IOWA CITY — Ethen Lofthouse doesn’t have fond memories of last season’s NCAA Championships.
By the University of Iowa junior’s own admission, his first All-American finish couldn’t eliminate the realization he was capable of more.
“I still feel sick about the NCAA tournament, because I didn’t wrestle good at all,” said Lofthouse, who placed seventh at 174 pounds. “In my mind, and the coaching staff’s mind, I didn’t feel good about it. I felt there were a lot of things left undone.”
Lofthouse has been impressive this season, but faces his toughest test when the fifth-ranked Hawkeyes host Lehigh Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, starting at 4 p.m. Seventh-ranked Lofthouse (6-0) will face Robert Hamlin, who is ranked as high as second with a 3-1 mark.
Lofthouse made the jumped to 184 this season, and even owns a win over in freestyle this spring.
“I knew going up a weight class there was a lot of good guys in this weight class,” Lofthouse said. “Hamlin’s one of them. … He’s good. He wrestles hard. (I) just have to go out and execute my holds and move my feet, mainly.”
In freestyle, Lofthouse showed he could compete with Hamlin, but that is in the past.
“We wrestled him in freestyle. Now we have to wrestle him on the mat, too,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “We know what we can do with him on our feet. Now, we have to be able to wrestle on the bottom and on the top against him in a seven-minute match.”
This season, the emphasis has been to correct the errors that forced him to settle for a lower step on the national podium. Lofthouse has been determined to be more offensive and distance himself from foes by increasing his pace the entire match.
“A lot of times I found myself getting ahead and stop wrestling,” Lofthouse said. “That’s what I’ve tried to focus on. Keep wrestling and keep scoring.”
A 3-1 NCAA quarterfinal loss to Minnesota’s Logan Storley still stings from last season. The key to avoid a recurrence is repetition and the willingness to open up in competition. Shoot, score and repeat.
“You do it in the practice room, but then you have to transfer it on the mat,” Lofthouse said. “I think that’s my biggest step I need to take.”
Lofthouse received a challenge at the start of the season by former Hawkeye two-time All-American Mark Ironside. He was encouraged to score at least 10 points or win by fall, which he has in all but one win, including a 10-3 win over then-ranked Boaz Beard of Iowa State.
“I look at his match and look at how it went. To me it was 7-4 and look at the score and it was 10-3,” Brands said. “There’s a lot of scoring there that I don’t really remember seeing and maybe that’s a good thing.
“I think he’s doing better this year. That was a good test for him. I don’t think the Iowa State guy was an automatic.”
Lofthouse is known for his explosiveness and strength has two pins and two major decisions, scoring as many as 20 points in a match this season. He said he has felt strong and quick on his feet.
Iowa assistant Ryan Morningstar works out with Lofthouse in practice weekly. He praised Lofthouse for his strength, and how he has advanced.
“I think he’s done a god job of putting multiple holds together and wrestling whole matches because he’s not worried about a strategy,” Morningstar said. “He’s just going out and wrestling.
“He’s looked good recently. We need to keep a good thing going.”
The best way will be able to notch a key early-season win to build on, and add to his 54 career wins. A victory against an high-level opponent will be indicative of his improvement.
“It would help toward it,” Lofthouse said about cementing his progress. “It would give me some (additional) confidence.”