I'm putting the finishing touches on the 2015-16 Iowa wrestling preview material for next week, but yesterday Tom Brands and the Iowa wrestlers held their annual Media Day, so let's dive in and see what they had to say.
Naturally, Brands was asked about the origins of the outdoor dual meet, which is maybe the biggest event in college wrestling this year outside of the NCAA and Big Ten Tournaments.
TOM BRANDS: It was very much a team effort with administration, and it was our brainchild, but we're not the originators. I mean, people have been wrestling outside since the beginning of time, and just so happens it's the first time it's been done in Division I. It's a big deal because it's about two storied programs and a rivalry that continues, and these rivalries are getting tougher to schedule just because of the Big Ten getting bigger, and so that's how it came about.
His latter point -- about rivalries getting tougher to schedule -- is a point well-taken. Big Ten expansion has complicated scheduling in all sports and wrestling is no exception. Even with the expansion to nine conference dual meets, you can't wrestle everyone and sometimes that manifests in the form of weakened schedules (like Iowa's this year). That expanded conference schedule also reduces flexibility in non-conference scheduling. Reportedly, Tom Brands and Cael Sanderson tried to schedule a non-conference dual meet between Iowa and Penn State this year (as they did a few years ago, when the Delanybot 9000 again failed to make an Iowa-Penn State dual as part of the conference schedule), but were unable to make the logistics work. (It's worth remembering that the facilities Iowa and PSU use for wrestling are also used by several other sports, so it's not just a matter of finding an open date for the wrestling teams -- you have to navigate around the schedules of those other sports, too.) For now, Iowa is able to maintain their annual non-conference rivalries with Oklahoma State and Iowa State; let's hope that doesn't change.
As usual under Brands, Iowa is locked, loaded, and ready to kick butt at the lower weights, with Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark returning at 125 and 133, respectively. Both were All-Americans a year ago, with Clark also serving as Iowa's highest returning finisher (he was national runner-up at 133). Clark may be Iowa's best chance at winning an individual national title this year -- and even that may not be enough to satisfy him:
And Cory Clark has got a lot of firepower. He's one of these guys that it's never good enough, not to the point where he derails himself or obsesses over something that isn't important, but to the point where everything is important and he wants to be perfect every time out.
I think we talked about it last year and Terry mentioned it right after his match with Brewer in the national finals, how he was dissecting that match immediately, and we talk about owning it a lot in this program. We talk about no excuses, and the thing about Cory Clark is, and really all of our guys that I've mentioned, they own it. There's really no excuses, and that's why they get better every day.
It's also worth reading this article from Hawkeye Sports about Clark.
There will be a new face at this weight after two years of sometimes-frustrating results from Josh Dziewa. Just who that new face will be is up for grabs, though.
TOM BRANDS: We're going to wrestle those guys this weekend, and we're looking for someone to emerge, and this guy right here that you're looking at has been looking for someone to emerge throughout the fall. That hasn't really happened, and we need someone -- and we'll see. When the lights are on, maybe guys are better in the competition arena. Last year I talked about Topher Carton last year, talked about how he's matured and come around, and he really has had some opportunities to do very well, and he's been slowed a little bit here and there for other reasons, injuries and other reasons, and he needs to assert himself if he's going to be the guy. The same with Logan Ryan. I'll tell you what, we've got a true freshman in there, Vince Turk, who's relevant in the conversation, as well. So all three of those guys will be competing this weekend, and we'll see how it shakes out, and that will be the determining factor. Not the sole factor, but that'll be something we look at for who's going to be on the mat in Kinnick.
Brody Grothus is also expected to compete for the spot at 141, but due to an offseason shoulder injury, we won't be seeing him on the mat until late December or January, although Brands was coy about the possibility of Grothus wrestling at another weight:
TOM BRANDS: You tell me. You follow the sport very well. Andy Hamilton, I'll let everybody know that you asked that question, but you tell me what weight class. He's good enough to go 41, 49, 57. So we have a lot of options there, and we'll see how things shake out as we get forward and he gets closer to when he's going to step on the mat. That time frame is late December, early January. So that's when that stuff will all -- those puzzles, I guess, those puzzle pieces will kind of start falling together there. Is that a fair answer for you, my man?
