Hawkeyes Tsirtsis, Dennis return to the mat

Nov. 19, 2008

IOWA CITY, Iowa — As the University of Iowa wrestling team prepares to open its defense of the 2008 national championship, two Hawkeyes — senior Alex Tsirtsis at 141 pounds and junior Daniel Dennis at 133 — are no longer on the outside looking in.

A year ago Tsirtsis used his redshirt season while Dan LeClere compiled a 22-11 record, placed fifth in the Big Ten Championships and qualified for the national tournament. Meanwhile, Dennis scored a 6-3 decision over Cory Fish of Boise State for his only varsity dual action. With Dennis sidelined with a broken jaw the majority of the season, Joe Slaton was busy winning 31 of 36 matches and placing third in the Big Ten and second in the NCAA tournaments.

Both Tsirtsis and Dennis are on top of the depth chart as Iowa kicks off the season Friday, Nov. 21, with duals against Iowa Central, Coe, Minnesota State-Mankato and Arizona State.

To listen to all four duals, click HERE. To watch the Arizona State-Iowa dual at 3:30 p.m., click HERE.

“Sitting out makes you more determined and focused,” Dennis said. “There was learning time last year, too. It was just another year under Brands, Schwab and Zadick and it helped me come into my own.”

For Tsirtsis, life as a spectator at the national tournament in St. Louis proved to be an invaluable experience.

“To watch nationals from the outside was really good for me,” Tsirtsis said. “I really became hungry and motivated to get ready for my final year.”

Tsirtsis had off-season shoulder surgery and says he is fine and getting stronger and stronger with every practice.

“Everything in my shoulder is feeling better,” he said. “Now I’m working on just getting flexibility back.”

The off-season for Dennis was rewarding after winning the 60-kilogram title at University Nationals.

“Competition makes better competitors,” UI head coach Tom 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.”

“I realize that I don’t have much time. I have two years left and two years of competition went down the drain for me and there’s no way I can get them back. Your career comes and goes real quick.”
UI junior Daniel Dennis

A model of consistency, Tsirtsis (Griffith, Ind./Griffith) compiled a 236-0 record in high school and has won at least 22 matches in each of his three seasons at Iowa. He was 22-12 as a freshman (fifth in the Big Ten), 22-10 as a sophomore (third in the Big Ten, seventh in the NCAA) and 25-10 as a junior (third in the Big Ten). Last season, while wrestling unattached, Tsirtsis went 6-1 and placed third at the Midland Championships.

A model of improvement, Dennis (Ingleside, Ill./Grant) was 15-18 as a freshman, but just 1-7 in conference duals. He redshirted during his second season at Iowa and went 13-2 wrestling unattached.

“I realize that I don’t have much time,” Dennis said. “I have two years left and two years of competition went down the drain for me and there’s no way I can get them back. Your career comes and goes real quick.”

Being part of a 133-pounder-by-committee arrangement with Slaton and freshman Montell Marion isn’t appealing to Dennis, either.

“That’s not my goal and I know that’s not Slaton’s goal,” he said. “I want it. It’s my spot if you ask me. It’s his spot if you ask him. That’s the way it should be. I’m not looking for a gracious hand-over.”

Tsirtsis is coming to grips with the reality that this is his final season on collegiate competition.

“I want to win nationals as an individual and as a team,” he said. “Right now I’m trying to be the best I can by going out there and doing my absolute best. I’m worrying about improving day to day and continue to get better and keep at it. Whatever comes out of it comes out of it.”

Last season Iowa finished 21-1 in dual meets and captured its 32nd Big Ten Championship and its 21st NCAA crown. It was the first conference title for the Hawkeyes since 2004 and the first NCAA championship since 2000.

Iowa’s first three duals on Friday — Iowa Central at 9 a.m., Coe College at 10:30 a.m. and Minnesota State-Mankato at noon — will be held in the Field House. The Hawkeyes and Arizona State will compete at 3:30 p.m. from Carver-Hawkeye Arena.