We Must Break You: Lookin' Back (and Forward)

Crystalball_medium

National Title?  Yeah, That Was Nice... Next?  The latest Championsip banner may not even be hanging from the Carver-Hawkeye rafters yet, but the Iowa wrestling team is already looking ahead to next year and who might fill the void from the loss of seven seniors from the current three-time national champion team.  While efforts by UIHC to clone Metcalf, Borschel, et al. have thus far been unsuccessful (so far as we know... DUNH DUNH DUNH), the cupboard isn't completely bare for the Hawkeyes, as the Gazoo's KJ Pilcher notes:

Red-shirt freshman Nate Moore wrestled well when 133-pound NCAA finalist Dan Dennis missed time with an ankle injury. Luke Lofthouse (197) and heavyweights Jordan Johnson and Blake Rasing filled in admirably when 197-pounder Chad Beatty missed much of the season with a broken foot and heavyweight Dan Erekson was out the first half of the season recovering from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.  Red-shirt freshman Grant Gambrall went 22-6 overall at 184, including a fifth-place finish at the Midlands.

They have talented youngsters. Freshmen Tony Ramos (12-0 at 133), Derek St. John (26-4 at 157) and Ethen Lofthouse (30-7 at 174) had solid first season while red-shirting. St. John, who won the 157 wrestle-off at the start of the season, placed fifth at the Midlands Championships in December. Ethen Lofthouse went 3-2 there as well.

And while caring is creepy and caring about singlet-clad 18-year olds is perhaps even creepier, Iowa's top-ranked incoming recruiting class is nothing to sniff at.

Iowa also welcomes the top recruiting class, including Josh Dziewa (135) of Pennsylvania and Mike Evans (189) of New Jersey, who are ranked No. 1 in the nation by Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine, 160-pounder Nick Moore of Iowa City West and heavyweight Bobby Telford, both ranked second nationally, Waverly-Shell Rock three-time state champ Jake Ballweg, ranked sixth at 140 and Cedar Falls two-time state champ Michael Kelly.

Given Brands' strong belief in the importance of redshirting freshmen, odds are strong that none of them will feature in the lineup next year.  But if disaster strikes at a weight where Iowa isn't particularly deep (which is the case at some of the heavier weights), there are excellent freshman prospects waiting in the wings to possibly step in. 

Crystal Ballin'.  So what might next year's lineup look like?  Here's one way-too-early prediction:

125: Tony Ramos
133: Matt McDonough
141: Montell Marion
149: Dylan Carew
157: Jake Kerr
165: Derek St. John
174: Ethen Lofthouse
184: Grant Gambrall
197: Luke Lofthouse
Hwt: Blake Rasing

If McDonough can manage the weight cut and stay at 125, he probably does just that, but that's no guarantee.  If he can manage that, Ramos and Nate Moore battle it out for 133, with possibly Mark Ballweg also getting in the mix.  Despite being a national runner-up at 141, it's not out of the question for Marion to move up a weight, either, although it seems less likely than McD moving up a weight.  If he does move up, that likely keeps Dylan Carew on the bench and possibly opens up spots in the lineup for both Ramos (125/133) and Moore (133/141).  Our long nightmarish run of mediocrity (or worse) at 157 could finally be ended if stud freshman Derek St. John steps in there, but there are persistent rumors that he'll be going at 165 instead.  Meanwhile, the heavier weights could feature a two-fer of Stormin' Mormon action if both Lofthouses (who are actually not brothers, but uncle-nephew in familial ties) crack the lineup, and they likely will.  Gambrall got most of the second-team action at 184 this year, so he seems like the favorite to replace Phil Keddy, although Brody Ambrose could feature in that spot, too.  And heavyweight remains a coin-flip between Blake Rasing and Jordan Johnson; this time, the coin said Rasing.

Wow, you were dumb/brilliant.  Back in the fall, I did a weight-by-weight breakdown of each class (the A Winner Is You! series) leading up to the start of the season.  So how close (or hilariously off) were my predictions?  Let's hop in the Wayback Machine...

125: What We Reasonably Expected

When you're starting a redshirt freshman and he's going to be going up against a slew of experienced and talented challengers, it would be imprudent to set your expectations too high.  By all accounts, McDonough is a very skilled guy and he'll no doubt surprise some folks this year, but this remains a loaded division.  A top four finish at the Big Ten Tournament and a top six finish at the NCAA Tournament seem like doable goals, though.

