While we try to forget
figure out this miserable mystifying football team and celebrate anticipate the return of our postseason-aspirant basketball team, there's another team that's worth discussing: the Iowa wrestling team. They'll be going after their fourth national championship in the past six years, so it behooves us to preview that quest. In the spirit of our Assume the Position series of football, we bring you A Winner Is You!, a weight-by-weight breakdown of the Iowa wrestling team, counting down from the weight we have the most confidence in to the weight we have absolutely no clue about. Enjoy!
THE KNOWN QUANTITY
If Ethen Lofthouse had been a pro wrestler in WWF in the '80s, Bobby Heenan definitely would have tried to get the nickname "The Enigmatic Ethen Lofthouse" to stick. Or maybe "The Inscrutable Ethen Lofthouse." If he'd been a pro wrestler in WWF in the early '90s, Vince McMahon definitely would have given him a terrible, doomed-to-fail gimmick as "The Puzzler." All of which is a long-winded way of saying that Ethen Lofthouse is damn hard to figure out.
He's a very gifted wrestler, one with excellent defensive skills and a powerful shot. He doesn't have ideal physical characteristics -- he's a little short and squat -- but they aren't really detrimental, either. He's also a very strong scrambler (for evidence, just watch his match with Chris Perry from last year) and capable of some displays of strong mat wrestling. The problem with Lofthouse seems to be that he's prone to frequent bouts of temporary amnesia. Like forgetting to be aggressive and press for shots before the final thirty seconds of the match. Or like forgetting the time and score in a match and giving up a costly late takedown or escape. I don't know if any wrestler at Iowa in recent memory has caused Tom Brands to come closer to blowing a gasket during a match than Lofthouse.... and I suspect that's because Brands knows how good Lofthouse could be.
In addition to figuring out his consistency issues, this year Lofthouse will also have to figure out a new weight, since he and Gambrall are officially trading places in the lineup. That move doesn't come as a complete shock, in part because Lofthouse spent a good chunk of the off-season competing at 84kg (around 185 lbs.) in freestyle competition and doing pretty well in those competitions. So it's not too surprising to see him decide to stick at a weight closer to that (184) this season. The bigger question (no pun intended) is how good he can be at this new weight. Lofthouse was a good-sized 174er, but he wasn't particularly huge, which raises the question of him being a bit undersized at 184. His average length could also be a problem for him among the bigger dudes at this new weight.
THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS
The primary backup to Lofthouse this year figures to be Jeremy Fahler, who went 12-5 last year and saw a little time in the starting lineup as Iowa played musical chairs at 184 (and 197) for much of last season. He went 3-1 in those starting appearances, but the three wins came against wrestlers from Baker, Iowa Central, and Indiana and the one loss was a blowout defeat to Illinois' Tony Dallago. Fahler is an interesting talent, a guy who seems taller than his listed 6-1 height and who is able to use his length to create effective offense. He still has some work to do, but he's definitely one to keep an eye on.
To take control of the starting spot at this weight, though, he'll likely need to get past Sammy Brooks, a true freshman and one of the top recruits in Iowa's 2012 class. He was the 20th best prospect overall, per d1collegewrestling, and comes to Iowa as a two-time Illinois state champion (and three-time state finalist). He had a pretty good summer, too, taking home titles in the Junior National Greco-Roman (182 lb.) and Freestyle (195 lb.) competitions. The fact that he competed at 195 is something to keep an eye on -- it's certainly possible that he could develop into a 197er at Iowa.
THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD
Six of last year's All-Americans at this weight are back, and one of the two who's not back (national runner-up Quentin Wright) is not back because he's moved up to 197. Wright's spot has been filled by Penn State's Ed Ruth, a year after he stormed through the 174 lb. division. How loaded is this division? There are four two-time All-Americans in this division (Ruth, Cornell's Steve Bosak, Lehigh's Robert Hamlin, Minnesota's Kevin Steinhaus) and one three-time All-American (Central Michigan's Ben Bennett). Ruth, Bosak, and Hamlin have all wrestled in NCAA title matches; Ruth and Bosak have actually won them. This is a seriously accomplished division.-- and it doesn't even mention talented wrestlers like Nebraska's Josh Ihnen, UNI's Ryan Loder, Missouri's Mike Larson, Illinois' Dallago, or Maryland's Jimmy Sheptock. This is going to be a tough division for a newbie.
THE KEY MATCHES
12/1/12: #16 Boaz Beard, Iowa State (non-conference dual; Iowa City, IA)
1/26/13: #4 Kevin Steinhaus, Minnesota (B1G dual; Minneapolis, MN)
2/1/13: #1 Ed Ruth, Penn State (B1G dual; Iowa City, IA)
2/8/13: #11 Tony Dallago, Illinois (B1G dual; Champaign, IL)
2/10/13: #6 Josh Ihnen, Nebraska (B1G dual; Iowa City, IA)
While there's a lot of very accomplished talent in this division this year, Ethen Lofthouse won't be wrestling much of it. He's currently scheduled to face only five of InterMat's top-20 and just three of their top-10. The toughest stretch will be those back-to-back matches against Steinhaus and Ruth in late January/early February -- that will give us a good taste of how Lofthouse stacks up against some of the best of the best at this weight. The silver lining to this relatively easy schedule? Ethen should be able to rack up a very nice-looking record by season's end, which could come in handy when the Big Ten and NCAA seeds are handed out.
THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION
For all the frustration he caused among Iowa fans and coaches last year, Lofthouse still finished 3rd at the Big Ten Tournament and 5th at the NCAA Tournament. Those are definitely not bad results. Duplicating them this year -- in a tougher division -- would be a pretty significant accomplishment. Of the two, finishing in the top-3 at the Big Ten Tournament seems like the easier accomplishment; the top of the Big Ten appears to be Steinhaus and Ruth and I'm tentatively optimistic that Lofthouse can be competitive with the likes of Ihnen and Dallago. The NCAA Tournament adds so many other top contenders to the mix -- Bosak, Hamlin, Bennett, Loder -- that getting to fifth would be an impressive showing for Lofthouse. That said, I do think he can get on the podium and grab some All-America honors in March.