Temperatures are dropping, leaves are falling, and the days are getting shorter: winter is coming. It's time to strap on our headgear and get ready for the coming of the
White Walkers Iowa wrestlers. It's almost time to hit the mat again, which means it's definitely time to preview what to expect from the Iowa grapplers in 2012.
While we try to figure out this mystifying football team and 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
It's Tony time. Tony Ramos has been Iowa's starter at this weight for the past two seasons and he's made steady progress in that time. As a redshirt freshman in 2010-11, Ramos went 22-6, finished third at the Big Ten Tournament, and was an NCAA qualifier, where he finished just shy of All-America status. Last season, as a sophomore, Ramos went 33-4, finished runner-up at the Big Ten Tournament and finished third at the NCAA Tournament. So yeah: definite progress. Ramos has picked up some memorable wins along the way -- in 2011, he beat Penn State's Andrew Long (former NCAA runner-up at 125, and All-American at 133 that year) and last year he beat Oklahoma State's Jordan Oliver (former NCAA champion and NCAA runner-up last year) in a thrilling bout -- but one thing has so far eluded Ramos at Iowa: hardware. He hasn't been able to claim a title at the Big Ten or NCAA levels; he hasn't even been able to grab a Midlands title yet. The ability is there -- it's just a matter of getting over the hump and finishing on top of that podium.
Stylistically, Ramos is unquestionably one of the most exciting and entertaining Iowa wrestlers to watch -- his approach is typically ruthlessly aggressive and attacking and he's renowned for pushing the tempo in his matches and wearing out opponents. He's also adept at picking up bonus points in his matches -- 22 of his 33 wins last year were bonus-point wins. Ramos is on the smaller side for 133ers, both in terms of musculature and length and larger 133ers have tended to give him trouble at times -- Virginia Tech's Devin Carter (absolutely huge for a 133er) beat him at Midlands last year, the length of Central Michigan's Scotti Sentes (who's over 6-feet tall yet somehow is able to cut to 133 lbs. effectively) gave him fits at the NCAA Tournament a few years ago, and Ohio State's Logan Stieber (built like a brick shithouse) stymied Ramos on three separate occasions last year. Still, Ramos has molded himself into a very effective 133er and while he'll never have the physical advantages of some of the behemoths in the division, at this point he can hold his own with anyone.
THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS
For the first time in several seasons, Iowa no longer has enviable depth at 133. That's because Iowa no longer has the benefit of sitting a potential All-American on the bench behind Tony Ramos at this weight. Two seasons ago, there was a pitched battle between Ramos and Iowa State transfer Tyler Clark to win the starting job at this weight (and replace former NCAA runner-up Dan Dennis). Clark won several of their individual battles, but Ramos ultimately won the spot, thanks in large part to his aggressive, attack-happy style that was more conducive to racking up bonus points. Still, it was always nice to know that Iowa had an extremely capable option in their back pocket if necessary -- Clark probably would have started for at least 90% of the other teams in the nation and he would have had an excellent opportunity to be an All-American himself if he'd been given the opportunity. But he's gone now, so Iowa's in search of new options behind Ramos at 133. (As with 125 and 157, there's really no doubt who will start here if healthy.)
That said, while Iowa may not have enviable depth this year, that's not say that won't be the case in a few years. Iowa focused heavily on the lower weights in last year's recruiting class, bringing in a pair of blue-chip prospects in Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark, as well as Topher Carton (who might be a bit more of a developmental option). We'll have to wait until next year to see how things shake out for Gilman and Clark -- it's likely that they'll both battle for the 125 spot that will be open with McDonough's graduation (sniff) -- but it's very possible we could again see a Clark backing up Tony Ramos for a year or so. The more things change...
As for this year... Gilman, Clark, and Carton are all true freshmen who will use their redshirt seasons. Jake Kadel is listed at 133 on the official Iowa roster, but Brands indicated that he was competing for the 149 spot this season, so I doubt he's actually a viable option to make weight at 133 this season. That leaves Nick Trizzino as the lone other option listed for 133 this season. Trizzino went 7-2 last year (including a win over Matt Ortega when he filled in at the Indiana dual meet) and he's a capable wrestler, although he'd still be a sizable step down from Ramos.
THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD
One of the more interesting developments at this weight in the off-season has been the exodus of several highly-ranked wrestlers to other weights. Seven of last year's eight NCAA All-Americans were slated to return this season (including Ramos); five of those guys are currently slated to be wrestling at different weights this year. Illinois' B.J. Futrell (who finished 6th at the NCAA Tournament and who wrestled -- and lost -- to Ramos a whopping four times last year), Wisconsin's Tyler Graff (who redshirted last season but finished 2nd in the Big Ten and 5th in the NCAA in 2011), and Harvard's Steven Keith (NCAA 8th place finisher in 2012) are all moving to 141 this year. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's Devin Carter (2012 ACC champion, 5th place at 2012 NCAA Tournament, and one of only two wrestlers to beat Ramos last season) is redshirting, UNI's Joe Colon (the 5-seed at the 2012 NCAA Tournament at 133) is allegedly moving to 125 this year, and (in the biggest move of all) Oklahoma State's Jordan Oliver (three-time Big 12 champion, 2011 NCAA champion, and 2012 NCAA runner-up) is moving not one, but two, weight classes, up to 149 lbs. Whew.
All that movement leaves 133 a bit diminished and removes several key challengers from Tony's path to the top of the podium; that said, there are still some serious obstacles in his path. First and foremost, of course, is Ohio State's Logan Stieber, the defending Big Ten and NCAA champion. Steiber beat Ramos in all three of their matches a year ago, although Tony was able to narrow the gap in each match. He was utterly dominated in the first one (losing 7-0), closed the gap to 5-2 in the rematch in the Big Ten finals, and narrowed it even further in a 4-2 loss in the NCAA semifinals. That's encouraging and there's no reason to doubt that Ramos will stop improving. Of course, there's also no reason to think that Stieber will stop improving, either, so somehow or someway Ramos is going to need to find a way to beat him if he wants to get on top of the podium at 133. Aside from Stieber, the most notable threats at 133 appear to be Central Michigan's Sentes (yes, Central Michigan could prove to be a real thorn in Iowa's side in sports this year; damn the Chippewas) and Minnesota's Chris Dardanes. Ramos has an 0-1 career record against Sentes (he lost to him 2-0 at the 2011 NCAA Tournament when he got ridden like a dimestore pony), but has a 3-0 record against Dardanes (all three wins came last season). The worst-case scenario at the NCAA Tournament would probably be for Stieber as the #1 seed and Sentes as the #3 seed, with Tony as the #2 seed (or vice versa, for Sentes and Ramos); getting by both Stieber and Sentes to claim an NCAA title could be a tall order for Tony.
12/16/12: #15 Jamie Franco, Hofstra (non-conference dual, New York City, NY)
1/4/13: #1 Logan Stieber, Ohio State (B1G dual; Iowa City, IA)
1/6/13: #8 Cashe Quiroga, Purdue (B1G dual; Iowa City, IA)
1/13/13: #10 Jon Morrison, Oklahoma State (non-conference dual; Stillwater, OK)
1/27/13: #4 Chris Dardanes, Minnesota (B1G dual; Minneapolis, MN)
2/16/13: #6 A.J. Schopp, Edinboro (non-conference dual; Iowa City, IA)
Ramos wrestles half of the Intermat preseason top-10 at 133 during dual meets this season, so he should have plenty of experience against top wrestlers under his belt by the time the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments roll around. The key weekend appears to be in early January, when he takes on both Stieber and Quiroga. The Stieber match could have important seeding ramifications, especially for the NCAA Tournament. Morrison was previously Okie State's 125er and he was typically handled easily by McDonough when Iowa and Okie State wrestled; it will be interesting to see if the move to 133 improves him much. Ramos should also see a few late tests with Dardanes and Schopp as well.
THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION
Tony Ramos is an excellent wrestler and one who has improved every year so far at Iowa. The only improvement left for him is to get to the top of the podium and claim some individual championships for himself. Of course, the jump from 2nd to 1st can be enormous and wrestlers like Stieber and Sentes will pose formidable challenges for Tony. It's for that reason -- and the fact that he still hasn't yet actually defeated either Stieber or Sentes -- that I can't go all the way and expect a title for Tony just yet. But I do expect him to be right in the thick of the things and I do expect him to be a high finisher -- and likely finalist -- at both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. And hopefully he's able to put all his experience and expertise to work and finally claim one of those elusive championship medals.
Scheduling note: The goal is to roll out the remaining previews in this series one a day for the next two weeks -- with a few added bonus preview features thrown in for good measure. Enjoy.