Is this the best they’ve got? Hope not
By Chuck Cashmun
LINCOLN -- Breathe, Iowa wrestling fans, the first win of the season is out of the way. But be warned: There may be little easy breathing this season.
The BHBIGS wrestling team opened its schedule with a buttery sweet 37-6 victory over Corn Nation. Outclassed at every weight, the Cornholioes offered up a spread of hors d’oeuvres (pronounced “horse doovers” west of the Missouri River) to their visiting Iowa guests.
The Unicorns -- Or is it Bats? Pick a mascot and go with it, troops -- won 8 of 10 weights, and never looked to be in any real danger. The trouble -- and don’t kid yourself, trouble is always just around the bend -- is when one considers the long-term prospects of this squad. From Larchwood to Keokuk and New Albin to Hamburg, wrestling is an Iowa thang. Iowans live it, breathe it and understand it the way a Frenchman understands fine dining and rude manners. BHBIGS fans have a palate that can grasp the complexities of championship effort.
So, did you see championship effort on Sunday, or did you see “just good enough” against a squad of pushers and shovers who are Big 10-grade in name only? Don’t kid yourself. A 37-6 win looks great on the ESPN ticker, but never forget it came at the expense of the Directional Illinois of collegiate blog wrestling.
Here’s a guess: Coach Brands understands full well that his kids aren’t yet up to the task, but instead of saying what he really felt, he chose to exercise some new-found diplomacy skills with the media after the match.
“We came out, jumped out to a big lead, seemed like some of our guys were distracted by other things, but we have something we can go off of now, competition wise,” said Brands in an apparent attempt to say everything and nothing in one looping run-on sentence. “We can be more intense, we can score more points, we need more intensity. It was good to go against someone in a different colored singlet finally. That bulls#!^ with the ref, well, I'll take care of that at the bike racks, so that'll be a non-story.”
It’s nice to see he’s got a little of his brothers in him, aggression-wise, but he couldn’t bring himself to fully smooth over the rough patches. Distracted? More intensity? Bulls#!^? What gives? Where’s the Iowa we know and love? Where’s the aggression, the intimidation, the “oh no, you don’t” attitude that has for so long defined wrestling in the Land Between Two Rivers? It wasn’t there on Sunday, that’s for sure.
Wrestling is not the NBA, where a team has the luxury of months to prepare for the post-season. In wrestling you go hard all the time, every time. To be soft, or give anything less than 110 percent, is inexcusable. To show anything less than supreme effort is to invite pain, much like throwing chum into the middle of a school of sharks and jumping in for a swim. “Just good enough” is just not good enough.
The exclamation point on the evening? RossWB’s loss to Grixxly at 165. Grixxly is the real deal, an Iowa tough guy straight from the Dan Gable template. Rugged, physical, fearless, aggressive: This is an Iowa wrestler. Instead, he took his talents south to Lincoln, where the beaches are scarce but there are victories to be had.
While Grixxly looked the part, RossWB looked distracted. Maybe life in Minnesota has made him soft, but WB looked as if he wanted to be anywhere else but center stage. In fact, it looked as if he was searching the stands for someone. Is this the best Ross has got? I hope not, because on Sunday he wasn’t fit to put on the unicorn (Or is it bats? I forget).
Take in schedule, if you dare. The Unicorns have to battle through the cut and thrust of the Big 10’s best, with dates against bruisers such as Iowa State and at Oklahoma State sprinkled in for flavor. At this point, next weekend’s tie with Boise is no sure thing. In short, the schedule is a murderer’s row of the best in the sport that would put even the best to the test.
Is BHBIGS the best, or one of the rest? Have an answer? Do you want an honest answer?
It’s wrestling season, wrestling fans. Has a season of pain arrived?
Chuck Cashmun has been an observer of major college and professional sports for more than 30 years. He is the author of “Technically Fair: The Autobiography of Ted Valentine,” and in 2009 won the John Feinstein Award for quality reporting of ACC men’s basketball. Correspondence to Cashmun will be answered in this space.