Time for Your Best

March 6, 2014

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.


IOWA CITY, Iowa — How tough and balanced is the Big Ten Conference in wrestling?

Consider this: the league has five returning NCAA individual champions, and only one is the top seed at the conference tournament that opens Saturday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. Of the seven returning league champions, only two are predicted to repeat.

“There are some first-round matches that are crazy,” UI senior 133-pounder Tony Ramos said Wednesday in the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. “We know what we’re going to be up against and we know when you’re in the Big Ten what kind of competition you’re going to have. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrestling, basketball, or football. The Big Ten is a big conference for athletics and it’s a good thing to have. We’re ready for it, we prepare for it every day.”

According to conference preseeds released Monday, Ramos is the only top-seeded Hawkeye at his respective weight class. After back-to-back runner-up finishes, he is ready to assume the top spot on the league award stand.

“There is a huge sense of urgency. For me there are two things missing,” Ramos said. “There is a Big Ten title and a national championship, but you have to take it one step at a time.”

The 100th Big Ten Championships will run March 8-9 with finals scheduled to begin Sunday at 1:12 p.m. (CT). The league receives at least six automatic qualifiers to NCAAs at every weight, including nine at 285 pounds.

“It’s a tough class, it’s always a tough class,” said Telford, Iowa’s heavyweight. “The guys who are successful (at the NCAA Championships) usually come out of the Big Ten, it’s not like I’m going to tell you anything new.”

Telford was at his best when the 2013 postseason opened. He placed third at Big Tens, winning 3-of-4 matches by a combined score of 16-6. His only loss was to eventual conference and NCAA champion Tony Nelson of Minnesota, 1-0, in the semifinals. If preseeds hold, those two would meet in the quarterfinals this season.

“I was ready to rock-n-roll (last season),” Telford said. “I’m ready to go again this year. I feel good.”

Iowa enters the tournament ranked third in the country by the NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll. Minnesota is No. 1 and Penn State is No. 2. Telford-Nelson is an important quarterfinal against the Gophers; likewise, there is a potential 157-pound quarterfinal where Derek St. John of Iowa would meet Penn State’s Dylan Alton. St. John is 4-0 lifetime against Alton with three wins by decision (two in overtime) and one by fall.

With the strength of the Big Ten, there will be difficult challenges for every wrestler who advances through the bracket. UI head coach Tom Brands says the road is as hard or as easy as the competitor wants it to be.

“It really is that simple, especially when you’re talking about the guys I believe we have in our lineup that have a lot of fire power,” Brands said. “You haven’t really seen it blossom in all cases and we want to see it blossom.”

Brands added that it is easier to taste postseason success when there has been consistency throughout the regular season. It reverts back to his philosophy that peaking is a state of mind.

“This is the most important time of the year, so let this be your best wrestling,” Brands said. “It’s that easy, but it’s easier when it has been consistent. The guys who have been doing a good job, we need to continue that, and we need to get other guys to fill in the blanks or fill in the missing links so they become consistent.”

The Hawkeyes have had 109 conference wrestling champions (who won a total of 190 titles). Iowa’s last champions were St. John and Matt McDonough in 2012.