March 4, 2011
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EVANSTON, Ill. — It’s time to be strong. It’s time to flex muscles.
That’s the message University of Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands delivered Friday during a pre-Big Ten Tournament press conference at the Double Tree Hotel in Skokie, Ill. Brands was joined by fellow head coaches Cael Sanderson of Penn State and Drew Pariano of Northwestern for a 15 minute gathering with media.
“You’re going into the postseason and you have to really be strong in this one,” Brands says. “This is where you flex your muscles and set yourself up for the future. What’s most important is what’s in front of you. That’s why this is a big deal because it puts you in position for national honors.”
The Hawkeyes won the regular season Big Ten championship by finishing 15-0-1 in all duals, 8-0 in the league. Brands says the Hawkeyes began making their title push after the Midlands Championships (Dec. 29-30), an event where Iowa received a “pretty good butt-whipping.” The Big Ten Tournament, which begins Saturday at 10 a.m., is in Welsh-Ryan Arena — the same location as Midlands.
“The biggest improvement we’ve made is toughness in tough situations,” Brands says. “Righting the wrong when things are going against you. That has to continue this tournament and beyond. That’s probably the biggest improvement in the lineup overall, especially with the younger guys; making things go your way in a situation that might not be going your way — maturing, growing up.”
Iowa has won the past three Big Ten Tournament titles, but the Hawkeyes graduated seven wrestlers from 2010, including league champions Jay Borschel (174 pounds) and Dan Erekson (285).
“It’s more exciting for the fans,” Brands says. “The great thing about college athletics is that turnover. Next year Rick Stanzi’s not going to be the quarterback at Iowa — he graduated — and we have this (James) Vandenberg dude who can sling the ball. It’s the same with a high-powered team with (Brent) Metcalf, (Phillip) Keddy, (Ryan) Morningstar, (Dan) Erekson and Dan Dennis. Now you have guys come in who have to do the job — guys like (Tony) Ramos and (Ethen and Luke) Lofthouse and guys who have to make household names out of themselves and that’s what’s great about it.”
Brands was asked about Ramos securing the starting position for Iowa at 133 pounds.
“Building leads, going to attacks,” explains Brands on why Ramos earned the spot instead of junior Tyler Clark. “It wasn’t really a wrestle-off situation. It was more what do they look like in competition.”
The three coaches agreed that the seeding meeting was “uneventful.” Brands says the league coaches are becoming “more friendly.”
“We like each other a lot,” Brands said to a roomful of laughs.
A reporter asked if that friendship ended Saturday.
“That’s right,” Brands answered.