Successful programs don’t rebuild, they reload.
The University of Iowa wrestling program has been the epitome of that adage throughout the years and they will look to prove that again as they say goodbye to a successful senior class and usher in the next group of Hawkeyes.
The worst thing the college wrestling world can do is believe success is leaving with the seniors and underestimate the depth of the program.
“It’s not lost on us,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said about the talent leaving due to graduation. “We’ve recruited well. We have some firepower in the stable, too, that you don’t see. I’m not making predictions.”
Filling the holes won’t be easy, but the practice room at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex at Carver-Hawkeye Arena is filled with talent, including 125-pound NCAA champion Matt McDonough, a red-shirt freshman and sophomore 141-pound NCAA finalist Montell Marion. Junior Jake Kerr was a national qualifier and won two matches at 157.
A number of Hawkeyes received valuable experience, competing in the lineup when the team battled injury.
Red-shirt freshman Nate Moore wrestled well when 133-pound NCAA finalist Dan Dennis missed time with an ankle injury. Luke Lofthouse (197) and heavyweights Jordan Johnson and Blake Rasing filled in admirably when 197-pounder Chad Beatty missed much of the season with a broken foot and heavyweight Dan Erekson was out the first half of the season recovering from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.
They have talented youngsters. Freshmen Tony Ramos (12-0 at 133), Derek St. John (26-4 at 157) and Ethen Lofthouse (30-7 at 174) had solid first season while red-shirting. St. John, who won the 157 wrestle-off at the start of the season, placed fifth at the Midlands Championships in December. Ethen Lofthouse went 3-2 there as well.
Red-shirt freshman Grant Gambrall went 22-6 overall at 184, including a fifth-place finish at the Midlands.
Iowa also welcomes the top recruiting class, including Josh Dziewa (135) of Pennsylvania and Mike Evans (189) of New Jersey, who are ranked No. 1 in the nation by Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine, 160-pounder Nick Moore of Iowa City West and heavyweight Bobby Telford, both ranked second nationally, Waverly-Shell Rock three-time state champ Jake Ballweg, ranked sixth at 140 and Cedar Falls two-time state champ Michael Kelly.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Brands said. “I’m confident in our staff and our guys.”
This senior group has set school record in consecutive dual wins (61), which is fourth in NCAA history, consecutive road dual wins (41). They also won three straight Big Ten titles, increasing Iowa’s national team titles from 20 to 23.
“There’s been something pretty special these last three years, what we’ve been able to put together as a team — just that one loss to Oklahoma State,” senior Brent Metcalf said of the dual loss in January of 2008. “One loss. We don’t feel good about that (loss) at all, but you can still look back (at the body of work) and feel pretty good about it. I represented myself the way I wanted to represent myself, the way I wanted to represent our program. I’m proud of myself, and of our team.”
Metcalf has been the leader of the program and has since he first stepped in the room.
“He’s tremendous,” Brands said. “What we have going in that room is because of him. This is a work in progress from years ago. This is a work in progress where when he came in he was competing for the alpha male role. he held a lot of guys accountable and he made the entire team better because of that. Even when he wasn’t visible on the mat that first year when he wasn’t wrestling. An invaluable asset.”
Metcalf won his second NCAA title Saturday, capping a 36-1 season. He was a three-time NCAA finalist and ended his career 108-3 — good for the second-best winning percentage in Iowa history.
“It means a lot. I think you look at it though and I think there’s quite a few three-timers and quite a few two-timers so I fit right in about here,” said Metcalf, motioning with his hands to signify a midway point. “Not to take anything away from myself, but it does feel good to be among the best of this program.”
He appears to be passing the torch to McDonough, who displayed leadership during his 37-1 championship season.
“Team and championship success takes more than one person,” Metcalf said. “The way that (McDonough) competes and trains, what goes through his head, everything is on the dot where it should be. I give him a lot of credit. He’s a freshman, and he’s grabbing me by the ear, saying, ‘Metcalf, let’s go do extra curls’ or ‘Metcalf, let’s go do stance motions with dumbbells in our hands’. He’s wired the right way, and kept me where I needed to be. Him being in (the Iowa wrestling) room motivated me. You see a freshman doing all that extra work in the room, and you can’t be sitting on your butt, icing your knee. You have to get in there with him. I give him a whole lot of credit for the success he just had, but also for the role he’s played in the room and in my life. He has to continue what’s he doing, and do it at another level.”
Senior 2009-10 starters: Daniel Dennis (NCAA runner-up and two-time All-American at 133); Brent Metcalf (two-time NCAA Champion and three-time national finalist at 149); Ryan Morningstar (two-time All-American at 165); Jay Borschel (NCAA Champion and two-time All-American at 174); Phil Keddy (three-time All-American at 184); Chad Beatty (Two-time national qualifier at 197); Dan Erekson (Two-time All-American and three-time national qualifier at heavyweight); Dan LeClere (2008 national qualifier and 10-3 overall at 141)
Returning 2009-10 starters: Matt McDonough (NCAA national champion and 37-1 at 125); Nate Moore (13-7 overall at 133); Montell Marion (NCAA runner-up and 27-6 at 141); Jake Kerr (national qualifier and 14-11 at 157); Aaron Janssen (12-4 overall at 157); Matt Ballweg (9-4 overall at 157); Grant Gambrall (22-6 overall at 184); Luke Lofthouse (20-13 overall at 197); Jordan Johnson (15-3 overall at heavyweight); Blake Rasing (18-9 overall at heavyweight)
Top freshmen: Tony Ramos (12-0 at 133); Dylan Carew (11-1 at 149); Derek St. John (26-4 at 157); Ethen Lofthouse (30-7 at 174)