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Not The Fourth We Wanted: Iowa Wrestling Finishes Fourth At Midlands

Entering the week, we entertained thoughts of the Iowa wrestlers locking up their fourth consecutive title at the Midlands Tournament.  Even with their massively rebuilt line-up, the Hawkeyes had the second highest ranking of any team in the tournament (#5, second only to Wisconsin's #3) and a fairly balanced line-up, with wrestlers seeded in the top ten at nine of ten weights.  Instead, they stumbled out of the gate on Thursday, then collapsed in a heap during the Thursday afternoon consolation rounds, ultimately finishing in fourth place overall, behind not just Wisconsin but also Missouri and Lehigh.

1. Missouri -- 103.5
2. Wisconsin -- 95.5
3. Lehigh -- 93.0
4. Iowa -- 91.0
5. Pittsburgh -- 82.5 

The fact that it was Missouri who won the tournament only exacerbates the frustration with Iowa's performance, actually.  Missouri wasn't ranked in Intermat's top 15 -- they weren't even on my radar as a potential threat when the tournament began.  But it's not the fact that they proved me (and everyone else) wrong by placing so highly (that's fine), it's that they did it the way Iowa could have -- if the Hawks had been able to pull things together.  Missouri won despite not placing a single wrestler in the championship finals -- but they made a lot of hay in the consolation brackets.  

If Wisconsin had won, it would have been far more explicable -- they're built to be a strong tournament team.  They have 4-5 absolute studs -- and then a collection of guys who are young and/or mediocre.  That's a problem in a dual meet setting (which prizes balance across a roster), but not as much of a problem in a tournament setting (which places high value on having studs that can rack up a lot of points).  Indeed, Wisconsin wound up with four finalists (and two champions) -- but this time that wasn't enough to counter Missouri's overwhelming balanced depth.  Iowa knows a thing or two about winning that way (see: the 2009 national title), but they couldn't pull it off this time because they faltered too often in this tournament.

What went wrong?  It was a team-wide failure.  Only three wrestlers managed to meet or exceed their seed (#11 Tyler Clark finished 5th, #9 Ethen Lofthouse finished fifth, and unseeded Aaron Janssen also finished fifth), and many of them dramatically underperformed (#3 Derek St. John didn't even place).  As Andy Hamilton points out, close matches were a particular bugaboo:

The Hawkeyes had their chances, but they were ultimately done in by an inability to pull out close matches. Iowa’s designated 10-man scoring lineup finished 8-17 in matches decided by three points or fewer.

You aren't going to win shit with results like that in close matches.  Wrestler-by-wrestler tournament results and grades after the jump.

125: MATT MCDONOUGH (4-1), 2nd place
1) #1 Matt McDonough TECH FALL (18-2, 5:58) Jose Torres (Triton)
2) #1 Matt McDonough FALL (6:04) Nick Smith (Northern Illinois)
3) #1 Matt McDonough FALL (4:54) #8 Franklin Lomas (Cal Bakersfield)
4) #1 Matt McDonough MAJ DEC (10-1) #5 Ryan Mango (Stanford)
5) #2 Brandon Precin (Northwestern) DEC (3-1) #1 Matt McDonough
GRADE: B.  McDonough was Iowa's best (and most realistic) shot at a champion at Midlands, so coming up short there is disappointing.  But he did get bonus points in all four of his wins (including over national #10 Mango) and Precin is no slouch -- he was #2 nationally before this tournament and widely considered one of McD's major obstacles to a repeat title at 125.  The good news is there should be ample opportunities for rematches -- the jNW dual for sure and probably the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments as well.

