It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago Iowa was treated to one of the greatest Hawkeyes to grace the mat, Brent Metcalf. Metcalf was a former #2 overall recruit in the nation, second only to Minnesota bound Dustin Schlatter. Metcalf originally committed to Virginia Tech where he was following coach Tom Brands. When Brands took the job at Iowa, Metcalf followed him, knowing full well he would most likely lose his freshman year of eligibility. Metcalf made the most of the three years he did have making the NCAA finals three times and winning them twice. That was good for second best among all recruits from that class, and he did it in three years. So Iowa faced the challenge of not only replacing a NCAA champion, but one of the best wrestlers from the 2005 recruiting class and a top all-time Iowa performer.
In 2006 Iowa tried to shore up the backup position by signing #18 Travis Blasco and #40 Matt Ballweg. Blasco ended up leaving the University of Iowa shortly into his career, and Matt Ballweg ended up growing into a 157 role. When he did cut back to 149 late in his career he was not very effective. Iowa then failed to land any replacements in the 2007 class, and in the 2008 class the signed Ballweg’s brother #30 Mark who profiled as a 133/141, but potential to grow to 149. Mark never really grew to be as big as his brother in college and ended up being a more suitable 141 where he competed last year for the Hawkeyes as a starter in the lineup.
In 2009 they landed their first true 149 recruit and Metcalf’s heir apparent. Dylan Carew came in one of the center pieces of the #5 class, which included this year’s seniors St. John, Ramos, and Lofthouse. Carew battled injuries all of his career and only competed in 15 matches in his collegiate career across three seasons. Carew was scheduled to slide right into Metcalf’s spot right after the 2010 season, but due to injuries it was Mark Ballweg who filled in.
In the 2011-12 Iowa was hoping one of the wrestlers from the 2010 #1 overall recruiting class would fill in. They hoped between #31 Jake Ballweg, #74 Mike Kelly or #79 Anthony Baldosaro would emerge and take hold of the 149 spot. Baldosaro and Ballweg ended leaving the team for personal reasons, so that left Kelly, who was projected as a 157/165 recruit to cut down. 149 proved to be too difficult for a freshman Kelly as he was unable to give the Hawkeye’s a NCAA qualifier for the second year in a row after the Metcalf departure.
The 2011 landed #108 Brody Grothus, and that’s where the story really takes off. Grothus was heralded as a practice room warrior so much so that he had earned the praise from the legend himself, Dan Gable. Gable was said to love the work ethic Brody brought to the table, and Hawkeye fans were so desperate for a savior they believed the hype. With a returning starter Mike Kelly and Gable hyped Grothus, Hawk fans were at least hoping that year 3 sans Metcalf Iowa could at least get their 149 back at the national tournament, they were looking for any sort of progress at that weight. Iowa went 0-8 in the Big Ten with the combo, Kelly with four of the losses (and 0 for his last 6 duals) and Grothus with the other four (also 0 for his last 6 duals). Brands seeing that neither of his wrestlers being able to beat anyone in the conference opted to go with Dziewa (bumping from 141 as discussed here) who went 0-2 at the conference tournament.
I will admit coming into this season, I was hoping that Grothus would have developed enough to possibly be able to beat two of the wrestlers in conference and have an outside shot at making the national tournament. What Iowa fans got was something wholly unexpected. Grothus seemed to be living up to expectations from the previous year at the Midland tournament when he lost in the first round. Something must have clicked, because Grothus went on to tear up the bracket beating then top five ranked Jason Tsirtsis before losing to teammate Brandon Sorensen in the 3rd place match. Following up his great Midland tournament Grothus managed to win not only his next three conference matches, but also scored a win over another top five, Kindig of Oklahoma State in between. Grothus then lost his next three conference matches to top ten opponents Jake Suflohn, Nick Dardanes, and his rematch with Jason Tsirtsis. Just when everyone started to wonder if his late December and early January run was just a hot streak he came out guns blazing (seriously check out he pic in this article), and beat top 10 opponent Eric Grajales. He won in exciting fashion (17-14 in the TBs) scoring a majority of his points by being able to score near fall points.
After suffering the loss of one of the great Hawkeys, most fans knew it would be impossible for any new comer to match Metcalf point wise. After watching Mark Ballweg struggle moving up a weight class most fans wanted hoped for a natural 149 to step in and give Iowa a shot at a qualifier. With Kelly we were again let down and hoped maybe a freshman who was a "true" 149 would be able to step in. Now a year after most had given up on that freshman who never even won a Big Ten match last year, are looking at the rankings and seeing a guy who not only has potential to make the national tournament, but given his rank has a shot to make the podium.
I guess this piece sort of goes with Dziewa in what I am trying to show is that their is a learning curve to college wrestling. Over the course of one year we were able to see one of the "worst" wrestlers in the Big Ten become possibly one of the best in the NCAA. He still has a long way to go to make the podium, but it is truly remarkable that for a wrestler who was almost written off and labeled a serviceable backup has been able to recapture our hearts and give Iowa fans something to dream about. It seems crazy to me that it has nearly been four years since Iowa has a legitimate threat at 149 to score points at the NCAA tournament. And after seeing how Grothus has earned the spot this season, it gives me a sense of pride for the young man not giving up, and I am glad he chose Iowa. Hopefully fans will see him in Oklahoma City, wearing a singlet.
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