," Schwab said. "He was always beating me in the big tournaments. I was finally able to beat him when it really counted."

Wrestling seven matches in one day against a loaded field at 66 kilos was something Schwab had envisioned doing.

"I knew before the tournament it was going to be a tough road," he said. "My biggest focus was being consistent every match, every period. For some reason, I was more relaxed and confident than I've ever been. I knew I was going to win no matter what happened in any period or any situation. I stayed real calm. Even though Bono was ahead, I felt like I was going to come back and beat him."

Schwab displayed an impressive ability to bounce back after losing periods at the Trials.

"This was my best tournament ever as far as staying focused," he said. "I knew I needed to have a short memory if I lost a period. I just had to forget about it, come back and make adjustments."

Part of Schwab's confidence stemmed from the fact that he entered the tournament in peak physical condition. In addition to training in Iowa City, he spent a week working out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs a couple of weeks before the World Team Trials.

"I was in shape - I didn't feel like there was a fatigue factor at all," he said. "I think it was an advantage for me to wrestle four matches and get on a roll before I wrestled Bono. You train your body to wrestle all those matches."

Schwab grew up in Osage, Iowa, a small, wrestling-mad, north central Iowa town of 3,460 residents that has produced its share of standout wrestlers.

His older brothers, Mark and Mike, were high school standouts for the Osage Green Devils in the 1980s. Mark still is considered one of the best wrestlers in state history after capturing four state titles from 1982-85. Mark and Mike were both All-Americans at Northern Iowa. Mark also excelled internationally, being ranked as high as No. 1 in the U.S. at 114.5 pounds in freestyle.

Mark Schwab captured a bronze medal at the 1987 World Cup and placed third at the prestigious Tiblisi Tournament in Russia.

But Mark Schwab, now the head coach at Buena Vista (Iowa) University, suffered a serious staph infection in his knee in 1988 that required nine surgeries. He was never the same on the mat after that.

As tough a time as it was for Mark physically, it was a time that brought he and Doug closer.

"I moved back home for a while and that's when we really got to know each other," Mark said. "I'm 10 years older than him and really didn't know him that well because of the age gap and because I had been gone at college. I knew his name was Doug and he looked kind of like me and he was my brother, but that was about it. After I moved back home, we talked a lot and became really close. He saw me go through a really tough time. We're still very close. We talk almost every day."

Mark was one of the first to congratulate his younger brother in Las Vegas after Doug captured his title at the World Team Trials.

"My brothers - Mark and Mike - they set the example for me from Day 1," Doug said. "Their support has been great. They've always believed in me. I saw Mark right after I won and he was real fired up and real proud after I won. Had he stayed healthy, I know he could've done what I'm doing right now. I don't have any doubt he could've won a World title."

Mark said he plans to travel to Azerbaijan this fall to watch his brother compete at the World Championships.

"It still fires me up, just thinking about what Doug did at the Trials," Mark said. "I thought about it again this morning and I clapped my hands a couple times because I'm so excited for him. That's as happy as I've ever been for a person."

Mark Schwab said he had a feeling his brother may do something special at the World Team Trials.

"I talked to Doug about a week before the Trials and he told me he hadn't felt like this in years and had a great training phase," Mark said. "He said, 'I'm going to win the tournament.' He's always pretty optimistic going into tournaments, but he never makes statements like that."

Mark said he expects his brother to be in contention at the World Championships.

"Doug's got a lot of momentum right now," Mark said. "I don't think I've ever seen him wrestle smarter or more composed or more determined. He's never been the guy at that weight and now he's the focus where the coaches will be getting him prepared for the World Championships. I really believe he can win a medal and I think he will."

Shortly after his win over Bono, Schwab said word he had made the World Team had already spread through his hometown of Osage.

"(Osage native and former Iowa wrestler) Trent Goodale came up and told me right after the match that the whole town knew already," Schwab said with a laugh. "Osage is such a great community. They are very proud of their wrestling and everybody there supports me. I'm sure they're all fired up that I'm on the World Team."

Doug Schwab, an assistant coach at Iowa, has no shortage of training partners in the wrestling room at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. He works out with 2006 World silver medalist Mike Zadick and 2007 NCAA champion Mark Perry of Iowa. He's coached by Iowa head coach Tom Brands, a past Olympic and World champion.

