ST LOUIS, Mo. — Is eight enough?
The University of Iowa will have to make it enough if it wants another national title.
The Hawkeyes have more higher seeded wrestlers than any other team at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, beginning Thursday at Scottrade Center. Action begins at 11 a.m.
Iowa needs big contributions from each wrestler to earn its 24th NCAA team title and fourth under head coach Tom Brands.
“Our team has been whittled down to eight, now,” Brands said. “We have to get a lot out of those eight guys.”
Iowa has seven wrestlers seeded in the top five of their weights, and 184-pounder Grant Gambrall, who was an All-American after a third-place finish last year, is the lone unseeded Hawkeye.
A total team effort is a necessity to dethrone defending champion Penn State and top Minnesota, as well as Big 12 power Oklahoma State.
The Hawkeyes have yet to fire on all cylinders during competition, so this is best time for it.
“We have to realize our firepower,” Brands said. “We haven’t come together as a team, that team performance I’m talking about, and that has to happen.”
Matt McDonough, a two-time NCAA finalist and 2010 national champ, is top-seeded at 125. Derek St. John, coming off a strong comeback that ended with a Big Ten title, is seeded second at 157. Tony Ramos (133) and 141-pounder Montell Marion, a two-time All-American and 2010 NCAA runner-up, are No. 3 seeds.
The trio has been the anchor of the team this season, owning a combined 86-7 record. They’re accomplished, but Brands noted they only have one NCAA title in six seasons between them. Iowa’s success doesn’t hinge on only them.
“I don’t think our team goes as they go,” Brands said. “If something starts to snowball in a positive way, get on board with it. If something not-so good happens, then we have to be able to rise above at those other weights.”
Red-shirt freshmen Mike Evans (165) and heavyweight Bobby Telford are seeded fifth in their NCAA debuts while Ethen Lofthouse is fifth at 174.
A key will be if the Hawkeyes can unleash an offensive mentality, and let loose. They have displayed signs of it over the last couple months, but still have another step to take this week.
“Do they just all of a sudden buy into it and get hit over the head with a magic wand? I’m not sure it’s that simple,” Brands said. “I think these guys are starting to realize the firepower that they have. They’re starting to realize the ability they have.”
The Nittany Lions are coming off a second straight Big Ten title and looking for NCAA championship No. 2 in as many years. Penn State has three No. 1 seeds, including 2011 finalists Frank Molinaro (149) and David Taylor (165).
“We have to be grateful for this opportunity,” Penn State Coach Cael Sanderson said. “We can have fun and go out there and do what we do well.”
“It’s a tournament you earn the championship.”
Minnesota was sandwiched between Penn State and Iowa at the Big Ten tournament. Golden Gophers Coach J Robinson said they will have to surpass seeds for a title run. He also admitted teams will pull for help from the field.
“Part of it is luck. Just luck of the draw,” Robinson said. “Who’s going to knock who out?
“Sometime during this tournament, my guys are going to be cheering for these other teams, and all of our fans are and all of their fans will be cheering for the other four teams. That’s the way this tournament goes.”
Oklahoma State’s team title hopes took a hit when highly ranked heavyweight Alan Gelogaev was injured and lost for the remainder of the season. The Cowboys, led by defending 133-pound champion Jordan Oliver, expect to remain a contender.
“We’ve got to have guys to have their best tournament and best wrestling of the year,” Smith said. “I don’t mean just one of them. I mean three or four of them. I do believe we’ll dig our heels in and make a run at it. Don’t know we have the depth to do it. I do believe we’re excited and we’ve had a good couple weeks lead into this. I’m looking forward to our best performance.”
NCAA Championships sold out
The 82nd NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships are sold out, tournament organizers said Wednesday. The tournament is expected to draw about 112,000 over six sessions and three days, beginning Thursday at 11 a.m. and concluding with championship matches Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
The event should set an all-time attendance record overall and for a session. It’s the sixth time in 12 years St. Louis has hosted the tournament.
“We welcome you to St. Louis,” St. Louis Sports Commission President Frank Viverito said. “We’re so happy there won’t be an empty seat in the building all week long.”
Next year, the NCAA D-I Championships will be held at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Oklahoma City will host in 2014. The sites for 2015 and 2016 will probably be announced this fall. St. Louis is definitely a fan favorite and could be in contention again in the future.
“The wrestling committee is absolutely thrilled to see the Championships sold out in St. Louis and for the third consecutive year overall,” said Dave Martin, chair of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee and senior associate athletics director at Oklahoma State University. “It is great how much this event continues to grow and how much the wrestling community embraces the Championships. St. Louis does a tremendous job hosting the tournament.”
Growing and going for gold again
Cornell’s Kyle Dake is trying to win a third NCAA title at a third different weight class in three years. The Big Red junior is top-seeded at 157 and owns a 30-0 record.
“We will see how it turns out at the end of the season,” said Dake, who could win four titles at four weights. “I have not really been in the weight room as much as I have in the previous years, so I have not been that much bigger, trying to keep my weight under control a little better. But we will see after this season.”
He won the 141-pound title in 2010 and the championship at 149 last year. He hasn’t altered his style to fit larger opponents.
“No, not really,” Dake said. “I still wrestle the same match, go out and try to get the first takedown and get some riding time.”