If you want mixed emotions, you should have been in Ryan Morningstar's shoes at the NCAA Wrestling Championships last March in St. Louis.
Morningstar, a two-time All-American for the University of Iowa, was completing his first season as assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin. His prized Badger pupil -- Ben Jordan -- had just upset and eliminated Hawkeye Mike Evans, 3-2, at 165 pounds. That was great for Jordan, who shocked the NCAA field and finished seventh, but not-so-great for Iowa, which lost a seeded point-getter.
"That was tough for me," Morningstar said. "Iowa was still in the hunt for the team title, and (Wisconsin) took out one of their guys. If I wasn't going to win (the team title) at Wisconsin, I wanted Iowa to win, so it was tough. It feels good that I helped (Jordan) reach All-America status; I'm a competitor, too, so I want to win no matter who is in front of me."
There shouldn't be any more mixed emotions for Morningstar, who returned to the UI on June 27 as an assistant coach on Tom Brands' staff. How eager is Morningstar to return the Hawkeyes to being the No. 1 team in the country? He hit the recruiting trail his first day on the job.
"I didn't know what to expect, but it was exciting that there was a chance to come home, even though it seemed like an outside chance," Morningstar said. "It worked out and it feels good to be home."
Ryan Morningstar won his last match as a Hawkeye at the 2010 NCAA Championships.
(Photo: Darren Miller)
Technically, home for Morningstar is Lisbon, Iowa, where he won three high school individual state championships from 2003-05. After redshirting at the UI during the 2005-06 season, Morningstar went on to compile a career record of 110-40, placing second in the Big Ten Conference and third in the NCAA championship at 165 pounds as a junior in 2009. He injured his right knee in the consolation finals match at conference as a senior (where he defaulted to fourth), but somehow managed to go 4-2 at nationals two weeks later to finish seventh to repeat as All-American. Morningstar received the Mike McGivern Award as the Hawkeye's most courageous wrestler.
"It was tough to finish like that, especially after getting third the year before," Morningstar said. "I was hungry to win the thing. I feel like if I was completely healthy, there is no doubt in my mind I would have won that (NCAA) tournament. That's hard for me to swallow, but the way I was treated at the University of Iowa by the staff, the administration, the training staff, the people in the community, and Hawkeye fans was second to none."
From 2010-11, Morningstar was a member of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club and he qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials at 163 pounds (74 kg). Last season was his first as a member of former Hawkeye Barry Davis' coaching staff at Wisconsin. Morningstar was instrumental in helping the Badgers secure a top 10 recruiting class for 2012-13.
"I was happy at Wisconsin," Morningstar said. "I had a great role, and I fit in well with those guys, and things were moving in the right direction. We had a great recruiting class with some guys I helped bring along and sell on Wisconsin, so it was tough for me to leave. There could have been numerous programs that would have come after me and it wouldn't have pulled me out of there. But this one is different."
Different indeed: the UI program has won 23 NCAA team titles, including three in a row with Morningstar in the lineup from 2008-10. During his final two seasons, Morningstar was 62-14 overall, 9-3 at the NCAA Championships.
Now the goal is to return the Hawkeyes to the top of the podium, something that hasn't happened since Morningstar and senior teammates Chad Beatty, Jay Borschel, Daniel Dennis, Dan Erekson, Phillip Keddy, and Brent Metcalf walked off the mat in Omaha, Neb.
"We have our work cut out for us," Morningstar said of the 2012-13 Hawkeyes. "We have the guys that can do it, and we believe in our guys. When I was in college, we had our work cut out for us also. There is no doubt in my mind, we like our guys. We like our guys a lot."