133: #3 TONY RAMOS (3-3), 6th place
1) #3 Tony Ramos MAJ DEC (14-3) Kevin Tao (American)
2) #3 Tony Ramos DEC (7-4) Ridge Kiley (Nebraska)
3) #3 Tony Ramos DEC (3-1) #11 Tyler Clark
4) #2 BJ Futrell (Illinois) DEC (9-6) #3 Tony Ramos
5) #5 Flip Novachkov (Cal Poly) DEC (10-7) #3 Tony Ramos
6) #11 Tyler Clark DEC (2-1, OT) #3 Tony Ramos
GRADE: C.  This was Ramos' first big test of the year and, frankly, he didn't exactly excel.  He beat the guys he was supposed to beat and drew in a pair of meetings with teammate Tyler Clark, but came up short against the two guys higher ranked (nationally) than himself.  But that's not a huge surprise and he outside of some early mistakes in those matches, he acquitted himself well.  The decision between Ramos and Clark is a difficult one, though; Ramos is younger and seems to offer more upside -- and his aggressive style makes it more likely that he'll rack up bonus points, but Clark has the advantage of experience and the ability to hang with (and defeat) some of the higher-ranked guys, although his more defensive style will make it harder for him to pick up bonus points.  

133: #11 TYLER CLARK (5-2), 5th place
1) #11 Tyler Clark MAJ DEC (10-2) Keith Surber
2) #11 Tyler Clark DEC (6-2) #6 Levi Mele (Northwestern)
3) #3 Tony Ramos DEC (3-1) #11 Tyler Clark
4) #11 Tyler Clark DEC (3-1) Ryan Jauch (UNI)
5) #11 Tyler Clark DEC (2-1) #7 Jordan Keller (Oklahoma)
6) #4 Scotti Sentes (Central Michigan) DEC (2-1, OT) #11 Tyler Clark
7) #11 Tyler Clark DEC (2-1, OT) #3 Tony Ramos
GRADE: B-.  Clark beat two nationally ranked wrestlers (Mele and Ramos) and came close against a third (Sentes), but his Morningstar-like approach of wrestling almost every match close to the bone is risky -- and not too helpful in terms of bonus points.  Unfortunately, the battle at 133 lbs. doesn't seem much more settled than it was before Midlands.

141: #4 MARK BALLWEG (4-3), 6th place
1) #4 Mark Ballweg FALL (4:17) Colby Pisani (Clarion)
2) #4 Mark Ballweg DEC (9-7, OT) Steve Dutton (Lehigh)
3) #5 Chris Drouin (Iowa State) DEC (5-3) #4 Mark Ballweg
4) #4 Mark Ballweg DEC (8-1) #8 Jon Kohler (Maryland)
5) #4 Mark Ballweg DEC (9-4) Nick Dardanes (Minnesota - unattached)
6) #3 Tyler Nauman (Pitt) DEC (8-6) #4 Mark Ballweg
7) #6 Todd Schavrien (Missouri) MAJ DEC (14-2) #4 Mark Ballweg
GRADE: C.  Ballweg opened the tournament strongly, but he fell apart down the stretch and wound up losing to all three nationally-ranked wrestlers that he faced (Drouin, Nauman, Schavrien).  Getting destroyed by Schavrien was particularly galling because he's not one of the elite guys at 141.  On the other hand, these are the sort of growing pains we should have expected out of Ballweg this year and, in general, his approach was solid: he was relatively dominant in most of his wins and close in his losses (asde from the Schavrien beatdown).  He just needs to keep displaying progress and turn those close losses against nationally-ranked guys into wins.

149: MATT BALLWEG (2-2), did not place
1) Matt Ballweg MAJ DEC (11-1) Dillon Pousson (Southern Illinois - unattached)
2) Matt Ballweg DEC (7-2) Dylan Marriott (Northwestern - unattached)
3) #1 Kevin LeValley (Bucknell) MAJ DEC (13-2) Matt Ballweg
4) #11 Dan Osterman (Michigan State) DEC (8-3) Matt Ballweg
GRADE: C.  Our expectations for this weight are nil this year, so there isn't much pressure on Ballweg.  For the most part, he seems like a marginally better option at this weight moving forward: he won decisively against overmatched opponents (something Chiri had struggled with) and kept the result a bit closer top competition (he lost by major decision to LeValley, but LeValley is also the national #3 and based on past results I suspect he would have done much worse to Chiri).  I can't see Iowa getting a ton out of this weight with Ballweg, but he at least might be able to stop the bleeding a bit.

