(The A Winner Is You! weight-by-weight preview series will get completed, I promise. Hopefully over the next few weeks. Iowa doesn't really face legitimate competition until December, anyway.)
Iowa wrestling held their media day and, as expected, Tom Brands provided plenty of great copy. Despite returning eight of ten starters from a year ago, Brands not-so-subtly hinted that a number of spots were far from locked down:
"We do have eight returning weight classes, and even beyond the two classes where we don't have guys returning, there could be more than two new faces in there," Brands said Wednesday at Iowa's annual media day.
"It's like our daddies and moms always used to tell us growing up, you don't get what you deserve, you get what you earn."
"Unless those eight returning starters just grab the bull by the horns and catch fire and go - and they've got a lot of work to do for that to happen - you're going to see where guys are going to get a chance."
165 and 197 are the two weights without a returning starter, so obviously we'll be seeing new starters there. So which returning starters might be feeling the heat? Well, either due to a lack of alternative options or general past excellence, I think we can assume that 125 (Matt McDonough), 141 (Montell Marion), Derek St. John (157), Ethen Lofthouse (174), and Grant Gambrall (184) are pretty safe, if healthy. 149 technically returns last year's starter (Matt Ballweg), but considering he was an emergency injury replacement, no one should be too surprised if he isn't starting this year. No, the two weights where the returning starters need to be watching their backs appear to be 133 (Tony Ramos) and HWT (Blake Rasing).
Let's look at things weight-by-weight:
As the most successful wrestler on the team (NCAA champion, Big Ten champion, two-time NCAA finalist), Matt McDonough is the obvious choice to assume that leadership role Brands is looking for, and if that's the case he's starting with a little in-house mentoring:
That’s where junior Matt McDonough opened his doors this summer for freshman Mike Evans and wrestling matters ranging from pounds to pins developed into a duel.
"I love it and I hope he does too," McDonough, the consensus top-ranked 125-pounder in the country, said Wednesday at Iowa’s media day. "That’s what really makes a person great as a wrestler but a team great — people competing and not just amongst themselves but competing to be the best."
I don't know if greatness is transferable via osmosis, but if the hype surrounding Evans' talent is legit and he can emulate McDonough's approach on and off the mat, he should be in line for a very, very good career.
McDonough, meanwhile, has plenty of motivation to erase the disappointment of getting ROBLES ROBLES ROBLES'd in the NCAA finals last year:
Q. Do you see any lingering affects from McDonough after his loss in the championship? Just because of the guy he wrestled, it was all over TV, all over the country?
COACH BRANDS: No, I think if anything, not that he needs it, but if anything, he probably I don't know if he makes fun of himself or what. It's kind of like he'll laugh about it. Not really laugh, I got to be careful how I say this. But he's laughing like here it goes again.
Then we watch the rules video and there's McDonough getting kilted by Robles. So there are constant reminders of fueling the fire. It's kind of like the Metcalf loss. The back flip was shown over and over and over again. Then there was some controversy with the push.
Then we had to go through the process with the NCAA Rules Committee where they were going to sanction Metcalf. So it just kept carrying out and on and on and on, constant reminders. Those two guys don't necessarily need them, but that helps him more than it hurts him.
But it wouldn't be any different if he didn't see it frequently. He's a unique fellow when it comes to competition. Like I said earlier, he's the most dedicated fellow I've coached in a long, long time.
The most interesting thing about this spot is how much Brands talked up the guys other than Ramos (a returning starter):
133 is deep and competitive. We have Krutsinger, Tony Ramos, we've got Clark. Between those three guys somebody's going to get the job done. Clark's waited a long time. Last year I think he probably thought that he should have, could have, would have been the guy. So now you've got to show us. Show us with performance.
And Ty Clark, another senior, you didn't mention him. He's had a long road. He wrestled as a true freshman at Iowa State, right? That's tough. That's tough to do. I'm not sure that was as fulfilling an experience for him as maybe he thought. Now he's had his last chance. So a lot of maybe extra effort coming out of those guys just because it is their last chance. So good stuff there.
I still think Ramos earns the starting nod again (unless Clark had an aggression transplant over the summer), but it's a nice reminder that guys at a lot of these weights can't afford to rest on their laurels. Being a starter a year ago doesn't guarantee anything this year.
"Hungry" describes pretty much everyone on the Iowa team this year (because Tom Brands doesn't let them eat, you see), which is to be expected after a disappointing (for them) runner-up finish at Big Tens and a third-place finish at NCAAs, an event where they failed to record a single champion (and had just one finalist). But Montell Marion seems even hungrier than the rest, which is also not much of a surprise: as a senior, this is his last go-round.
