Iowa vs. Iowa! Who wins? Well, Iowa.
The Iowa wrestling team held their annual wrestle-offs event this weekend, from Thursday evening through Saturday morning, an event that serves several masters. First and foremost, it's an event to help lend some clarity to weights where there are several guys fighting for a starting spot. But it's also an event to generate some early season interest in the wrestling team (the wrestle-offs are open to the public, after all) and a chance to get a look at some new or rarely-seen faces. But how much stock should we put in these results? Probably not a lot: it's very early in the season, so guys are still getting their weight under control and still ramping up for the important competitions ahead. And while familiarity may not necessarily breed contempt in this situation, it does present an added wrinkle to several of the matches -- these guys tussle with one another day in and day out. They know each other's tendencies and habits as well as they know their own, which can lead to some very close matches. So take these results with a grain or two of salt.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 8
149: Patrick Rhoads MAJ DEC (15-6) Jake Kadel
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9
125: Matt McDonough TECH FALL (19-3) Matt Gurule
125: Cory Clark DEC (3-1 SV) Thomas Gilman
141: Mark Ballweg TECH FALL (18-2) Connor Ryan
141: Josh Dziewa DEC (7-3) Ethan Owens
149: Patrick Rhoads DEC (7-4) Mike Kelly
149: Brody Grothus WINS VIA FORFEIT Joe DuCharme
165: Nick Moore DEC (5-3) Walt Gillmor
184: Ethen Lofthouse MAJ DEC (13-4) Alex Mayer
184: Sam Brooks DEC (8-3) Jeremy Fahler
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10
285: Bobby Telford PIN (2:15) Josh Haug
125: Matt McDonough DEC (3-2) Cory Clark
133: Tony Ramos MAJ DEC (18-7) Topher Carton
141: Mark Ballweg DEC (3-1) Josh Dziewa
149: Brody Grothus DEC (8-2) Patrick Rhoads
165: Mike Evans DEC (5-0) Nick Moore
174: Grant Gambrall DEC (7-2) Kris Klapprodt
184: Ethen Lofthouse DEC (4-3) Sam Brooks
197: Nathan Burak DEC (5-3) Tomas Lira
285: Bobby Telford PIN (1:12) Artie Bess
So what's it all mean?
125: Early scuttlebutt out of practice was that Gilman had Clark's number, but that changed over the course of the last few weeks, as evidenced by the result at this weight on Friday night. It's an interesting result, to be sure, but it doesn't really guarantee anything about the future of this weight. These two will wrestle each other many, many more times before next year and they'll both have opportunities to excel in open tournaments this year. That said... next year's battle for a starting spot should be really fun to watch. Clark's tight result with McD is eyebrow-raising (and, as the description in The Open Mat's excellent recap of the wrestle-off suggests, it was a match with a very dramatic finish), but it probably says more about Clark's (very high) skill level than it raises warning signs about McDonough. He doesn't always look his sharpest early in the season, but we have three years of evidence to suggest that he'll be just fine when it matters.
133: Of course, not everyone struggled with their true freshman opponents... Tony is good. We know this.
141: This was one of the weights with the most intrigue surrounding it heading into the wrestle-offs, thanks to the uncertainty about who would be handed the starting nod. It's probably still not decisively settled, but... Mark Ballweg has the early edge. He mauled Connor Ryan on Friday night and picked up another win over Dziewa on Saturday morning; that, coupled with his past starting experience, suggests that he'll get the first crack at taking over for Montell Marion at this weight.
149: And this was probably the other weight with the most intrigue surrounding it heading into the wrestle-offs. This weight has been positively cursed since Brent Metcalf concluded his remarkable career (and the hits kept coming this week with the departure of true freshman Nate Skonieczny, an elite recruit who projected to be the future answer to the problems at this weight) and the starting spot here is no less muddled than it was before wrestle-offs. The incumbent, Mike Kelly, dropped a 7-4 decision to redshirt freshman Patrick Rhoads, who (like Kelly) is dropping down from 157 for a chance to crack the lineup. Then Rhoads lost an 8-2 decision to another redshirt freshman, Brody Grothus. That win might have given Grothus a slight lead in this horse race, but I suspect nothing is settled yet and that we'll see all three guys go in early season competition.
157: Poor Derek St. John had nothing to do at wrestle-offs. The guys he might have wrestled were either battling down at 149 (Kelly, Rhoads) or 165 (Nick Moore) or not participating in the event (Jeret Chiri, Joey Trizzino). Oh well.
165: This event simply re-established the pecking order we saw here last year: 1) Evans, 2) Moore. Rumors persist that Evans might bump up to 174 next year, which would likely free open this spot for Moore. Until then, though, he remains on the outside looking in.
174: Iowa wrestling media day provided the official confirmation of something that had been rumored for much of the off-season -- Grant Gambrall cutting down to 174, Ethen Lofthouse bumping up to 184 -- and this event provided the first glimpse of them at those weights. The early results were promising. Gambrall apparently looked better than he had in a long time; perhaps the cut to 174 was just the spark his career needed.
184: Lofthouse mashed one of Iowa's true freshmen at this weight (Alex Meyer), but got taken to the wire by the other (Sam Brooks). It sounded like a solid debut for Lofthouse at his new weight, but a pair of wins over two true freshmen doesn't tell us much yet. We'll have to see how he fares against some of the bigger and tougher guys at this weight before we can really judge the success (or failure) of this move.
197: Like 141 and 149, this weight probably isn't totally settled yet... but his win probably makes Burak the new favorite to start here. Hopefully he can be an improvement over the dire results Iowa saw at this weight a year ago. (It wouldn't take much.)
285: Telford has at least one good training room partner (former Iowa All-American Dan Erekson)... he just couldn't wrestle him in this event. Neither Haug nor Bess had a prayer against Telford at this weight. It's not good that Iowa has zero depth at this weight, but it is nice to see Telford absolutely crushing lesser competition. Bonus points were one of the areas where Iowa has fallen behind teams like Penn State and Minnesota in recent years, so seeing Telford get a pair of dominating pinfall wins here is encouraging.
So the wrestle-offs shed a little more light on the lineup (and gave us slight favorites at 141, 149, and 197), allowed us to see Gambrall and Lofthouse at their new weights, and gave us a few new freshmen to get excited about (Clark and Brooks, in particular). A pretty successful event, I'd say.