Hawkeye wrestlers have an unbelievable opportunity

Nov. 12, 2008

IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands said his 2008-09 team has earned the best effort from every opponent this season. Brands’ mentor — Dan Gable — warns that the Hawkeyes must guard against being duped.

“There are a lot of challenges out there,” said Brands at a media day press conference Wednesday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “Now we have a team that’s earned getting everybody’s best shot. They truly hate our success and we embrace it. The people that are on our side are so passionately for you. It is deep. It is in the bone marrow and we love it.”

Iowa returns five All-Americans and one individual national champion from the 2008 NCAA national championship team. A sixth student-athlete — senior Alex Tsirtsis — returns after earning All-American honors in 2006. He red-shirted last season. On paper, that appears to be more than an impressive nucleus. But Brands said that Gable has already warned the Hawkeyes to be on guard.

“Gable’s theme was do not be duped,” Brands said. “D-U-P-E-D — duped. Beware, because people are conceding to you — maybe it’s genuine, maybe it’s not. On the other hand, we’re going to get people’s best shot.”

Brands mentioned three teams — Minnesota, Ohio State and Iowa State — as programs that enter the season with lofty goals that undoubtedly include trying to pry the throne from the Hawkeyes.

Last season Iowa was 21-1 in dual meets and captured its 32nd Big Ten and 21st NCAA championship. Returning All-Americans are Charlie Falck at 125 pounds (sixth), Joe Slaton at 133 (runner-up), Tsirtsis at 141 (seventh in 2006), Brent Metcalf at 149 (national champion), Jay Borschel at 174 (third) and Phillip Keddy at 184 sixth).

Competition is extremely fierce at the 133 and 141-pound weight classes. Daniel Dennis won the wrestle-off at 133 pounds and will see most of the mat time in the early going. Tsirtsis has an edge over 2008 NCAA qualifier Dan LeClere at 141.

“Competition makes better competitors,” Brands said. “I think it’s a product of our program. Daniel Dennis has out-worked the competition in the room this year. He is making a splash right now.”

Brands noted that the individuals on the 2008-09 team — because of the success last season — have an opportunity to thrust themselves into the limelight and become household names, not only to the wrestling community, but to the entire state.

“There are a lot of challenges out there. Now we have a team that’s earned getting everybody’s best shot. They truly hate our success and we embrace it. The people that are on our side are so passionately for you. It is deep. It is in the bone marrow and we love it.”
UI head coach Tom Brands

“There’s not a better chance to put household names out there when you have this much attention on a program because good things are happening,” Brands said. “Maybe the expectations are higher, but that’s what we embrace. There’s no better opportunity for young guys at 10 weight classes to seize the moment and put themselves in the limelight. I don’t call it pressure, I call it opportunity.”

Brands was asked how this team compared to the Hawkeye teams he was on that compiled a four-year dual record of 77-2-2, including a 41-0-1 mark his final two seasons.

“(The 2008-09) team is academically superior,” Brands said. “No question. We have four academic All-Americans and our program is proud of that and our athletic director is proud of that. More importantly, it’s department-wide. Student-athletes at the University of Iowa are doing great things and our guys are a part of that.”

Last season Iowa had four wrestlers named to the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Academic team — Borschel, Matt Fields, LeClere and Metcalf.

Keeping with the theme of former great Hawkeye teams, Brands was asked if he thought this group was good enough to have a `swagger.’

“I don’t think so,” he said. “We have five weight classes that are solid right now and we have five that have a lot of work to do. When I say solid, I don’t mean automatic. I’ll say five decent weight classes and maybe five weight classes where there are question marks. That might be harsh, but there is no such thing as an automatic.”

Last season Keddy burst onto the scene, going from 14-16 as a freshman to 28-11 as a sophomore and earning All-American honors. Dennis and Ryan Morningstar are two candidates to follow Keddy with an impressive jump in production. Dennis was 15-18 as a freshman and 1-0 last season before breaking his jaw. Morningstar was 26-12 as a freshman and 22-14 as a sophomore. He is making the jump from 157 to 165 in an attempt to fill the shoes of departed four-time All-American Mark Perry. Other candidates are heavyweight Dan Erekson and Chad Beatty at 197.

“Morningstar looks like he’s solid at 165,” Brands said. “Dan Erekson has shown that he’s capable — up and down, hot and cold. He’s going to have to get tough in tough situations. At 197, Beatty is a competitor from the get-go. His daddy and mommy raised him to be competitive and he’s very explosive.”

A season ago Beatty, a 174-pounder thrust into bouts at 197, was 10-12 overall and 8-8 in duals. Erekson has a two-year record of 26-27.

Brands offered a simple solution for wrestlers who want to be in the starting lineup.

“If you do your job and you’re attacking and your’re widening the gap, you’re going to be the guy,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

The Iowa program recently filled its final assistant coaching spot with Terry Brands — a Hawkeye national champion in 1990 and ’92.

“He’s a coach who coaches coaches,” Tom Brands said of his twin brother. “We need a boost and that’s what he brings to the program. So when I’m absent, I’m a lot less restless, irritable and discontent when I’m on the road.”

Iowa opens the season Friday, Nov. 21, with the Iowa City Duals. The Hawkeyes will wrestle Coe at 9 a.m., Iowa Central at 10:30 a.m. and Minnesota-Mankato at noon in the Field House. The main event is a 3:30 p.m. dual in Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Arizona State.