The unfulfilled career of University of Iowa wrestler Montell Marion boils down to his quest for an asterisk. Inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex, an asterisk -- the typographical symbol used to designate a footnote -- represents a national champion on the roll call board of Hawkeye All-Americans.
Marion's name is already there with the years 2009 and 2010 off to the side. But there is no asterisk...yet.
"I need an asterisk by my name," Marion said. "That symbolizes national champion, and that's what it comes down to."
Montell also doesn't lack for confidence -- at all:
Prior to his final year, Marion issued a challenge to upcoming opponents: You know what I've got, now try to stop it.
"You can watch the film and you can know what I have, but the question is, can you stop them?" Marion said. "I don't see anybody that can stop it. I feel I can get in on anybody's legs, and I feel I can finish on anybody. That's a lot to go against and good luck to whoever tries to coach against that."
In a positive way, Marion said he wants to go from an electrifying wrestler to one he describes as boring.
"I prefer my matches to not be exciting," Marion said. "I want to be hammering guys so much that (spectators) don't even want to watch anymore. Hopefully the Montell this year can make it not so entertaining for fans -- that's how it has to be for me to win my title."
The good news is that Dylan Carew should be available to wrestle for Iowa at 149 this year. The bad news is that he's not quite 100% yet -- they're still being cautious about bringing him back.
Dylan Carew was willing to try wrestling with one torn ACL last season. He drew the line at two.
"We’re just taking it one step at a time," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "We’ll see what we do with him."
The only weight Iowa didn’t have a placewinner at the Big Ten Championships last season was at 149.
Brands said Carew might be more of a big-match wrestler than a grind-it-out guy.
"Carew is let’s get on with the lights and the camera and the action," Brands said. "So he’s a unique guy there. He’s a fun guy to be around.
"We’ll see if he gets a match or not this weekend."
That's an interesting point that highlights how different (yet still sucecssful) wrestlers can be. We lionize guys like Brent Metcalf and Matt McDonough because they bulldoze guys in practice, in lesser dual meets and big dual meets, in lesser tournaments and big tournaments... but that's not the only way to win. Ohio State's J Jaggers won back-to-back national titles in 2008 and 2009 despite never being higher than a 3-seed: he simply managed to peak during the NCAA Tournament and thrive under the spotlight. Carew sounds like a gamer; hopefully his knees will hold up and we get a chance to see what he can do this year.
No news here.
One of the slight surprises of the off-season was the news that Mike Evans, who wrestled at 189 in high school and was projected to wrestle at 174 in college, was actually going to cut to 165 to try for the opening spot there. So far, it seems like a move that he and the coaches are pleased with:
"I’ve always been kind of light in high school, when I wrestled whatever weight I was at," Evans said. "One day after practice, I came in a little light, left a little light, and I felt pretty good. It was just impulse to go to 165."
Evans said cutting weight has not been difficult, but Brands praised his determination.
"No discussion about what class he was going," the sixth-year Iowa coach said. "Didn’t come in and say ‘Coach, can I talk to you?’ He just did it. That’s what we like. That’s ownership."
Evans also made W.I.N. Magazine's Breakout College Stars of 2012 list.
Not much news about Ethen or 174, frankly. With Evans cutting to 165 to fight for that spot, Ethen is pretty clearly the man here.
The other good injury-related news for the season is that Grant Gambrall has been cleared to participate again. He missed some practice time earlier this season due to a concussion he suffered over the summer, but it sounds like it's all systems go now:
Gambrall had a concussion this summer during a workout. It was the second concussion of his career.
"I’m not too worried about it," Gambrall said. "I’m cleared; been working back into it."
If Gambrall was unable to go, Vinnie Wagner sounded like the most likely replacement, and while he went a very respectable 17-3 in unattached competition and is apparently juggling life in med school with wrestling, well, we'd still be concerned about throwing him to the sharks at the deepest weight in the nation this year.
Well, we know the starter, anyway: Tomas Lira.
COACH BRANDS: Tomas Lira is there. When you look at the wrestle offs, he's the only guy in the bracket. He'll have a match on Saturday, and we'll figure that out as we go deeper into the wrestle offs tomorrow and Friday on who that opponent will be. And these are all exhibitions anyway, so that will be an exhibition of the exhibition or an exhibition of the inner squad.
As most observers expected, the weight cut was just too severe for Brodie Ambrose to make. So Lira it is.