I set attainable but semi-lofty goals for a redshirt freshman who'd never wrestled a match that "counted" for the varsity squad... and he went out and demolished those goals.  37-1, Big Ten runner-up, National Champion -- McD was exceptional this season and he vastly exceeded my predictions.  The best part, of course, is that we get to enjoy his dominating ways for three more years.

LOL-worthy Comment:

Minnesota's Zach Sanders (SO) ... should be pretty formidable competition. 

Or not.  McDonough wrestled Sanders three times and the results were increasingly lopsided in McD's favor, winning 6-4, 13-2, and 8-0.

133: What We Reasonably Expected

This is such a fiercely competitive weight class featuring so many experienced and talented challengers that it's really difficult to get a read on things.  That said, Dennis is no slouch himself -- he's beaten many of the other top challengers in the past and he's a pretty experienced and talented wrestler in his own right.  If he can get things peaking at the right time, there's no real reason he can't make a solid run for high finishes at both the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.  I think expecting titles is a bit much so long as Gomez stays healthy, but a Top 3 finish at the Big Ten Tournament and a Top 5 finish at the NCAA Tournament seem quite reasonable.

Well, Dennis' incredible run of success against Gomez continued this season and Dennis did indeed pull things together for much stronger finishes at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments than he did a year ago.  The final thirteen seconds of the National Championship match at 133 are still a bitter pill to swallow, but Dennis did have a very fine season and improved upon both his results from a season ago and my pre-season expectations.

LOL-worthy Comment:

Ness finished third in the Big Ten Tournament and fourth in the NCAA Tournament last year, although Dennis kinda owns him (2-0 against him last year).

Did I say "own"?  I think I meant "lease" and the lease ran out over the summer.  Whatever success Dennis had against Ness vanished this season until he put together a sparkling performance against Ness for the first 6:47 of the National Championship at 133.  But those last thirteen seconds... ugh.  And the less said about Dennis' first two matches against Ness this season, the better.

141: What We Reasonably Expected

Well, it's not like LeClere and Tsirtsis set the bar too high with their performances in the last two NCAA Tournaments -- a pair of early exits and very few team points.  Just managing to get any team points would be a nice boost to the three-peat quest this year.  Whoever winds up landing the spot here should stand a good chance of picking up points, though.  Slaton is inexperienced at 141 lbs., but it's a more natural weight for him and he's proven to be an elite wrestler in the past (see: his NCAA runner-up finish at 133 lbs. two years ago); if he can move past his various issues and get focused, he could be a serious threat at 141 lbs.  LeClere was inconsistent as the main man at 141 lbs. two years ago, but he has the talent to make a run -- perhaps a year on the sidelines has improved his focus.  Marion is even less experienced than either Slaton or LeClere, but he is prodigiously talented and may be the safest bet here, given LeClere's past struggles and Slaton's many issues.  Like we said earlier, though, no matter who winds up being the man here, if they can get any points at the NCAA Tournament they'll represent an improvement on what we've gotten out of this weight class the last two years.

Well, I was correct in saying that Marion was the safest bet; he wound up winning the job as soon as his suspension was up last fall -- he was simply better than LeClere and Slaton never was able to escape academic limbo.  I set the bar pretty low for expectations for the 141 spot and Marion blew past those; he not only got "any" points at the NCAA Tournament, he got the 4th-most on the team for his National Runner-Up finish at 141.  He was inconsistent at times during the season, but he pulled things together for a very fine run at the NCAA Tournament.

LOL-worthy Comment: Nothing really.

149: What We Reasonably Expected

149 is the one weight class where anything less than a Big Ten Championship and a National Championship will be a disappointment, particularly with Caldwell and Schlatter out of the picture.  That's an absurdly high standard to try and live up to, but after two years of almost complete dominance, it's simply what we've come to expect out of Metcalf -- and it's probably less than he expects of himself.  We'd be satisfied with wins of any stripe; he almost certainly wants to pin his way to another championship.

Expectations were brutally high for Metcalf and while he didn't entirely meet them (no Big Ten Championship) and that is a bit disappointing, he still had a fabulous season and was able to end it with a National Championship.  It's hard to quibble too much with that.

