Nov. 5, 2015
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — You might feel stuck in a time warp when looking at preseason NCAA wrestling rankings where the usual suspects have once again risen to the top.
The first USA Today/NWCA Coaches poll released Oct. 27 has Oklahoma State first, followed by Penn State, Michigan, and of course, Iowa.
“We’re in the conversation,” University of Iowa head coach Tom Brands said Thursday at media day in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “Nothing has changed. We’re after winning a national title and winning individual titles. We’ve got to be ready to go every time out.”
The Hawkeyes were 17-1 in duals last season, 9-0 in the Big Ten Conference. They shared the Big Ten Tournament title with Ohio State and finished runner-up to the Buckeyes at the NCAA Championships.
Four All-Americans return for Iowa: junior Thomas Gilman at 125 pounds (31-6 record in 2014-15), junior Cory Clark at 133 (30-6), sophomore Brandon Sorensen at 149 (40-6), and senior Nathan Burak at 197 (24-7). Gilman was second at Big Ten and fourth at NCAA, Clark was third at Big Ten and second at NCAA, Sorensen was second at Big Ten and fourth at NCAA, and Burak was fourth at Big Ten and seventh at NCAA.
Brands says Burak — a two-time All-American and honor student — is everything you want your program to represent and added that the native of Colorado Springs, Colorado, doesn’t always get the attention he deserves. Burak’s 40 career dual starts are most of any returning Hawkeye.
“I like our team a lot, I think we can be very good” Burak said. “It depends on each guy performing well individually, then the team business will take care of itself.”
Burak averaged 8.5 points in six matches at nationals last season, including scores of 18, 12, and 10.
“I need to bring more of that into practice and then into the season where I am attacking more and getting the guy tired with my offense,” Burak said.
Another strength for Iowa will be the 1-2 lightweight punch from Gilman and Clark at 125 and 133. The duo won 61 matches last season and shows no sign of slowing. Gilman disappeared into the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex after going a combined 7-3 in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
“We’re in the conversation. Nothing has changed. We’re after winning a national title and winning individual titles. We’ve got to be ready to go every time out.”
UI wrestling coach
He said it was nice having a break from competition and making weight while working on all aspects of his wrestling.
“After March I wasn’t where I needed to be,” Gilman said. “I’m notorious for wrestling at a high pace, but to beat guys who beat me last year, I have to pick it up and be ultra-aware. I need to get on those guys, get on their legs, and go to the point where they can’t even hang on. They have to wrestle seven minutes at a pace they haven’t seen.”
According to InterMat, Iowa enters the “Grapple on the Gridiron” on Nov. 14 inside Kinnick Stadium with six nationally ranked competitors: Gilman (fourth at 125), Clark (second at 133), Sorensen (third at 149), junior Alex Meyer (sixth at 174), junior Sammy Brooks (11th at 184) and Burak (fourth at 197).
Meyer compiled 18 wins (with three losses) competing behind Evans last season. He was ready for a bigger role then and more so now.
“Coming into this season the mindset is the same and the preparation is the same,” Meyer said. “Now I am looking forward to the opportunity and wrestling to the best of my ability.”
Brooks was 29-7 in 2014-15 and brings a 47-14 career record into his junior season. He rattled off six consecutive wins last postseason before losing at nationals to the No. 1 and No. 3 seeded competitors.
The Hawkeyes have new faces at 141, 157, 165, and 285. Seniors Josh Dziewa was 29-9 at 141, Michael Kelly was 23-12 at 157, Nick Moore was 22-11 at 165, and Telford was 33-5 at 285. The only sure replacement is redshirt freshman Sam Stoll at 285, who was 18-5 with 10 falls competing unattached.
“It is going to be a grind and I’m excited for it,” Stoll said. “That’s why you come to the Big Ten, you’re going to have the best competition week in and week out.”
Iowa opens its season in Kinnick Stadium, where weather permitting, a national attendance record will be shattered when the Hawkeyes and Cowboys meet Nov. 14 at 11 a.m. (CT). Carver-Hawkeye Arena will host the Big Ten Championships from March 5-6.
“We’ve got to be at our best every time out, but there’s no better place to win than Iowa City,” Brands said. “So (on March 6) there will be no better time and place to give yourself a championship.”