Forget balance, Hawkeyes want to be lopsided

March 10, 2009

Brands Press Conference (March 10)

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Balance was a key as the University of Iowa won its 33rd Big Ten Conference wrestling championship over the weekend in State College, Pa. A key to claiming a 22nd NCAA championship is to be a bit more asymmetrical.

“We had a fifth, two fourths, two thirds, two seconds and two firsts (at the Big Ten tournament),” UI head coach Tom Brands said Tuesday at a media conference inside the Carver-Hawkeye Arena press room. “That’s too balanced. We need to be more lopsided toward that championship end.”

Last season the Hawkeyes won the NCAA championship by scoring 177 ½ points — 38 ½ more than runner-up Ohio State. Nine Iowa wrestlers qualified for the national tournament March 19-21 in St. Louis: senior Charlie Falck (125 pounds), junior Daniel Dennis (133), senior Alex Tsirtsis (141), junior Brent Metcalf (149), junior Ryan Morningstar (165), junior Jay Borschel (174), junior Phillip Keddy (184), junior Chad Beatty (197) and junior Dan Erekson (285).

“I like our guys,” Brands said. “Individually, every one of them is capable.”

Last season Falck placed sixth at 125, Metcalf was first at 149, Borschel was third at 174 and Keddy was sixth at 184. Tsirtsis placed seventh at 141 as a sophomore in 2006. Iowa is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation.

“We’re not automatic,” Brands said. “We’re going to have to earn it and we better be ready to slug.”

For Dennis (27-4), the national tournament can’t arrive soon enough. He entered the Big Ten championships ranked No. 1 in the nation, but lost twice in the tournament and placed fifth. At the beginning of the season Dennis grew a signature mustache, which is now been shaved.

“It’s gone for me because it started as a big joke, funny, screwing around,” Dennis said. “I don’t really like having fun and screwing around when I’m losing.”

A year ago, Iowa’s Mark Perry was runner-up in the Big Ten and won an NCAA championship at 165. Ohio State’s J Jaggers was third at Big Ten’s and first in the NCAA tournament. Making a huge leap up the medal stand is not unprecedented.

“I’m not going to say I took fifth at Big Ten’s, I can’t win nationals,” Dennis said. “I don’t think that’s the case at all. I just have to do a better job of getting ready to wrestle at nationals than I did at Big Ten’s and make it hard on my opponent. I don’t want to let them walk off the mat without them being bent over and dead tired. That’s how I’m going to win matches.”

Metcalf (33-0) has won his last 65 matches against collegiate competition. He decked Penn State’s Bubba Jenkins — ranked No. 2 in the nation — in 4-minutes, 52-seconds in the Big Ten tournament finals for his 18th fall of the season.

“He’s starting to blaze uncharted territory,” Brands said. “Some of the things Metcalf does are beyond what anybody’s done. He’s a true pinner, but he’s also a whirlwind on his feet and nobody rides him. He’s truly not satisfied unless he gets the pin and that’s why he’s dominant.”

Record-wise, Falck is 22-4, Tsirtsis is 25-4, Morningstar is 27-5, Borschel is 27-3, Keddy is 29-3, Beatty is 18-4 and Erekson is 22-6.

“We have some capable guys who are motivated and hungry for postseason awards and these are the guys you see going to St. Louis,” Brands said. “You have to get tougher as the rounds go on, you have to get tougher as the season goes on and you have to get tougher when you’re at the most important time of year and that’s where we’re at.”