At least, I very much hope that Brands was being coy and that he -- and Grothus, and everyone else on the team -- knows what weight Grothus is going to be wrestling at this year. If he's going to be competing for the 141 spot, he needs to be cutting weight so that he can be effective there. If he's going to be competing for the 157 spot, then he needs to be bulking up to have the size and strength to be effective there. And if he's going to be at 149 (which would make the least sense, given the tremendous success Brandon Sorenson had there last year), then Sorenson should be the one bulking up to have the size and strength necessary to succeed up a weight. Making these decisions -- and moves -- in-season is a bad idea, so I very much hope that there's a clearer plan in place here that we're just not privy to.
After years of missteps at this weight, Iowa finally had their first All-American here since Brent Metcalf was rocking black and gold. Brandon Sorenson had a tremendous freshman season (he became the first Iowa wrestler to win 40 matches in a season in 30 years), but there's certainly room for improvement for last year's 4th place finisher and it starts with being more consistent with his offense:
TOM BRANDS: He's got to realize that he's got some pretty high-powered, high-potent offense, and he's got to go-go-go and not just go...go...go. It's got to be go-go-go, and in a smart way, and I think he can do that. He's made progress, as well. But that last match that he wrestled collegiately against Tsirtsis was something where he was waiting to trick the guy, and the first time is when you trick a guy. Tsirtsis got in him on deep and then he tried to do a second move, and Sorensen tried to neck wrench him, and then he tried it actually two other times, and the third time Tsirtsis ended up taking him down. Those are things that you can't wait for. At some point you've got to assert yourself and go to your offense and put the guy down hard and plant him and be on reaction time so the referee is giving the two points, and we've learned from that because it's been discussed and shown, and it's time to move on from a shortcut-type mentality, and that's as a team.
There are several names in the mix at these two weights (as we'll get to next week), but it doesn't sound like anyone has emerged as a clear frontrunner to replace Mike Kelly and Nick Moore at these weights just yet:
Q. Is it the same kind of deal at 157 and 165?
TOM BRANDS: A little bit. Maybe not so much competition right now but maybe where you have a couple names there that can do a good job for us. When I say I feel good about our guys, I mean, those guys are -- those weight classes are -- I feel good about them, but you want someone to emerge and be the world beater. We like world beaters, and we have some ways to go before those guys prove that they're world beaters. They all want to be, but you know, you mentioned those are the three weight classes that -- we've got to have some firepower out of those three weight classes.
Farewell, 'Stache. After several years of the gloriously mustachioed Mike Evans, Iowa's 174-lb spot is going to be manned by Alex Meyer this year, who may not have a 'stache, but does appear to have a mullet. Meyer impressed in a fill-in capacity last year, picking up wins over a handful of Top 10 wrestlers when Evans was injured or needed a rest. He's a guy that's definitely impressed Brands so far:
TOM BRANDS: Alex Meyer is a name that makes me smile. He is everything from a work ethic point of view in everything that he does. He's grown up tremendously since his first couple months here, and the other thing is that he's a leader in that room from a just put your head down and go to work example.
Now let's talk about the rest, the wins that you talked about that were very relevant. He's got the motor on him. He's got the type of attitude where it's kind of like anyone, any time, anywhere, and those big wins aren't by accident or aren't because he ambushed guys because they weren't ready for him. He's been relevant for the last couple of years sitting behind Evans, and those wins were earned. They weren't ambushes, like I said, and that's what I like about him. I like his durability. I like his lack of complaining. I like his tough-guy mentality, and he's always been a tough guy. He's a good example for some freshmen that maybe have some owees that think it's the end of the world where you have a guy like Alex Meyer who deals with that stuff every day and just puts his head down and goes forward one step at a time. Love him, absolutely love him.