"Mike Zadick is a great workout partner - he fights for every position and doesn't concede anything," Schwab said. "Mark Perry gives me a different feel and is a guy who is difficult to score on. I also had great workout partners with Brent Metcalf and Joe Johnston. It's a great environment to train in."

The influence of Tom Brands, who Schwab followed to Virginia Tech and then back to Iowa as an assistant coach, also has paid dividends for Schwab.

"Tom has helped me in every aspect of wrestling," Schwab said. "We've known all along the potential was there and I've beaten a lot of those top guys. I just needed to focus and wrestle consistently for an entire tournament. Tom said he saw a difference in my training this time and he thought I was training with more of a purpose this time. There were no magic words Tom said. He just gave me a game plan to follow and I was more prepared than I have been."

Brands said he could sense in the practice room that Schwab was ready for this kind of breakthrough performance.

"Schwab knew he was capable of beating all those guys - it was just a matter of doing it all in one day and being consistent," Brands said. "He's always been very disciplined and worked very hard, but this was as motivated as I've seen him in a long time and that was real noticeable in his training. He was real, real focused. He was relaxed and he really prepared himself well for this tournament."

Brands raves about the job Schwab has done as a college coach. Schwab worked closely with Perry during his march to the NCAA title this past season at 165 pounds.

"The kid just loves to coach - he absolutely loves working with these kids," Brands said of Schwab. "He's so unselfish in the way he's always helping all the guys in our room. He's figured out how to balance wrestling and coaching. Schwab sets the example for our kids by how hard he works."

From 2002 to 2006, Schwab had beaten a number of top Americans but rarely in succession in big events. He placed fifth, sixth, fifth, fifth and sixth at the World or Olympic Trials the previous five years.

Schwab has been hampered by what he called "little nagging injuries" this season and his only competitions since the 2006 World Team Trials were the 2007 U.S. Nationals and 2007 World Team Trials.

Schwab was not even seeded in the top eight at April's U.S. Nationals, meaning he had to wrestle in the first-day qualifying tournament just to make it to the second and final day of the event.

He lost to Ware in the qualifying tournament before coming back to finish in the top eight and land a spot in the second day of the event. On Day 2 of the U.S. Nationals, Schwab lost to Frayer in the quarterfinals, defeated Ware in a wrestleback and then lost to past World silver medalist Cary Kolat en route to placing seventh.

"Not being seeded in the top eight at the U.S. Open really bothered him," Mark Schwab said. "He was upset about it and I think it was maybe a wake-up call for him. He's always competed well as an underdog. I think he felt a little disrespected and I know that motivated him."

Schwab has very little international experience, but did win the Pan American Championships last year. He will compete with the rest of the U.S. World Team at the Pan American Games late next month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"Not competing much internationally could be good and bad for Schwab," said Kevin Jackson, USA Wrestling's National Freestyle Coach. "Good because foreigners have not seen him, bad because of the lack of international experience and matches.

"We expect Doug to perform well. Winning our 66 kilogram weight class shows he's capable of winning any tournament. After all, the current World champion (Bill Zadick) was in his weight at the Trials. I'm sure he is confident he can win, especially since Bill won for us last year at this weight class."

With plenty of time to prepare for the Worlds, Schwab said he will be ready to turn in a strong performance. And ready to silence the detractors who said he would never even make a U.S. World Team.

"I have three months of solid training to get ready for the World Championships," he said. "In three months, I'm going to be a whole different wrestler than I am right now. I haven't even scratched the surface of what I can do. I want to prove the whole World wrong. People were doubting Mike Zadick last year and he won a World silver medal. I know guys can come in there the first time and win a medal - that's what Zadick did last year and so did (Donny) Pritzlaff. Being my first time at the World Championships may be an advantage for me where other guys don't know me."

Brands said having a significant amount of time to train for the Worlds can make a difference for a guy like Schwab.

"I know Schwab is very, very up for this challenge, and it will be a challenge," Brands said. "The big key is what he can do in the next three months. He can make a lot of gains in the next three months and really sharpen himself. He's proved himself on the national stage, now it's time to do it on the World stage."

Schwab plans to take full advantage of being on the World Team.

"I've been waiting for this opportunity for a long time - the opportunity to finally have a chance to realize one of my dreams and win a World title," he said. "I was excited after I won the Trials, but I have to turn my focus to beating the World now."
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