March 17, 2014
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It started in the middle of November when 10 University of Iowa wrestlers won championships at the Luther Open. The progress continued into December when the Hawkeyes defeated two top 15 teams and won at Midlands. The months of January and February were set aside primarily for league duals, where Iowa shared the Big Ten Conference dual title for an unprecedented eighth time.
There is a final date on the 2013-14 UI wrestling schedule — March 20-22 at the NCAA Championships — and the Hawkeyes have had their eyes on this moment since stepping out of the van at Luther.
“There is nothing beyond, this is what we build for,” UI head coach Tom Brands said Monday during a gathering with media in the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. “This is it, so let’s go do some damage.”
When action begins Thursday in Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla., the third-ranked Hawkeyes (15-2 in duals) will be 11 days removed from a runner-up finish at the Big Ten Conference Championships. All 10 UI wrestlers qualified for nationals and seven are seeded in the top eight at their respective weight classes.
“Every time out is another chance to prove yourself. Isn’t that life and isn’t that competition? It’s certainly wrestling. When you have the competitive makeup of these guys, it holds true; they want to prove themselves every time out.”
UI wrestling coach
“I like all our guys; seeds don’t matter at this point,” Brands said. “The thing that matters is our frame of mind. The matchups are on the bracket now, so we have to get ready for match No. 1 and beyond that, that’s how you go. All our guys are looking forward to this.”
Last season the Hawkeyes were fourth in the NCAA with one champion (Derek St. John at 157 pounds) and four All-Americans. St. John, a senior, is a No. 2 seed; 133-pound senior Tony Ramos is seeded third.
“Every time out is another chance to prove yourself,” Brands said. “Isn’t that life and isn’t that competition? It’s certainly wrestling. When you have the competitive makeup of these guys, it holds true; they want to prove themselves every time out.”
Brands emphasized the importance of having 10 qualifiers (sophomore 149-pounder Brody Grothus received an at-large berth). To win a national team title, the Hawkeyes need everyone to contribute points, or several finishing the weekend with a spot high on the award stand.
“That’s been the philosophy from 2011, 2012 on into 2014. We have to have 10 weights contribute or we have to have some stellar performances, and we have the capability to do both,” Brands said. “Our best wrestling and all the potential that is in these guys has to come out. We have shown there can be a strong performance in each one of these guys, now we have to do it consistently over three days.”
Session I begins Thursday at 11 a.m. (CT) with championship finals scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday. Iowa won three straight NCAA titles from 2008-10 and 23 since 1974.
The only other time the Hawkeyes sent all 10 wrestlers to nationals during Brands’ tenure was 2010 — the last time they won a national championship. In seven full seasons under Brands, Iowa has had 38 All-Americans and eight NCAA champions.