Dec. 28, 2015
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Freshman Michael Kemerer has never been here before. Senior Nathan Burak has, but never like this.
Kemerer and Burak are two of 15 Hawkeyes competing at the 53rd annual Midlands Championships that begins Tuesday in Evanston, Illinois.
Iowa has won the last two Midlands tournaments, breaking team scoring records each of the last two seasons, and 24 team titles overall, more than any other team in Midlands history.
Ten of Iowa’s 15 wrestlers count toward the team score, and for the first time in three years, Burak will be among those scorers. He competed unattached the previous two years, placing third in 2013 and winning the 197-pound title in 2014.
This year the two-time All-American will wear the black singlet.
“I won’t have to drive myself up there and drive myself back and forth to the hotel, so that’s different,” said Burak, who peeled a possible redshirt after each of the last two Midlands tournaments. “You just adapt. Anytime you go into a new situation, whether it is ‘Grapple on the Gridiron’ or another environment, you have to adapt. I’m used to it.”
Iowa scored a record 189 points without Burak’s championship last season, and this year they’ll use a roster that has opened the season with an 8-0 record and No. 2 national ranking.
“Our lineup will be very similar to what you’ve seen on the mat,” said UI head coach Tom Brands, “and we have a couple extra spots that we’re going to fill with some freshmen.”
The familiar lineup includes Burak and defending 133-pound champion Cory Clark, who is making his fourth Midlands appearance. He placed sixth as a redshirt freshman in 2013, and fourth wrestling unattached as a true freshman in 2012.
This year four true freshmen will compete unattached.
“We’re not anticipating taking anyone out of redshirt,” Brands said, “but we have a good group of freshmen that I think will benefit from this tournament. That’s what we’re looking to.”
The freshmen include Vince Turk (141), Kemerer (149), Cash Wilcke (184), and Steven Holloway (197).
Kemerer is 14-0 with three tournament titles this season, but none of those fields looked like the one he’ll see this week. Three of the top four 149-pounders in the country share his bracket, including teammate and second-ranked Brandon Sorensen, third-ranked Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern), and fourth-ranked Alexander Richardson (Old Dominion).
“I’m excited to go out there,” Kemerer said. “It’s a tournament that has been around for a long time with a lot of history, so I’m excited to go out and compete.”
Kemerer knows the Midlands is the crown jewel in a redshirt season. There is no conference championship or NCAA tournament waiting for him on the schedule, so he has no intention of wasting this opportunity.
“You go into every tournament expecting to win every match and wrestle hard, so I know I have to raise my level of wrestling and trust in my training and go out and perform,” he said.
“It’s a big tournament, but at the same time I use every competition as a way to measure how much better I’ve gotten, and I love competing so it will be nice to compete against some of the best guys in the country.”
The two-day tournament is streamed live on BTN2GO, and the finals are televised live Wednesday at 8 p.m. (CT) on BTN.