As expected, the competition between Blake Rasing and Bobby Telford for this spot is fierce:
"Bob Telford is a motivated heavyweight," Brands said. "He’s what you would expect young guys to come into the program as: Motivated and hungry and not worrying about what’s in front of them. The other side of the coin is Blake Rasing. He’s not going to lay down. We like both these guys, they’re both very capable."
Rasing said he didn’t expect to be handed a starting position, and that competition at heavyweight is nothing new.
"Every year I’ve been here, there’s been a battle at the heavyweight class," he said. "It’s the same thing every year, but maybe a different face."
Montell Marion, for one, likes what he sees out of Telford:
"He’s an ornery heavyweight," Marion, a Des Moines native, said. "He’s got a lot of passion and fire in his eyes, and I don’t think he wants to take a backseat, I don’t think he wants to wait until next year for Rasing to graduate."
Like Mike Evans, Telford also cracked W.I.N. Magazine's Breakout College Stars of 2012 list... even though neither guy is guaranteed to make the starting lineup. Heh.
Lights, camera, wrestling. BTN will be showing the Finals of the Midlands Championships on same-day delay at 9pm CT on December 30. Obviously live would be preferable, but same-day delay is better than nothing.
As Brands alluded to up top, these rankings are not particularly useful. Like most preseason rankings, they're based on what you did last year and/or what you're projected to do this year. For the most established Iowa wrestlers (McDonough, Marion, St. John, Gambrall), there's no debate about where they land in the rankings: all are in the top three at their respective weights. There's more debate for the rest, though. Ramos fluctuates between 2 and 5 and Lofthouse ranks between 3 and 7. There's even more variety of opinion at Iowa's unsettled weights: at 149, Carew checks in between 16-18 on three services, Kelly checks in at 15 on another, and The Open Mat pegs one or the other at 11th; at 165, Mike Evans slides in at 14-15, while Nick Moore checks in at 17-20, and TOM punts again by placing Evans/Moore at 17; and at HWT, Rasing ranks between 5-9, while Telford gets the nod at 11 on one service, and TOM once again goes either-or with them at 9. By and large, these rankings are pretty fair: considering that Carew, Evans, Moore, Ballweg, Kelly, and Tedford haven't wrestled many (or any) meaningful college matches yet, the fact that they're ranked at all is pretty good. There will be ample time to move up the rankings during the season.
Wrasslin' to the top. Wrestle-offs started last night and continue today and tomorrow morning. Here are the details:
133: Aldon Isenberg DEC Matt Gurule (13-9)
141: Nick Trizzino PIN Charlie Joseph (2:13)
157: Joey Trizzino MAJ DEC Stew Gillmor (14-0)
157: Joe DuCharme DEC Patrick Rhoads (6-4 OT)
FRIDAY (4:15pm CT, Dan Gable Wrestling Complex at Carver-Hawkeye Arena)
133: Tony Ramos vs. Aldon Isenberg
133: J.J. Krutsinger vs. Tyler Clark
141: Montell Marion vs. Nick Trizzino
141: Nate Moore vs. Mark Ballweg
149: Jake Ballweg vs. Jake Kadel
149: Brody Grothus vs. Ethan Owens
157: Derek St. John vs. Joey Trizzino
157: Michael Kelly vs. Joe DuCharme
165: Walt Gillmor vs. Nick Moore
184: Josh Haug vs. Jeremy Fahler
HWT: Blake Rasing vs. Tom Flood
HWT: Brodie Ambrose vs. Bobby Telford
SATURDAY (8:45am CT, Dan Gable Wrestling Complex at Carver-Hawkeye Arena)
133: Ramos/Isenberg vs. Krutsinger/Clark
141: Marion/Trizzino vs. Moore/Ballweg
149: Ballweg/Kadel vs. Grothus/Owens
157: St. John/Trizzino vs. Kelly/DuCharme
165: Gillmor/Moore vs. Mike Evans
174: Ethen Lofthouse vs. Kris Klapprodt
184: Haug/Fahler vs. Vinnie Wagner
HWT: Rasing/Flood vs. Ambrose/Flood
A few notes...
* Carew and Gambrall are being held out for injury-related precautions.
* I don't know why McDonough isn't wrestling anyone; there's been no mention of any potential injuries, so maybe they just don't have bodies to go at 125 right now.
* I also don't know why Mike Evans gets a bye into the finals; maybe Nick Moore drew the short straw.
* The weights guys are wrestling at here are interesting, but not necessarily telling: Brands noted that Michael Kelly could still wind up going at 149 this year, for instance.
