The marquee duals of the Hawkeye wrestling season are basically over (sans Nebraska Sunday) and roughly three and a half weeks remain before the Big Ten Tournament. What better time to appreciate Iowa’s seniors? We’ll do so in the coming weeks. Up first: none other than Thomas Gilman.
Thomas Gilman, red Asics on his feet, first introduced himself to the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd in December 2013’s Twitter-induced dual against Penn State. A few weeks prior, a 125-pound Cory Clark beat him via 4-0 decision at Iowa’s de-facto wrestle offs at the Luther Open. Clark had trouble with his weight and wasn’t up to the task of facing a stout Nico Megaludis, giving Gilman the nod. He lost a 4-1 decision.
Nine days later, Gilman won the Midlands without facing Clark. As the season went on, however, the Southeast Polk product proved more effective and ultimately won the spot come March. He finished fourth at Big Tens and fifth at NCAAs as Gilman watched him compete from the tunnel all postseason. It was clear how much he hated not being on the mat, but still fought like hell for his teammate.
I was lucky enough to be in earshot of Gilman after Wisconsin’s Ryan Taylor downed Clark, 9-5 in the third place match. Rightfully so, Taylor took in the praises of the Badger faithful in the Kohl Center. Gilman didn’t hesitate to send his colorful objections Taylor’s way as he jogged back to the room. They were relatively clean, but cutting.
The former Nebraska state champ had a decent sophomore year, finishing second and fourth at Big Tens and Nationals, respectively. Again his accomplishments took a backseat to Clark’s — he grabbed third and second place titles in the same tournaments at 133 following Tony Ramos’ graduation.
Having finished encouraging sophomore campaigns, the duo was perhaps the best lightweight combination in college wrestling the following season, amassing a 54-4 record. A disappointing postseason earned them one title — Clark’s 133 pound Big Ten Championship. They each finished as runners up at NCAAs. Gilman’s only two losses came at the hands of Megaludis.
This year, of course, has been a departure from the Gilman-Clark storyline prevalent during their first three seasons in Iowa City. No Hawkeye has come close to matching Gilman’s level of wrestling.
He’s 21 up, 0 down, and on an absolute warpath. He’s the lifeblood of a Hawkeye squad caught in between winning now and grooming young pieces for the future. He’s the best 125-pounder in the nation, and has provided us with some of the most entertaining matches of the season. Sunday’s against No. 4 Scott Lizak takes the cake thus far.
As you likely know, he gave Lizak an 8-0 — effectively 9-0 with riding time — lead in Minneapolis before ripping out the Gophers’ collective heart. A late second period reversal put him on the board, followed by three takedowns in roughly 35 seconds, and then, well, roll the tape.
That move off the cowcatcher earned him Big Ten Wrestler of the Week honors was reminiscent of the bout following Gilman’s home debut. It’s often not we have the pleasure, or even the ability, to watch theater like this in college wrestling. Whether he crashes the opposing huddle before a dual begins or has to be restrained from running on the mat to defend a teammate, there’s never a dull moment with Gilman. He’s confident and polite yet violent and eloquent in his speech.
Four wins away from becoming the 41st Hawkeye in program history to break the 100-win mark, his ultimate legacy has yet to be decided. A three-time All-American with an NCAA Championship looks a whole lot better than just a three-time All-American. A college wrestler can display all the fireworks he wants, but the sport is ultimately defined — especially at Iowa — by national titles.
The senior has as good of a chance as any of his teammates to put himself on the right side of things starting in a few weeks. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. Sometimes things don’t end the way we want them to — just look at the way last season finished.
Either way, Thomas Gilman, you’ve been a pleasure to watch.
h/t @HeavensHawkeye for the gif.