Dec. 26, 2015
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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. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By CHRIS BREWER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Finals week may have ended Dec. 18, but the big semester test for the University of Iowa wrestling team doesn’t begin until Dec. 29.
The Hawkeyes compete at the 53rd Midlands Championships on Dec. 29-30 in Evanston, Illinois. Iowa has won more team titles (24) than any other team in the history of the event, but a third consecutive championship isn’t going to be the end-all this year.
This tournament, as it has done years past, should help define a lineup that opened the season in mid-November with four question marks. That number has been reduced to two following the recent emergence of Edwin Cooper, Jr., and Sam Stoll at 157 and 285, respectively, but head coach Tom Brands likes to battle with 10 guys — and then some — which means this year’s tournament needs to provide answers.
“We’re going to keep working on getting 165 and 141 figured out,” said Brands, “and we’re going to keep getting everyone else better. That’s the mission we’re on now.”
Options at 141 include Logan Ryan, who is 2-4 in dual appearances, and Topher Carton, who lost 8-4 to No. 3 Anthony Ashnault in his only dual appearance. Former 149-pound NCAA qualifier Brody Grothus is aiming for a comeback at 141, but Brands won’t rush his return from injury.
“Grothus is looking good, but we’re not going to jump the gun and get impatient with throwing him out there,” Brands said. “We’re going to make sure we do it right.”
Redshirt freshman Burke Paddock and senior Patrick Rhoads have held court at 165, and the wrestler with the best Midlands performance could do what Brandon Sorensen did a year ago at Midlands, which was turn a three-man race at 149 into a one-man show.
“If you get knocked out of a basketball tournament you don’t have to come back to get third, it’s almost like a relief. But the very satisfying thing about wrestling is there is a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth, so if you get knocked out before that championship you have to come back. That’s how you find out who’s tough and who’s not.”
Head Coach Tom Brands
“You don’t look back once you get a shot,” said Brands. “Same with (Tony) Ramos (in 2010). It was he and (Clark) and then all the sudden it was just him.”
It is “just him” at six weights. A half dozen Hawkeyes — Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark, Sorensen, Alex Meyer, Sammy Brooks, and Nathan Burak — are all ranked in the top four of their respective weights in at least one national poll. No other school in the country has more than five wrestlers in the top five.
Those six names could be enough to win nearly any tournament, but a run-away performance will take 10 individual efforts.
“Effort plays a role every day, especially at this level,” Brands said. “That should be a no-brainer, and that is what we look for, but you have to have results, too. Effort leads to results.”
That effort isn’t exclusive to the top side of the bracket.
“If something goes against you, come back from it. Be able to rebound from adversity,” Brands said. “Not everybody can be the champion. We all want to be the champion, but if you’re not the champion you have to come back strong. You have to come back and get third. You can’t lie down and forfeit out. You can’t lie down and have a bad round and then get yourself in a bigger hole. You have to be able to come back.
“That’s the unique thing about wrestling. If you get knocked out of a basketball tournament you don’t have to come back to get third, it’s almost like a relief. But the very satisfying thing about wrestling is there is a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth, so if you get knocked out before that championship you have to come back. That’s how you find out who’s tough and who’s not.”
The two-day Midlands Championships is streamed live on BTN2GO on Dec. 29-30. The finals air Dec. 30 at 8 p.m. (CT) live on BTN.