Midlands Could Bring Answers

Dec. 27, 2009

Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in the Dec. 25 edition of the Official Sports Report (OSR) for the University of Iowa. OSR is a daily e-newsletter exclusively about the Iowa Hawkeyes. Click HERE to learn more.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Questions should be answered in a couple days as the top-ranked University of Iowa wrestling team chases its third straight title at the Midlands Championship in Evanston, Ill. One of the more pressing queries close to home is who will emerge as the Hawkeye varsity competitor at 141 and 157 pounds.

“When you have depth like we have, it’s a good opportunity to see where that depth is, especially when there’s some controversy at some weight classes…157, 141,” UI head coach Tom Brands said. “Whoever wins the weight class on this particular date, continue to show us and then you will be the guy. It’s not cut-and-dried after one tournament; you have to continue to show that you’re doing a good job.”

Competing at 141 pounds for the two-time defending national champion Hawkeyes are seniors Dan LeClere (7-1) and Joe Slaton (5-0) and sophomore Montell Marion (9-0). The battle at 157 includes three juniors — Matt Ballweg (5-1), Aaron Janssen (3-1) and Jake Kerr (4-2).

“Having three options is better than having one,” Brands said. “It makes everybody better. All that being said, prove it to us every time and prove it to yourself every time.”

The Midlands Championships begin Tuesday, Dec. 29 at 9:30 a.m. and the finals are scheduled to begin Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. Iowa owns a 9-0 dual record and four of those victories have come by shutout. The average score of the first nine Hawkeye triumphs has been 42-4.

“When you look at it, really we’re 1-0 against a team that was ranked No. 2 in the country,” said Brands, referring to an 18-16 win at Iowa State on Dec. 6. “That’s where the test is and it was close — and it’s too close. The important thing to feel good about is that you have 10 guys who feel good about where they’re headed. I think we’ve got that.”

Iowa defeated the rival Cyclones by three points at Midlands a year ago (156 ½ to 153 ½) with champions at 133 (Daniel Dennis), 149 (Brent Metcalf) and 165 (Ryan Morningstar). In 2007, the Hawkeyes posted 185 points and outdistanced Iowa State by 46 points (185 to 139). Winning titles for Iowa were Joe Slaton (133), Dan LeClere (141), Metcalf (149) and Mark Perry (165). The Hawkeyes were runner-up in 2006.

“Midlands is important for a lot of reasons,” Brands said. “It’s another chance to flex your muscles as a team. We won the last two years and we want to keep a good thing going. We put emphasis on it. It also gives guys like Grant Gambrall at 184, Luke Lofthouse at 197, Jordan Johnson at heavyweight, J.J. Krutsinger at 125…to put themselves back in the mix, because in those situations, we’re probably not geared toward having wrestle-offs.”

Krutsinger is 10-2, Gambrall is 11-2, Lofthouse is 11-4 and Johnson is 10-1.

Johnson has alternated with Blake Rasing at 285, with both wrestlers keeping the spot warm for senior Dan Erekson, who is returning from a torn pectoral muscle. Brands said Erekson, fourth at the 2009 NCAA championships, is getting stronger and more active every day, but will not return to the mat until at least the middle of January.

“He went through a controlled sparring and looks good,” Brands said. “We’re not going to rush it. The middle of January isn’t the time to be rushing things. A real positive is that he’s ahead of the game from progressing from a healing point of view. He’s ahead of schedule now, which is a good thing.”

Brands knows the competition will be stiff at Midlands, but he would still like to see a third consecutive title — with some breathing room on the tournament’s final day.

“It’s not automatic, but with our firepower, I feel we have the capability if we come out ready to wrestle every single match,” Brands said. “That’s the marching orders: Don’t take a shortcut getting ready in the early rounds. Get ready every match.”