LOL-worthy Comment: Nothing, although this was quite prescient:

 On one hand, Metcalf has never lost to either guy (he's defeated Ruschell 14-5, by fall in 2:12, and 16-4 and he's defeated Palmer 6-2, 5-3, and 3-2); on the other hand, they're still good wrestlers (Palmer went 31-5 last year, while Ruschell went 32-8 last year) and the road to a third-straight Big Ten championship and a second national championship will likely go through them. 

Metcalf never had to tangle with Ruschell this season, but he had a trio of run-ins with our favorite Oompa Loompa, winning two, including the most important one (National Championship).

157: What We Reasonably Expected

There was no denying Ballweg's effort last year, but the results left a lot to be desired.  If he's again the man here and he hasn't improved considerably, it's going to be another long year and one that ends without much success in the Big Ten or NCAA Tournaments.  Granted, at this point it's also wholly unclear how much of an upgrade either Janssen or Kerr would be or whether St. John could hold up over the course of an entire season.  So, realistically, we have no real idea what to expect from this weight class.  Still, it's difficult to imagine results much worse than what we saw last year, so let's pencil in whoever gets the nod for a top six finish at the Big Ten Tournament and a low spot in the NCAA Tournament.  Hey, we're not expecting miracles here or anything -- Iowa has won back-to-back national titles without getting too much out of this weight class and, on paper, the rest of the team looks more than strong enough to pull the weight of this class once again.  Getting points out of this class would be nice, but it doesn't seem essential.

I expected very little out of the 157 spot this year and we didn't get much, but it was certainly far better than what we got last year.  Neither Kerr nor Janssen were anything great, but they accumulated a better record than Ballweg last year and Kerr's two wins at the NCAA Tournament were two more than we got last year.  As noted, those points weren't essential, but they were better than zero.

LOL-worthy Comment:

 The other main threats could be Cyler Sanderson (SR), who followed his brother from Iowa State to Penn State

Such a "main threat" that even Kerr wound up beating him at the dual this year.  Sanderson also flamed out badly at the end of the NCAA Tournament, getting pinned and losing a 15-6 major decision in his final two matches.  I point this out only because I'm an asshole.

165: What We Reasonably Expected

This is an extraordinarily difficult prediction to make for a couple of reasons.  One, as mentioned above, this weight class is absolutely stacked; when you return almost all of last year's best wrestlers at this class and then also add an elite talent like Schlatter, you're looking at a brutally difficult class.  Two, Morningstar's style (wrestling close match after close match) lends itself to chaos in the prediction game: he's talented and experienced enough to probably beat any of the top guys, but he's just as likely to lose a tight decision to them, too.  A Top 3 finish at the Big Ten Tournament seems likely, but frankly, any result at the NCAA Tournament seems plausible -- he could make a run to the championship match or he could get bounced in the early going if he runs into a bad match-up or two or if a close match goes the wrong way.

I cheated with the Morningstar prediction, albeit out of necessity -- it really is impossible to guess what Morningstar is going to do because he wrestles damn near everything down to the wire.  Add a serious knee injury less than two weeks before the NCAA Tournament and it became even more difficult to predict Morningstar's results at the NCAA Tournament.  Given all that, let's just say that his 7th-place finish this year was just fine, even if it was a step or two down from his result a year ago. 

LOL-worthy Comment:

How good is Schlatter?  He's preseason #1 despite redshirting last year and spending the bulk of his collegiate career wrestling at 149 and despite the stunning number of returning All-Americans at 165.

In my defense, I wouldn't have been so hyperbolic about Schlatter if I'd known his body was going to betray him so much this season -- and that he'd be dropping down to 157, too.

174: What We Reasonably Expected

This appears to be a relatively wide open weight class.  With Luke gone and Wright redshirting, the Big Ten may be Borschel's for the taking; at the very least it would be nice to see him make the finals this year after a pair of third-place finishes.  At the NCAA level, Miller and Lewnes should provide solid challenges, but if Borschel can avoid another early flameout in the NCAA Tournament, there's no reason that he shouldn't be able to make a deep run and contend for the title.  He has the talent and experience to do so; it's just a matter of staying healthy and keeping the proper mindset.  And, of course, rocking that sweet fucking 'stache.

Borschel lived up to (or exceeded) every one of my expectations except the mustache one.  Sadly, he never did bring back that fantastic lip-warmer all season.  But the results -- a Big Ten Championship and a National Championship (the only member of the Iowa team to accomplish that double this season) -- speak for themselves, I guess.

