By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Wrestlers from the University of Iowa will be ready for their next challenge, head coach Tom Brands said Tuesday. First, like everyone else in the world, they are challenged by COVID-19.
“Let’s beat this COVID-19,” Brands said via teleconference. “It is bigger than sports right now. We’re not out of the woods with COVID-19. Let’s get rid of COVID-19 first.”
Tuesday marked 10 days from what would have been the final sessions of the 2020 NCAA Championships in Minneapolis. That event, of course, was canceled March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic known as COVID-19. As a team, Iowa was a unanimous favorite with three No. 1 seeds and seven others in the top 11.
“It sucks, this team was robbed of history,” Brands said. “They were robbed of an opportunity.”
In the meantime, Brands said the Hawkeye wrestlers are focused on academics, being safe and socially responsible, and staying healthy.
“There are a lot of ways to keep an edge or build an edge and keep moving forward,” Brands said. “It’s not ideal because it’s not familiar. It’s not ideal because it isn’t necessarily what they want. They want to be in their domain, sanctuary, comfort zone.”
Brands praised his student-athletes for their maturity and open-minded thinking.
“They are chomping at the bit, of course,” Brands said. “Right now they have to be patient because they don’t know the calendar footprint, they don’t know if there is going to be school next year.”
With life at a standstill, Brands and the Hawkeyes are looking forward.
“Bad things happen to good people,” Brands said. “We have a roster that is 100 percent healthy… if you work on the things you need to work on every day in your life that are important, you’re going to look back on it and see a good lesson you can draw on forever.
“Iowa wrestling is still strong, we just got clobbered upside the head by something we can’t control. This thing we can’t control has altered our course, so we take the steps we can control now. It is that simple.”
Here are a few of the topics Brands addressed Tuesday:
Spencer Lee winning the Hodge Trophy
“It’s a most dominant wrestler award and it means a lot. Spencer Lee embodies that very well.”
The question of eligibility for wrestlers
“I’m smart enough to know you don’t fight battles when you don’t know what you’re talking about. The timing of appeals and those things are down the road. You don’t get anywhere by just taking on the establishment. You have to be very plan-oriented.”
How has Spencer Lee matured as a wrestler?
“When you go to bigger levels, you have to get better. He is humble and that keeps him grounded and motivated. It is clear to even casual wrestling fans that he has gotten better and more stingy in fundamentals.”
Appeals process for eligibility
“This COVID-19 thing is enemy No. 1, let’s eradicate enemy No. 1. Then when we go forward, you don’t just ignore this stuff. These student-athletes are wired, very elite-minded characteristically… to do it justice we have to go down this path. I don’t know what it looks like. You have to have a plan and it has to make sense and that is what we’re working on.”
Reflecting on the 2019-20 Iowa team
“The strength of our seeds (to the NCAA Championships) shows the body of work we did throughout the year. We took on all comers and won the Big Ten going away… this team showed a lot of poise, so you have to give them credit.
“You take this team as a whole with its academics, character, honesty, and they can sure wrestle. You have a good makeup for being a popular team with our fans.”
What has day-to-day life been like for coach Brands?
“You take care of yourself every day, you just don’t go into the office. There are more interruptions: I have a dog that could bark at any moment and I say that with a smile on my face. I have never been a guy who worries about things that are outside my control or might be an inconvenience for me.”
Advice given to senior Pat Lugo and other seniors
“You tell them their value and part in this. I told him what he continues to mean to our team, how big of a part he was. You tell them they are equipped to handle this stuff even though they can’t have imagined anything like this two weeks ago.
“There is nothing that can derail you. We talk about being close to bullet proof, you can handle these things when they come your way and they sideswipe you. Pat Lugo, if anybody can handle this, you can.”
How will history judge the 2019-20 wrestling season?
“At the very least there needs to be official recognition in some way, shape, or form on how the NCAA is going to name All-Americans… they have to name it and it has to be official.
“It can’t be a blank spot. You wrestled 16 regular season dates, a postseason qualifier. The brackets were set, the matchups were laid out, the 33 seeds were laid into the bracket. You have to honor the top eight or 12 in an official way from the mouth of the NCAA.”
Coach Brands in self-quarantine
“I came in contact with someone that had it. They called me and I was in self-quarantine and I have one day to go. I am very serious about this, you do not take this lightly.”
Update on Michael Kemerer’s medical hardship
“Our medical people are on it. It is a foregone conclusion from everything I am understanding. I think is a formality more than anything. I think he will have his additional hardship year.”