Come January, when the Iowa football team again goes into hibernation for another nine months, what's a Hawkeye fan to do? Well, pay attention to our
preseason consensus cellar dweller up and coming basketball team... but you could also give a little time to the wrestling team and their quest for a fourth national championship in the last five years. It is the one sport we're really, really good at, after all. In the spirit of our Assume the Position series for football, we bring you A Winner is You!, a weight class-by-weight class breakdown of the Iowa wrestling team, counting down each Thursday (ish) from the weight class we have the most confidence in to the weight class we have absolutely no clue about.
THE KNOWN QUANTITY
The first four weights I profiled featured returning All-Americans and while there's room for improvement on their 2011 finishes, if they simply maintain those 2011 finishes, we'll be in pretty good shape -- now we reach the point of our previews where we have fairly known quantities who we're hoping will be able to improve upon their 2011 performance in 2012. First up is Tony Ramos at 133, who came to Iowa heralded as the future of our 125 lb. slot, only to find himself blocked there by some guy named McDonough. So he moved up to 133 lbs. and competed there last year as an undersized guy, beating out Tyler Clark and Nate Moore to win the spot. Well, he didn't so much beat out Clark as he did wrestle a more Iowa-friendly style; Clark beat him at Midlands in a tight match (and did the same at the pre-season wrestle-offs, as I recall), but the coaches ended up opting for Ramos anyway since he had a much aggressive, attack-happy style. He repaid their faith by going 25-6, including 8-0 in Big Ten duals. He struggled in tournaments, though, with his best finish being third place at the Big Ten Tournament. He finished sixth at Midlands and went 4-2 at the NCAA Tournament, crashing out in the Round of 12.
Ramos won the trust of the coaches (and admiration from the fans) by being utterly tenacious on his feet and relentlessly looking for angles to shoot for takedowns. Like many Iowa wrestlers, Ramos also possesess an excellent motor; when his opponents were gasping for air, Ramos could usually be found stalking them, in search of another takedown. Unfortunately, it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops for Tony: his size was also a problem at times, especially on the mat. He had difficulty riding some guys and even greater difficulty escaping from bottom (especially against some of the bigger guys at 133 lbs.). Hopefully an off-season spent bulking up a bit and working on technique will enable to him to smooth over those rough edges. As good as Ramos was last year (and 3rd in the Big Ten, and R12 at NCAAs is not too shabby for a redshirt freshman), there's considerable room for him to improve. He might still be best-suited for 125 lbs, but there's every reason to think that Ramos can develop into a very good 133'er, too.
THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS
As I noted when we talked about 125 a few weeks ago, there's still the occasional rumor of McDonough moving up to 133 lbs., which would almost certainly displace Ramos (and send him down to 125). Those rumors don't appear to be particularly credible, so I'm going to go right on assuming that McD will be the man at 125 and Ramos will be the guy at 133. Mind you, that doesn't mean there aren't any options other than Tony at 133; far from it, in fact. Clark was Ramos' main threat here last year and may be again, although there's been considerable talk that he's focusing on 125 this year.
If that's the case, Nate Moore would probably emerge as his most significant competition for the spot. Moore arrived at Iowa with sparkling credentials (99-0 as a HS junior a senior, two-time state champion, four-time state finalist, two-time Fargo Junior National Champion), and saw time as a RS freshman, filling in for an injured Dan Dennis and going 3-2. He then missed considerable time while dealing with a nasty staph infection and his career has, frankly, never been the same; he wrestled only eight times last season (7-1), almost all at the Kaufman-Brand Open. Since then, he's kind of fallen off the radar amid rumors of problems cutting weight and time spent in Brands' doghouse. If he can ever get things together, he could be another high-quality option at 133. The remaining options -- Joe Moore (no relation), Nick Trizzino, Charlie Joseph, Jake Kadel, and J.J. Krutsinger -- are more practice room depth guys than legitimate starting options, with the possible exception of Krutsinger. He went 14-1 at 133 last year, albeit against lesser competition in most cases. (Then again, that lone loss was a major decision defeat to Ramos, so the odds of him beating out Ramos are pretty slim.)
THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD
This is one weight that's seen a lot of volatility since we looked at it in spring. At that time, five of eight All-Americans were returning, including four of the top five. Then Andrew Long ran into some legal trouble that ended his career at Penn State and Tyler Graff opted to take a redshirt this year and sit out for Wisconsin. But it wasn't all departures here -- Stanford's Ryan Mango decided to move up from 125 to 133, while Purdue's Cashe Quiroga also opted to move up from 125 to 133 after coming off a redshirt year. Throw in stud freshman Logan Stieber of Ohio State and you again have the makings of a pretty solid weight class. Of course, the unfortunate thing for Ramos is that all that transition didn't do much to impact the very top of the division: returning champ (and two-time All-American) Oklahoma State's Jordan Oliver is back again, as is 4th place finisher Scotti Sentes (Central Michigan), whose freakish length confounded Ramos when they met in the NCAA Tournament last spring. Oliver is, like McDonough at 125, a heavy favorite to win his weight class and a preseason favorite for the Hodge Trophy; needless to say, Ramos has his work cut out for him to get on that level.
THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION
This is a weight class where it should be far easier for Iowa to make hay in the Big Ten ranks than in the national scene. Oliver is a devilish match-up for almost anyone, but even moreso for an undersized guy like Ramos, considering that Oliver has been dogged by talk that he could easily move up to 141 and, as we saw at the NCAA Tournament, Sentes is a pretty rotten match-up for Tony as well. On the other hand, with Long and Graff gone, the Big Ten looks considerably more wide open, which should benefit Tony. On the other hand, there's also no shortage of potential threats in the Big Ten at 133: not including Ramos, four of InterMat's preseason top ten hail from the Big Ten (Quiroga, Stieber, Minnesota's David Thorn, and Illinois' B.J. Futrell. Ramos split a pair of matches with Futrell last year, losing to him at Midlands but beating him in the third-place match at the Big Ten Tournament. He swept Thorn last year, although all of the matches were close (7-3, 4-3, 7-5 OT). So what's the expectation? All-American seems reasonable, since Ramos was very close last year and should be better this year. It's tough to see him getting past either Oliver or Sentes at this point, but any finish between 3rd and 8th seems plausible. In terms of the Big Ten, becoming a Big Ten finalist seems eminently possible this year -- and winning it all certainly doesn't seem beyond him at all, either.
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Caring is creepy is boomin'. Hot on the heels of last week's trio of verbal commitments, Tom Brands landed another big-time verbal commitment this weekend when Ohio's Nate Skonieczny decided to join the fold.
Like Thomas Gilman and Sam Brooks last week Skonieczny is an elite recruit. He's the #8 overall prospect in both InterMat and d1collegewrestling's rankings and one of the top two options at 141 or 149 (his projected weights in college). He has a 136-9 career record as a prep, including a state title as a junior last year and a runner-up finish as a freshman. Needless to say, he's a big-time recruit -- and yet another kid who dreamed of being a Hawkeye:
"I’ve been the biggest Iowa Hawkeye fan since I was about 10 years old. I love watching YouTube (videos of) Mark Ironside, Lincoln McIlravy and Brent Metcalf. I love watching those guys wrestle."
Skonieczny’s dream of wrestling for the Hawkeyes became one step closer to reality Sunday night when the blue-chip recruit verbally committed to Iowa. The Walsh Jesuit senior selected the Hawkeyes over Ohio State, Michigan and West Virginia.
"The campuses are the same somewhat, but (Iowa’s) wrestling, their intensity level is way above everyone else’s," he said. "That’s where champions are made."
From watching the match above, you can definitely see more than a little Ironside or Metcalf in him: he's tenacious on his feet and always on the attack, always looking for the takedown. He's also not content to get one or two takedowns and try to cruise from there -- he wants to keep getting takedown after takedown after takedown... until this opponent is broken on the mat. We saw Metcalf do that to plenty of guys during his tenure and McDonough has taken up that mantle quite nicely; if Skonieczny is next in line in that proud tradition, bring it on.
Skonieczny adds to the already-impressive depth Iowa has in the lower weights. At his projected weights (141 and 149), Iowa already has a host of well-regarded freshmen and sophomore options, including Josh Dziewa (141), Jake Ballweg (141/149), Mark Ballweg (141/149), Mike Kelly (149), and Dylan Carew (149), but you can never have enough quality options. In fact, Skonieczny could be well-suited to replace Carew at 149 (assuming Carew wins the job there, at least); by the time Skonieczy is a redshirt freshman, Carew will be a senior.
Of course, the flipside to Iowa's impressive depth at the lower weights is its scary lack of depth at the upper weights. Thus far, only one of the recruits that Tom Brands has landed are projected to one of those weights (Brooks, at 184/197); more help is needed at 184/197 and Heavyweight, so hopefully the remainder of this recruiting class addresses those gaping holes in the line-up.