149: JERET CHIRI (1-2), did not place
1) Jeret Chiri DEC (8-6) Timmy Boone (Stanford)
2) Isaac Dukes (Case) DEC (11-4) Jeret Chiri
3) Donnie Corby (Central Michigan) FALL (2:48) Jeret Chiri
GRADE: D.  Chiri tries hard, but he just seems totally overmatched right now.  He lost badly to two guys who aren't exactly elite wrestlers.  

157: #3 DEREK ST. JOHN (1-2), did not place
1) David Bonin (UNI) FALL (6:58) #3 Derek St. John
2) #3 Derek St. John DEC (4-3) Cody Compton (Nebraska)
3) Kyle Meyer (Stanford) DEC (7-6) #3 Derek St. John
GRADE: F.  Entering the tournament, Iowa appeared to have three horses it could rely on to make deep runs: McD, Gambrall, and St. John (Mark Ballweg and Luke Lofthouse also had high seeds, but they're a bit less reliable).  Only McD lived up to that expectation and that's as big a reason as any why Iowa faltered in the team race -- and why they'll do so again at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments without stronger performances out of Gambrall and DSJ. Gambrall at least picked up a few bonus point wins before disintegrating in his final few matches; DSJ was disappointing from the opening whistle, losing to two guys he should solidly beat and barely eking by another guy he's much better than.  To be fair, he wasn't anywhere close to 100% here -- he gassed badly in all three matches and there were multiple reports of him clutching his side during matches -- so hopefully this misstep was just a health-related aberration and he'll be able to get back on track soon.  Let's hope so because Iowa badly needs him.

157: MIKE KELLY (2-2), did not place
1) #1 Jake Patascil MAJ DEC (13-0) Mike Kelly
2) Mike Kelly DEC (11-4) Brantley Hooks (Bucknell)
3) Mike Kelly MED FFT #11 Sean Bilodeau (Lehigh)
4) Aaron Sulzer DEC (6-4) Mike Kelly
GRADE: C.  Kelly was a hard wrestler to grade this week, since (a) nothing was expected out of him (he's a true freshman competing unattached purely to get experience) and (b) he got a brutal draw by getting Patascil in his first match here.  There's not a lot of shame in a true freshman getting mauled by a wrestler with Patascil's strength and experience and he rebounded to score a solid win over Hooks.  Losing to an unheralded guy like Sulzer is disappointing, but not overwhelmingly so for a guy at Kelly's level of expertise right now.

165: #6 JAKE KERR (1-2), did not place
1) Kevin Bialka (Northwestern) DEC (8-2) #6 Jake Kerr
2) #6 Jake Kerr DEC (8-6) Matt Gille (UW Park)
3) Aaron Janssen DEC (3-1) #6 Jake Kerr
GRADE: F.  Midlands may not have done much to settle the debate at 133, but it may very well have settled the issue at 165, as Kerr was dreadful here and Janssen was surprisingly solid.  Kerr got manhandled by an unheralded jNW wrestler, barely beat another unheralded guy, and then lost to his teammate, Janssen.  He did nothing at all to prove that he deserves the 165 spot.

