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Dance Party Zionsville. For the second time in three years, the previously-moribund Iowa men's golf team is headed to the big dance, the NCAA Championships. This year's NCAA Tournament is in lovely and scenic Stillwater, OK. We shouldn't crack wise too much, though, because frankly Iowa is a little fortunate to even be there after their performance at this weekend's NCAA Regional in Zionsville, IL. After opening up with an OK-ish team aggregate of 285 on Thursday, Iowa responded with scores of 289 and 291 on Friday and Saturday, earning them a tie for fourth with Tennessee with an overall score of 865 (+13). Luckily, their primary competitor for the fifth and final spot (Stanford) had an even worse weekend (292-293), but still: if you wanted a textbook example of "backing in," this performance would be a pretty good one. They finished well behind the teams at the top of the leaderboard, Michigan (-11), Illinois (-9), and Alabama (-5).
The star performer for Iowa was Chris Brant, just as it was a few weeks ago at the Big Ten Tournament; Brant shot 68-71-71 to finish in a tie for 7th among all individual participants. He's clearly peaking at the right time. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for erstwhile team star Vince India, whose weekend performance (72-74-76) was the second-worst on the team. Iowa's margin of error is slim enough that they can ill afford to have their best golfer playing that poorly. His main competition for best name wasn't much better, though; Brad Hopfinger (70-78-73) went +12 over a stretch of 28 holes on Friday and Saturday (though he did bounce back to finish with four birdies in his final eight holes Saturday). We're certainly happy that the Iowa golfers made it back to the NCAA Tournament -- this level of success is basically unprecedented for the team -- but it's also frustrating to see guys who have played so well earlier in the season playing poorly now when the opportunity is there for them to really make a dent in the Iowa record books. Still, hope springs eternal and maybe they can put it all together for a nice run in Stillwater next week.
Hard like a diamond. The Iowa baseball season ended over the weekend, and the Hawkeyes went out the way they played for much of the season: with a disappointing whimper. Iowa entered the weekend needing to sweep the much-reviled Boilermakers to retain any hope of making the Big Ten Tournament (which takes only the top six finishers from the league's regular season). That, uh, didn't happen. After blowing a 3-0 lead by giving up six runs in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings (and losing 6-3), the Hawkeys followed that up by blowing a 2-0 lead by giving up five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning (and losing 6-2). Then, as the cherry on top of this particular shit sundae, Iowa lost to Purdue 5-2 in the third and final game of the series, despite outhitting OMHR (9-6) and getting the benefit of two Purdue errors.
Coupled with a loss to Creighton earlier in the week, Iowa ended the year on a five-game skid and finished with an ugly 20-32 record, just 9-15 in league play, good enough for 9th place. We don't exactly expect miracles from Iowa baseball -- the history of college baseball in the midwest (let alone at Iowa) is not exactly stellar -- but we did anticipate more than a 9th-place finish for a team that was runner-up at the Big Ten Tournament a year ago, returned many of the key figures from that team, and inked the best recruiting class in the Big Ten over the winter. By all accounts, Jack Dahm is a nice guy, a good recruiter, and a tireless fundraiser for his program, but this is still a results-oriented business so at some point Bloodpunch is going to need to take a hard look at Dahm and the baseball program.
The future of grapple grapple grapple. The wrestling recruiting season is winding down, which means it's time for way-too-early assessments of those classes. A year ago, Iowa's class was the cock of the walk and the consensus top class in the nation. This year? Not so much. TheOpenMat ranks Iowa's class 22nd, while W.I.N. Magazine doesn't even place Iowa in the Top 25. That huge tumble in the rankings isn't because Los Bros. Brands have suddenly forgotten how to recruit; rather, it's a function of the peculiarities of wrestling recruiting and the limitations of scholarships (and, more precisely, scholarship money).
Over the last 5-6 years, Iowa has had some hugely imbalanced classes, with one or two years gobbling up a disproportionate amount of the available scholarship monies. So when the monster class with Metcalf, Borschel, Keddy, Morningstar, et al departed the program after the 2010 campaign, Iowa was flush with scholarship money -- which they promptly used by going out and signing up an elite class. There was less money to go around this year and, consequently, Iowa signed a smaller (and somewhat less distinguished) class. Mind you, that's not to say that it isn't still a good class. The headliner is Cayle Byers, the 197-lb transfer from George Mason; he's only available for a year, but he fills a huge need and should provide a dramatic boost for Iowa's 2012 national title hopes. Patrick Rhoads and Kris Kapprodt are two very solid talents at 174/184 and Brody Grothus could be a legitimate diamond in the rough at 149; he generated a lot of interest late in the recruiting process and has the potential for improve significantly once he's able to focus on wrestling exclusively in college. There are still a few concerns when it comes to recruiting; 197 remains a concern since there is zero depth there and no one to replace Byers after next year, and the depth at 125-133 isn't ideal. Granted, with McDonough and Ramos holding down the fort at those weights for the next few years there isn't a huge need to get new faces there -- but they won't be there forever.
In other wrestling news, heavyweight Jordan Johnson is transferring to Grand Canyon University. The move comes as a (slight) surprise; Blake Rasing established himself as the starter a year ago, but his lackluster performance at the NCAA Tournament seemed to open the door for the other heavyweights (Johnson and redshirting freshman Bobby Telford) to be in contention for the spot next year. Then again, maybe Johnson was frustrated that he never got a look last year when Rasing was struggling in the early going of the season. Either way, best of luck to Johnson. Finally, W.I.N. Magazine also released a preview of the 2011-2012 season, speculating on which teams could prevent Penn State from repeating as national champs. It won't be easy, since no team returns as many points from their 2011 NCAA Tournament performance as Penn State (106.5 of 107.5). Iowa returns the second-most points (73.5 of 86.5), but will need to get significant improvement at 149, 174, and HWT (and for Byers to live up to the hype at 197) to catch Penn State.
* Fresh off their Big Ten Championship, a few members of the Iowa track and field team earned individual honors; Justin Austin was named Track Athlete of the Year and of the Championships, while Larry Wieczorek earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.
* NCAA Football '12 offers crazy amounts of customization; finally Iowa State can be placed in their rightful home in the Horizon League. (Or at least the WAC if you're limited to FBS-only leagues.)