LOL-worthy Comment:

Borschel's biggest obstacles may be Central Michigan's Mike Miller (JR), last year's national runner-up and this year's preseason #1,

Miller decided to move up to 184 this year and wound up going 1-2 at the NCAA Tournament and finishing far out of All-America consideration.  So, uh, whoops.

184: What We Reasonably Expected

Winning a national title is never easy, but the absence of Herbert this year should make Keddy's quest considerably easier this year.  Pucillo will be a tough obstacle in both the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournaments, but Keddy has had a modicum of success against him (one win and two narrow defeats).  Based on his ability and his track record, it's far from absurd to suggest that Keddy should be right there in the mix for Big Ten and NCAA Championships; at the very least, Iowa's quest for a third consecutive national title is almost certainly going to require him to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament (hopefully racking up some bonus points along the way).

Lord, where to begin?  Last November, 184 seemed like it was going to be a two-horse race between Keddy and Ohio State's Mike Pucillo; Pucillo had been one of the dominant guys at 184 since his freshman year and Keddy had steadily improved each season at Iowa.  Unfortunately, injuries ravaged both of their seasons (particularly Pucillo) and they rarely regained the form that had made them so unstoppable in years past.  Keddy was in the mix for a Big Ten Championship (losing a narrow decision to Illinois' John Dergo in the finals), but he stumbled his way to an 8th-place finish at the NCAA Tournament.  Fortunately, Iowa's third-straight national title didn't require him to make a deep run.

LOL-worthy Comment:

Phillip Keddy might be the second-most dominant wrestler on the Iowa team behind one Brent Metcalf.

Well, the entire damn preview is frankly pretty LOL-worthy, given Keddy's disappointing results and painfully inconsistent form, but that line alone is probably the most outrageously absurd (or flat-out stupid) prediction in the entire piece. 

197: What We Reasonably Expected

To be blunt, expectations for Beatty are not nearly as high as they are for many other Iowa wrestlers.  He's very solid and deserving of considerable respect for the way he stepped into a tough spot in 2006-2007, but this should be a pretty brutal weight class.  Given the relative weakness of the Big Ten, he probably can make a decent run in the conference tournament, but the NCAA Tournament will be far trickier.  I think he's a fringe All-America candidate and anything beyond that would probably be gravy.

And that turned out to be pretty damn accurate.  If not for a troublesome foot injury that kept Beatty out of the entire Big Ten season and cost him valuable conditioning and mat sharpness at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, it seems highly likely that Beatty could have made a run at the Big Ten Championship and All-America status at the NCAA Tournament; he had previously beaten the guy (Wisconsin's Trevor Brandvold) who wound up winning the Big Ten Championship and despite his lack of form and some controversial officiating, he was still only one win away from becoming an All-America at the NCAA Tournament. 

LOL-worthy Comment: Nothing really.

HWT: What We Reasonably Expected

This is entirely dependent on Erekson's rehab.  If he's able to come back healthy and regain his form relatively quickly, the ceiling for this weight class is extremely high -- it's not unreasonable for him to contend for a national title.  But that's a big if, sadly.  We don't know how healthy he'll be upon his return, or how much his conditioning has suffered, or how long it will take to shake off the rust.  He should have a good chance to repeat as Big Ten champion, given the relative weakness of the rest of Big Ten field, and repeat as an All-American at the NCAA Tournament, but a deep run in the NCAAs is tough to forecast until we see Erekson in action.

Hey, that preview actually makes me sound smart!  Hooray!  Not only did have a good chance to repeat as Big Ten Champion -- he did just that, beating Indiana's Nathan Everhart in the finals.  The deep run in the NCAA Tournament didn't materialize, although it's unclear if it was because he still wasn't fully recovered from missing almost half the season or because he just got a bum draw.  Although, to be fair, I did start entertaining thoughts of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament from Erekson after he came back and looked so excellent in many matches; in hindsight, that may have been because most of the other Big Ten heavyweights simply weren't very good.

LOL-worthy Comment:

The "next man in" with Erekson laid up is likely to be Blake Rasing (SO), a shaved bear of a man who uses every ounce of the 285-lb. weight limit for heavyweights.

That was incorrect; Rasing is actually an overgrown seal.  I regret the error.

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