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
Initially, I was going to save this weight until even nearer the end of this preview series because 197 was such a gigantic question mark for this year's team. But after last weekend's wrestle offs, it's pretty clear that there's only one answer for Iowa at 197 this year: Tomas Lira. This has been a bit of a cursed weight at Iowa for quite a while, really. Half a decade ago, injuries and a lack of options forced Chad Beatty to move up to 197 from 174, where he went 4-9. Things improved the next year (19-6, 4th place at Big Tens, NCAA qualifier) and looked promising for 2009-2010, until an injury knocked him out of action for the entire Big Ten dual meet season. He returned for Big Tens and NCAAs, but was clearly not yet fit and mustered only a 6th place finish at Big Tens and failed to reach the podium at NCAAs. His injury replacement, Luke Lofthouse, took over the full-time job last year and, to his credit, Uncle Luke did put together a very solid season: 25-7, 2nd in the Big Ten, 5th in the NCAA. Uncle Luke's replacement was supposed to be a one-year mercenary Cayle Byers, an elite transfer from George Mason who projects as a national title contender, but he ended up at Oklahoma State instead.
And so we find ourselves with Tomas Lira gamely attempting to fill this hole in the Iowa roster. Lira was a solid prep wrestler (124-6), although he could never break through to champion level (two state runner-up finishes), but he's struggled a bit at Iowa: he went 10-11 at 184 while redshirting in 09-10 and 13-7 at 184 last year. He's never wrestled at 197 before, so this is uncharted territory for him. He pinned Josh Haug (a redshirt freshman listed at 184) in an exhibition match in the finals of the wrestle-offs, but that doesn't really tell us much. Frankly, until we see Lira in some live competition against other 197ers, it's impossible to know how he stacks up.
THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS
So what do we do if something happens to Lira? Good question. Tom Flood, a freshman walk-on from Chicago, is evidently planning on wrestling at 197 this season (he's listed at 184 but also wrestled at HWT during wrestle-offs), but he should be just a practice room guy while he redshirts. There was a faint hope for much of the off-season that Brodie Ambrose, a career back-up at 197 who had decent results (he went 20-4 as a redshirt freshman and sophomore wrestling unattached) could make the back down to 197, but that didn't happen (he actually wrestled at heavyweight at the wrestle-offs). No, if something happens to Lira chances are we'd see another 184 wrestling up a weight, probably Vinnie Wagner (17-3 at 184 last year).
THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD
It's a shame that Iowa doesn't have a better option here, because this is not exactly a stacked weight. Just three of last year's All Americans are returning this year (there would be four but defending national champion Dustin Kilgore is redshirting), although that doesn't include Edinboro's Chris Honeycutt (an All-American at 184 last year) or the aforementioned Byers, who will be vying for All-American (and more) honors this year. This is also a weight where Iowa's major challengers for a national title (Oklahoma State, Penn State, and Minnesota) will be looking to gain ground on the Hawks: in addition to Okie State's Byers (currently ranked 3rd by InterMat), Minnesota has Sonny Yohn (#2), and Penn State has much-hyped true freshman Morgan McIntosh (#10). It would be nice if Iowa had an option here that could keep up with those guys, but that seems quite unlikely unless Lira absolutely stuns us all.
THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION
Again, until we see what Lira looks like against some actual 197ers -- and, more importantly, some actual decent 197ers -- it's pretty much impossible to form any sort of rational expectation for his performance this year. He's a complete mystery right now. At the moment, though, I'd be pretty happy with a .500 record in dual meets and simply qualifying for the NCAA Tournament -- anything beyond that would be gravy and even that might be expecting too much. This is not a weight for Iowa where it pays to dream big. For now this looks like the annual hole in the line-up (last year it was 149), so we may just need to be content with whatever success we can scrape together here.
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Lost in the Lindenwood. Iowa's season officially gets underway this weekend with a trip to the Lindenwood University Open. It's the first chance for the Iowa wrestlers to get matches that count on this year's W-L record and to wrestle someone other than the same faces they see every day in the Iowa practice room. As The Daily Iowan notes, It's also a chance to get more information about some of the undecided weights on this team:
But the true test comes this weekend, head coach Tom Brands said.
The Hawkeyes will compete at the Linwood University Open in St. Charles, Mo., on Saturday.
There, the "million-dollar question" about who will start in several weight classes will be answered.
"This weekend is for real," Brands said. "It was upon us last weekend — it was real — but now it's for real against other competition than what's in [Iowa's] room."
That's a little bit of hyperbole -- getting to wrestle someone other than the same practice squad faces is nice, but the competition level at this event doesn't figure to be all that high. Most of the teams participating come from lower-division schools, and while Illinois, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Missouri are sending wrestlers as well, they're mainly sending back-ups. Iowa is sending a full contingent (starters and several backups) and should dominate this field. In fact, it would be a surprise not to see some Iowa v. Iowa matchups in the tournament (particularly at 133, where Ramos and Clark figure to be easily the best guys there). So, no, this isn't likely to determine much of anything re: the roster, but it's nice to see Iowa guys wrestle someone other than one another.
To the interwebs and beyond. Finally, Friend of the Pants (and wrestling writer extraordinaire) Andy Hamilton has a fun article about the way the internet, and particularly YouTube and sites like FloWrestling, have revolutionized wrestling now, both in terms of scouting current and future opponents and in terms of recruiting.
Gilman is a new-age wrestler who grew up DVDs, smart phones, YouTube and the technological advancements to watch the sport anytime and anywhere. The wrestling generation before him banked on Iowa Public Television broadcasts and then hoped the VCR was set correctly and repeated use didn’t destroy the VHS tapes.
Technology is revolutionizing the sport on multiple levels. Wrestlers have more technical expertise than ever at their finger tips. Coaches can scout opponents or recruits without leaving the office. Fans are able to watch wrestling year-round without getting in a car or boarding a plane.