Sammy Brooks and Nathan Burak are returning starters at 184 and 197 and they'll be expected to anchor the upper weight end of the lineup. Brands had plenty of praise for Burak:
But Nathan Burak is a two-time All-American. He's a senior; he's a 3.8 student. He's everything you want your program to be looked upon as. A lot of times he's not maybe given enough attention, not that he's seeking the attention anyway, but when you talk about leadership, you talk about an example of what to look for in a student athlete, he's a wrestler that embodies that and represents our program very well.
After four years of big, bad Bobby Telford manning the heavyweight spot for the Hawkeyes, there's going to be a new face on the mat this year, Sam Stoll, but we may want to keep expectations tempered for now.
TOM BRANDS: Sam Stoll is doing a good job. He's going to have a learning curve. The biggest thing that he has to realize is that it is about being at your best every time out, and if he can do that, he has a chance to be a real good heavyweight.
You can read a full transcript of Brands' comments here.
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Ticket sales for Iowa's big Grapple on the Gridiron outdoor meet with Oklahoma State are ticking right along:
31,689 tickets sold for Iowa-Oklahoma State— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) November 5, 2015
But there's still room for more people, too, and if you're wondering about the parking situation, well, here's some information about that:
Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) November 5, 2015
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Not a lot of surprises there. Preseason rankings are basically made by taking the NCAA Tournament finishers from the previous year and removing the seniors and moving guys up accordingly. Weight changes throw a monkey wrench into this system, as do freshmen, although several ranking services just omit freshmen until they actually have a few matches under their belts and can be properly assessed. Iowa's highest returning finishers last year were Gilman (125), Clark (133), and Sorenson (149) and they're slotted pretty much exactly where they'd expect to be slotted right now. Burak (197) finished 8th last year but is ranked 4th this year due to a clear-out at the top of that weight class.
174 is a tricky weight to rank given that the bloc of guys who had dominated it for several years (Kokesh, Brown, Evans, Storley) is finally gone. Alex Meyer is even trickier to rank, given that he has some impressive wins, but also had a smaller overall resume, since he was a backup last year.
Iowa's biggest question marks are at 141, 157, 165, and 285 and most of the ranking services have just punted on those weights, although a few are somewhat bullish on Grothus at 141 and Stoll at 285. No one has any idea what to expect from Iowa at 157 or 165 (us included).
|TEAM||IM (dual)||IM (tourn)||Flo||WIN||NWCA|
|1||Penn St||Penn St||Penn St||Okie St||Okie St|
|2||Okie St||Okie St||Iowa||Ohio St||Penn St|
|4||Michigan||Michigan||Ohio St||Penn St||Iowa|
|5||Lehigh||Ohio St||Va Tech||Va Tech||Ohio St|
|6||Va Tech||Cornell||Michigan||Cornell||Va Tech|
|9||Cornell||NC State||NC State||Lehigh||Missouri|
Team rankings can also be tricky, given that they could be for dual meets or for tournaments, two rather different forms of competition. In general, most team rankings are for tournaments (since those are the titles that are truly cherished in wrestling), unless otherwise noted. InterMat does specific dual meet rankings and the NWCA Coaches Poll is specifically for dual meets as well.
Oklahoma State and Penn State are the odds-on favorites to bring home the title this year; both teams endured rebuilding seasons last year, but appear primed to be be back at the top of the heap this year. Iowa slots in at 3rd in most rankings, although Flo is more bullish on their prospects and the Coaches Poll is a bit more pessimistic. After that, though, the names get markedly less familiar -- Michigan? Lehigh? Nebraska? These ain't the rankings we're used to, but with Ohio State down two studs (Logan Stieber and Kyle Snyder) and recent powers Missouri and Cornell needing to retool, there's room for some new faces in new places in the rankings. If you're wondering where Minnesota is, you'll need to look much farther down the rankings; let's just say it could be a pretty long year in Gopherland.
Lots more wrestling coverage to come.