165: AARON JANSSEN (6-2), 5th place
1) Aaron Janssen DEC (5-4) #12 Conrad Polz (Illinois)
2) #5 Zach Toal (Missouri) DEC (7-3) Aaron Janssen
3) Aaron Janssen DEC (3-1) #6 Jake Kerr
4) Aaron Janssen DEC (8-3) Nick Bertucci (Boiler Elite WC)
5) Aaron Janssen DEC (13-8) #7 Ryan DesRoches (Cal Poly)
6) Aaron Janssen DEC (9-3) #11 Ethan Headlee (Pitt)
7) #5 Zach Toal (Missouri) DEC (8-6, OT) Aaron Janssen
8) Aaron Jaonsen MED FFT Chris Spangler (Iowa State)
GRADE: B+.  On the other hand, Janssen impressed in his latest effort to win the starting job at 165.  He beat two ranked wrestlers (Kerr, DesRoches) and was generally aggressive and more offense-oriented in his matches.  The two losses to Toal were disappointing (especially the latter, since Janssen gave up late points to lose), but he still seems like the more competitive and aggressive option at 165 -- this week, at least.

174: #9 ETHEN LOFTHOUSE (5-2), 5th place
1) #9 Ethen Lofthouse MAJ DEC (12-2) Kevin Kwiat (Ohio N)
2) #9 Ethen Lofthouse DEC (2-1) #8 Rob Morrison (Rider)
3) #1 Jon Reader MAJ DEC (11-2) #9 Ethen Lofthouse 
4) #9 Ethen Lofthouse DEC (5-3) Mike Evans
5) #9 Ethen Lofthouse MAJ DEC (11-2) Pat Wright (Missouri)
6) #7 Austin Meys (Lehigh) DEC (5-2) #9 Ethen Lofthouse
7) #9 Ethen Lofthouse DEC (6-4) #4 Mike Letts (Maryland)
GRADE: B-.  Lofthouse scored two wins over nationally-ranked wrestlers (Morrison and Letts), picked up bonus points over guys he should dominate, and then came up short against one guy vastly better than him (Reader, who should be national #1 at this weight after this week) and one guy probably on his own level (Meys).  Not a blow-away effort, but a solid one and one that shows some progress from his sluggish start to the season.

174: MIKE EVANS (3-2), did not place
1) Mike Evans DEC (6-2) #10 Benjamin Jordan (Wisconsin)
2) #7 Austin Meys (Lehigh) FALL (4:36) Mike Evans
3) Mike Evans FALL (5:41) Mike Schmitz (UW Lac)
4) Mike Evans DEC (2-0) Andy Vaughn (Pitt)
5) #9 Ethen Lofthouse DEC (5-3) Mike Evans
GRADE: B.  As with most true freshman competing here, there was no expectation for Evans beyond picking up some useful experience and he was able to do that and record a few solid wins (like over Jordan).  Getting pinned by Meys is a little disappointing, but two other guys got pinned by Meys here, so he wasn't alone in that.  Evans has a ton of potential and should be very good in the future, but based on the results here, the decision to redshirt him is a pretty sound one.

184: #1 GRANT GAMBRALL (3-3), 6th place
1) #1 Grant Gambrall MAJ DEC (16-3) Corbin Boone (Cleveland State)
2) #1 Grant Gambrall MAJ DEC (9-1) Chad Friend (Central Michigan)
3) #1 Grant Gambrall MAJ DEC (9-0) Dan Scherer (Stanford)
4) #4 Josh Ihnen (Nebraska) DEC (4-2, OT) #1 Grant Gambrall
5) #10 Mike Larson (Missouri) DEC (3-2) #1 Grant Gambrall
6) Ryan Loder (UNI) FALL (6:59) #1 Grant Gambrall
GRADE: C-.  As noted in the DSJ section, for Iowa to have a chance here (and in the future), they really need big performances out of McD, DSJ, and Gambrall -- and they didn't get them out of the latter two.  Gambrall started strongly with three straight major decision wins, but the wheels fell off in a close loss to the lanky Ihnen -- and they never got back on.  With a weak field here, this was an excellent opportunity for Gambrall to pick up a title, but while it's disappointing that he failed to do that, upsets happen.  What was more disappointing was his inability to rebound from that initial loss and place highly in the consolation bracket, which he should have been able to do against this field -- instead, he stumbled to a 6th-place finish.  That can't happen. 

