Brands, Hawkeyes ready for Big Ten Tournament

March 4, 2008

University of Iowa Tournament Notes

IOWA CITY, Iowa — By Tom Brand’s demeanor Tuesday, the Big Ten Conference wrestling championship couldn’t come soon enough.

Brands swayed, rocked and fidgeted during a 20-minute press conference inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. If focus and anxiousness had a face, Brands would be the obvious poster child. The No. 1-ranked Hawkeyes have two top seeds and six others seeded in the top four for the league tournament March 8-9 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

“I’ve been saying all year that we have a group of guys who love to compete and this is the best time of year to love to compete,” Brands said. “We have a good group of guys.”

Iowa’s top seeds are sophomore Brent Metcalf at 149 pounds and senior Mark Perry at 165. Junior Charlie Falck (125), sophomore Joe Slaton (133) and sophomore Jay Borschel (174) are all two-seeds. Sophomore Phillip Keddy is third at 184, senior Matt Fields (285) and sophomore Dan LeClere (141) are seeded fourth. Sophomore Ryan Morningstar is seventh at 157 and sophomore Chad Beatty is tied for seventh at 197.

“It’s important to have 10 weight classes representing themselves to the best of their ability and beyond that,” Brands said. “That means wrestling above your seeds and if you’re the No. 1 seed, doing it in dominating fashion. When you have 10 weight classes doing that, the team title takes care of itself.”

Minnesota has won six of the last nine Big Ten championships, including the last two. Iowa’s last win came in 2004, but the Hawkeyes have won the last two times the tournament has been held in Minneapolis (1986, ’97). Brands enjoys competing in hostile environments like the one the Hawkeyes will face this weekend.

“Williams Arena is a great place to wrestle,” Brands said. “They have good fans there. We’ll have a good following there. Enemy arenas have always been attractive in my way of thinking when you’re invading someone.”

Perry (18-2) received the top seed at 165 even though he has not competed since a 4-1 victory against Michigan’s Eric Tannenbaum on Jan. 13. Perry is recovering from knee surgery and Brands says he is “100 percent.”

“The fur’s been flying in our room with Mark Perry,” Brands said. “He’s been wrestling hard. He’s been preparing his whole life for this, so down time doesn’t concern me when you have a mindset like that and when you have an attitude like that.”

Perry is the defending conference and national champion at 165. Other Big Ten placewinners for the Hawkeyes last season were Falck (second), Fields (fourth), Morningstar (fifth) and Keddy (seventh). There are five Iowa wrestlers who will be competing in their first league tournament. One of those rookies is Metcalf (30-1), who has won 23 consecutive matches and is 9-0 against other Big Ten competitors at 149.

Brands was asked what he thought of the 149-pound weight class, which features one of the marquee brackets in the tournament.

“Balanced and tough,” Brands said. “A lot of guys hoping and one guy that knows he can continue his rampage. I like our guy. I like him because of how his approach is and how his impact on his team is.”

Because of so many high seeds, there isn’t a lot of opportunity for many of the Iowa wrestlers to have a break-through weekend. One is Morningstar, who is in a loaded 157 class. During his career, Morningstar is 5-12 against the rest of the field, 2-6 in dual conference dual action this season.

“It’s a new season for me,” Morningstar said. “I have some overdue wins that need to come out and now’s the time. Brands knows how to get us ready and we believe in what he’s doing and what he’s teaching. He’ll have us ready no matter what, so that’s a good feeling to have.”

The first session begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 8.

“When they get ready to wrestle, it’s a great group to watch and they are confident,” Brands said. “All I know is that our guys, when they get ready to go, they’re pretty doggone tough and they’re fun to watch because they attack. They do it the right way.”

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