IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa wrestling team is taking a 10-man lineup into the 2017 Big Ten Wrestling Championships on March 5-6.
Five of those 10 know exactly what to expect. They’ve all navigated the Big Ten bracket. Some have reached the finals. Two have reached the top step. All have advanced to the next stage and climbed the All-American stand.
The other five? They’re on the flip side of the conversation.
Senior Topher Carton and redshirt freshmen Michael Kemerer, Joey Gunther, Cash Wilcke, and Steven Holloway are all competing in the postseason for the first time.
“I’m excited,” said Wilcke, the Big Ten’s seventh seed at 197 pounds. “It’s my first Big Ten tournament and I know it’s a big deal, but I need to treat it like any other tournament. You go out there and wrestle for first. That’s the plan.”
Winning the conference tournament the first time out is no easy challenge. The last Hawkeye to come out on top of his first Big Ten bracket was Brent Metcalf, who won the 149-pound title as a third-year sophomore in 2008.
Replicating Metcalf’s performance would be beneficial on a number of levels. For one, Iowa’s tournament veterans and returning All-Americans — Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark, Brandon Sorensen, Alex Meyer, and Sammy Brooks — will need a momentous push from the rookies if Iowa is to add to its league-best 35 Big Ten tournament titles.
Second, the Big Ten Championships is one of eight qualifying tournaments across the country and the NCAA has awarded the Big Ten 77 automatic bids for the national championships in St. Louis on March 16-18. Iowa has sent its entire 10-man lineup to the NCAA Championships three times since 2007. Packing the bus a fourth time will require the rookies to wrestle at or above their seeds.
Carton, Kemerer, and Gunther are ranked in the top 20 in the coaches’ poll, one of the criteria used to select those who don’t earn at-large bids, and virtual locks for the national tournament. Wilcke will be in the at-large conversation, but like all 10 Hawkeyes, the best route for he and Holloway to make the national tournament is to earn it at the conference qualifier. The Big Ten gets seven automatic bids at 197 and five at 285.
“Any one of those will qualify, but you may as well go for first,” Wilcke said. “The best way for me to do that is score points on my feet and get out on bottom. That’s big for me. It’s all about going out there and wrestling hard for seven minutes. That’s all there is to it.”
The Big Ten Championships are Saturday and Sunday on the campus of Indiana University. BTN Plus will live stream the entire tournament and BTN will televise the finals live on Sunday beginning at 2 p.m. (CT). The NCAA field will be announced Tuesday, March 7, and brackets will be released on NCAA.com on Wednesday, March 8 beginning at 5 p.m.