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The Iowa 125-pounder finished third at the NCAA Championships. Chad Leistikow / The Register

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ST. LOUIS — Though it wasn’t the win or the stage he wanted, Thomas Gilman capped his college career with back-to-back wins Saturday on the center mat at the Scottrade Center.

And after Gilman beat Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni, 13-6, to secure a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships, Hawkeye fans in attendance justifiably gave the program's most dynamic wrestler a standing ovation.

“The mission was to be a national champ,” said Gilman, who first dispatched Virginia Tech's second-seeded Joey Dance, 5-2, in a 125-pound consolation semifinal. “But you know what, sometimes you get blown off course. You get dropped off somewhere else. You’ve got to fight your way back. I never aborted the mission; the mission just kind of changed a little.”

What altered his course was a stunning 4-2 loss in a sudden-victory session to Lehigh’s Darian Cruz.

Gilman sprinted off the mat after his defeat and didn’t do interviews. But Saturday, the outspoken three-time all-American explained a little bit about what he was feeling after having his NCAA championship dream dashed.

A takedown artist that has collected major decisions and technical falls all season, Gilman perplexingly didn’t secure a single takedown against Cruz, unable to get to his offense.

“He was strong,” Gilman said. “Stronger than he looks, for sure. He was tying me up and really squeezing hard."

In a 0-0 bout after riding Cruz the entire second period, Gilman chose a neutral position to start the third, which coach Tom Brands later said was a coach’s decision. At 2-2, after a late Cruz takedown and Gilman escape, the bout went to extra time.

Gilman took issue with strategy even being a question.

“Me and the corner, it’s one and the same. Don’t ask Coach Brands that kind of question,” Gilman said. “His decision is my decision. My decision is his decision.”

Gilman finished with a 32-1 record this season — falling short of becoming Iowa’s first undefeated national champion since Jay Borschel in 2010.

He ends his career with a 107-12 record, including a fourth, a second and a third in his three NCAA appearances.

After this, he hopes to get Brands’ blessing to pursue a freestyle career in the Hawkeye Wrestling Club.

Someone asked Gilman if he viewed his career as a success.

The Council Bluffs native and one of the program's most electric personalities in years said he did.

“A little asterisk by it. Bronze medal. Whoop-dee-doo,” Gilman said. “The bigger deal for me is losing, re-focusing and coming back. That not only shows the kind of wrestler I am, the person I am, the man I’ve become. I was in the same position two years ago in St. Louis (and got fourth place).

“More proud of my maturity than my wrestling today.”

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