* Incidentally, that means that arguably both of the favorites to actually man the 149 spot for Iowa this year (Kelly and Carew) are sitting out these wrestle-offs. On the other hand, Brands also had some glowing praise for true freshman Brody Grothus, which was very intriguing. True freshmen almost always redshirt under Brands, but if he's doing well now and Brands thinks he could make a difference in the final team standings at the Big Tens and NCAAs, well, that preference might get waived.
Still more recruiting news. Finally, there's even more good news to share from the recruiting world. Iowa added two more verbal commitments for the class of 2012, as well as a transfer from the class of 2011. The most notable addition is Nathan Burak, a 184/197 recruit out of Colorado. He won a state title at 189 last year, but opted to spend a year training at the Olympic Training Center rather than head immediately to college. (This is not an uncommon path for some recruits, particularly high-profile ones; Iowa's own Montell Marion did the same thing.) In terms of rankings and recruiting hype, Burak is a slightly unusual case. He wasn't highly touted as a prep senior (he didn't make d1collegewrestlings' top 150 recruits list, for instance), but he turned some heads after a very strong showing at the Junior Nationals in Fargo (4th in Greco Roman, 3rd in freestyle) during the offseason. He seems like a bit of a late bloomer, as well as a testament to what better coaching and improved competition can do for a wrestler.
Most importantly, he fills a gaping void in Iowa's lineup: 197, a spot he says he's ready to fill as soon as next year:
He said he’d like to be ready to step into Iowa’s lineup next season at 197 pounds.
"That’s my plan," he said. "But we’ll see when I get out there. I’ll talk it over with the coaches when I get out there."
It's unusual for a true freshman to be able to step right into the lineup, but two things will work in his favor: Iowa desperately needs a decent option at 197 (unless Tomas Lira unexpectedly proves to be better than a mere stopgap option) and he'll be a year removed from high school, with the added benefit of spending that year training with other elite wrestlers. He'll have essentially had a redshirt year -- he just took it at the OTC in Colorado Springs rather than the Iowa practice room in Iowa City.
The other recruit to verbal to Iowa is yet another wrestler in the lower weights, Connor Ryan out of Davenport. Ryan hasn't yet claimed a state championship, but he's no slouch, either: he's a three-time state runner-up (twice to fellow Iowa recruit Cory Clark). He's been growing rapidly in high school (those runner-up finishes have so far been at 103, 112, and 125) and projects to 141-149 in college. That's a weight where Iowa already has some highly-regarded options (including Jake Ballweg and Josh Dziewa from the Class of 2010, Brody Grothus from the Class of 2011, and Nate Skonieczny from the Class of 2012), so breaking through will be difficult, but still: the more quality options, the better.
In fact, there will actually be one more face to battle with at those weights after Iowa adds transfer Steve Rodrigues from Rutgers in January. (Based on interwebs scuttlebutt and the fact that he posted that he was headed to Iowa in January on his Facebook page, it seems like a done deal.) Rodrigues was 54th in d1collegewrestling's Class of 2011 last year (#90, InterMat), with solid credentials: New York state champ as a senior, 3rd as a junior, and runner-up as a sophomore, as well as 5th at the 2011 Junior Nationals. As noted, the competition at those lower weights figures to be absolutely brutal, but for some guys that's an incentive rather than a turn-off. Best of luck to him (and Ryan) on cracking through the projected logjam there.
Finally, here's a rough look at the class-by-class breakdown of the Iowa roster, starting next year.
For all but the true freshmen, I've used the weights they're wrestling at for this weekend's wrestle-offs. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll stay there beyond this weekend (and certainly nothing is guaranteed for next year), but it does give us a way to look at how things break down. (Wrestlers with an * beside their name are guys who are listed at other weights on the official roster.) I slotted the true freshmen into different weights at my own discretion. Highlighted wrestlers are projected starters.
Again, this is simply a (very) rough breakdown of the depth at each weight, according to eligibility. As you can see, there's a considerable amount of depth consolidated at the lower weights (there are possibly between 6-8 high-caliber starting options battling for four starting spots down there), while the options are a bit slimmer at the upper weights. For instance, at HWT, Heiderscheit is a walk-on and Flood is listed at 184, despite competing in the heavyweight wrestle-offs this weekend. It's unlikely that Iowa will add any more notable recruits to the Class of 2012, but it's easy to easy see where the target areas for the Class of 2013 figure to be: HWT will be a must, and the middleweights (157-165, in particular) figure to get some attention. Depending on funds and available options, it wouldn't hurt to go after some more guys in the 174-197 range, either.