197: #2 LUKE LOFTHOUSE (4-2), 7th place
1) #2 Luke Lofthouse MAJ DEC (13-4) Craig Kelliher (Central Michigan)
2) #2 Luke Lofthouse DEC (8-2) Clint Podish (Clarion)
3) #10 Matt Wilps (Pitt - unattached) DEC (3-2) #2 Luke Lofthouse
4) #2 Luke Lofthouse DEC (11-4) Alex Polizzi (Northwestern - unattached)
5) #1 Zac Thomusseit (Pitt) DEC (3-1) #2 Luke Lofthouse
6) #2 Luke Lofthouse DEC (10-3) Tyler Dickenson (Michigan State)
GRADE: C.  More of the same from "The Leg" -- big wins over lesser competition, close losses to better foes. Lofthouse has real trouble winning close matches, which is certainly a problem since you aren't going to beat everyone by comfortable decisions (or better).  At least he's beating the guys he should beat pretty handily (the Wilps loss was a big upset in terms of seeds, but he was probably pretty under-seeded here), which is something.

HWT: #8 BLAKE RASING (1-2), did not place
1) #8 Blake Rasing DEC (5-0) Wes Schroeder (Eastern Michigan)
2) #9 Christian Brantley (UNI) DEC (6-3) #8 Blake Rasing
3) Spencer Myers (Maryland) DEC (4-2, OT) #8 Blake Rasing
GRADE: F.  Entering the season, it seemed like Rasing had this job locked up -- but he's not exactly doing much to impress.  He lost to a guy he'd already beaten once this year (albeit in a very close match) and then immediately lost again to an unseeded foe.  Granted, heavyweight was the toughest division at Midlands, but Rasing can't even use that as an excuse -- he didn't even face any of the top-ranked heavyweights.  It's hard to expect much out of Rasing going forward.

HWT: JORDAN JOHNSON (1-2), did not place
1) Jordan Johnson DEC (2-0) Marty Smith (Illinois)
2) #2 Ryan Tomei (Pitt) DEC (2-1, OT) Jordan Johnson
3) Ryan Vukobratovich (Purdue) DEC (3-2) Jordan Johnson
GRADE: D.  Johnson had an identical 1-2 record to Rasing and didn't log any notable wins, but he did take the national #2 to OT before losing, which isn't too shabby.  Iowa wrestling isn't really in the moral victory business, but Johnson displayed slightly more fight here than Rasing.

HWT: BOBBY TELFORD (1-2), did not place
1) Bobby Telford DEC (2-1) Patrick Walker (Illinois)
2) #4 Ryan Flores (American) MAJ DEC (8-0) Bobby Telford
3) #7 Mike McClure (Michigan State) DEC (3-1, OT) Bobby Telford
GRADE: D.  Meanwhile, Telford was just here for the experience, just like Evans and Kelly.  He didn't do much to impress, but he also had to face two nationally-ranked wrestlers.  He needs a fair amount of work, but that's what redshirt years are for.

So where does this leave Iowa?  In need of a lot of work, for the most part.  It's a shame they aren't going to the National Duals tournament next weekend because the best way for them to get better is likely through competition and they're not going to get much of that against SIU-Edwardsville (their next opponent).  But the schedule is what it is, so they're going to need to do a lot of work in the practice room.  Based on the current state of the team, they don't have a prayer of winning their fourth straight Big Ten or NCAA titles (and unlike Midlands titles, those are titles we really do care about). On the bright side, those events are still 2-2.5 months out, so there's ample time for time for guys to get healthy (or opponents to get hurt*) or guys to achieve top form (or for opponents to lose their form).  After Midlands, everyone has work to do.

* I don't wish for anyone to get hurt, but injuries happen and sometimes you can take advantage of them - that's just reality.