DES MOINES – The power of positive thinking.
Not only did Ethen Lofthouse use it to put himself in the postseason as the University of Iowa’s 184-pound starter, but it also propelled him into the national quarterfinals.
Lofthouse scored a takedown with 29 seconds remaining to defeat fifth-seeded Kevin Steinhaus, 3-1, Thursday night during the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Wells Fargo Arena. He was one of six quarterfinalists for Iowa, which was in fourth with 22 points, trailing third-place Minnesota by two. Penn State led the team race with 32 1/2 points and Oklahoma State was second with 29.
Lofthouse, seeded 12th at 184, overturned recent losses to Steinhaus, including a 6-3 decision in a regular season dual.
“I have a history with him,” Lofthouse said. “It’s on a big stage, right now. It feels good, but I have to get ready for the next match.”
Despite a 20-7 record, Lofthouse struggled in the middle of the season, losing five times in seven matches. He lacked offense and confidence. He split time with senior Grant Gambrall for part of the time, but turned it around by claiming the starting spot and placing third at the Big Ten Championships.
“First thing that comes to mind is urgency,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “His back was against the wall.”
Brands said Lofthouse has become more of a complete wrestler. He is competing tougher, according to Brands. Iowa assistant coach Ryan Morningstar has worked with Lofthouse as well.
“It’s a tribute to Ethen,” Brands said. “Give Morningstar a lot of credit.”
He heard from family, friends and the entire coaching staff, offering advice on how to turn reverse things. Lofthouse began to wrestle to win more than wrestling to not lose.
“Just mentally figured something out,” Positive thinking. That’s really just the biggest thing. I just relaxed and wrestled. I know I’m capable. I just got to do it.”
Lofthouse opened with an 8-2 over Iowa State’s Boaz Beard. The attitude came into play against Steinhaus, forcing a stalemate off a shot attempt and then scoring on his own after a restart. He avoided negative thoughts of being taken down when Steinhaus had his leg and kept his composure, trying to fight and rely on fundamentals with time elapsing.
“There was nothing to lose,” Lofthouse said. “I dove for the legs. My main focus was finish and finish quick.”
The Wells Fargo Arena crowd was dominated by Iowa fans, erupting with every moment that favors Iowa. The Hawkeyes have tapped into that energy boost, and Lofthouse has joined it with his approach.
“Before the match even starts in my head I’ve already won,” Lofthouse said. “The crowd gets behind you and makes you feel good.”
Lofthouse will face Cornell’s fourth-seeded Steve Bosak (22-2) in the quarterfinals. He has a chance to overturn another loss, dropping a 3-2 match to Bosak in February. Lofthouse, who placed seventh at 174 last year, is a win from a second straight All-American finish.
“I’ve been progressing the last couple weeks,” Lofthouse said. “Right now, I feel good.”
Iowa’s Matt McDonough (22-3) shared a positive outlook after the first day of the tournament. The two-time NCAA champion and three-time national finalist advanced to the quarterfinals with a 5-1 win over Kent State’s Steve Mitchell at 125.
He opened with a 10-2 major decision over Cleveland State’s Ben WIlleford.
“There are definitely things I can improve upon,” third-seeded McDonough said. “All in all, it was a solid day, having to wrestle where I am good.”
McDonough will wrestle Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett (40-4). A possible rematch against Illinois’ second-seeded Jesse Delgado looms as McDonough is attempting to become the fourth wrestler in Hawkeye history to be a four-time NCAA finalist. He could join a group that consists of Ed Banach, Duane Goldman and Lincoln McIlravy.
Some things are constant, but the intensity increases Friday. The setbacks to Delgado and the national finals as a sophomore push McDonough.
“You use every previous match, every previous experience, as something that helps you build toward the future, whether it is good or bad,” McDonough said. “This is my fourth tournament here. I know what it’s like on Day 2. Really there is no secret to it. It’s a matter of coming out with the will to win.”
The Hawkeyes have six quarterfinalists and none are as hot as second-seeded 133-pounder Tony Ramos. The Iowa junior pinned both opponents in the first period Thursday, including a 1:07 fall over North Carolina’s Joseph Ward in the second round.
Ramos is 29-1 with 14 pins.
“Dominate. Dominate everyone. Dominate every position,” Ramos said. “Hand fight, top, bottom, headlocks, in on the leg, in on defense…it doesn’t matter. Dominate every position.”
Ramos has one thing on his mind and that is standing on the top of the awards stand Saturday night.
“It means a lot to the name on the front of this,” Ramos said while tugging on a gray Iowa Hawkeye t-shirt. “It means a lot to my family. It’s not for Anthony Ramos, it’s for the Ramos family. I got texts all week long, my brother…my dad sent me a letter, my fiancé left me a letter on my bag, my brother calls me every night. It means more to my family than myself. I gotta go out there and get this done.”
Mike Evans opened up in his second match, beating Eastern Michigan’s Phillip Joseph, 11-3, to reach the 174-pound quarterfinals. It was more decisive than his 2-0 win over Central Michigan’s Craig Kelliher.
“You start getting dominant wins and people start doubting themselves when they come to wrestle you,” Evans said. “It meant a lot to come out and put points on the board and finish my takedowns, because that’s what I was lacking in my first match.”
The test gets tougher for Evans. Like Lofthouse, he will try to avenge a loss to a Minnesota foe. Evans (21-4) will face the Gophers’ Logan Storley (26-3). He has lost twice to Storley this season, but accepts the challenge.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Evans said.
Mark Ballweg (141) made his NCAA tournament debut and won his first two matches. The Iowa senior scored a takedown in the third period to beat Penn’s Charles Cobb, 3-2, to reach the quarterfinals.
“That’s two out of the way,” Ballweg said. “I have a big match tomorrow.”
He faces second-seeded Kendric Maple, of Oklahoma. Maple dominated him at the Midlands Championships in a previous season.
“The last time I wrestled him it wasn’t pretty,” Maple said. “I’ll try to turn things around in my favor.”
Iowa’s second-seeded Derek St. John reached the quarterfinals at 157, beating Air Force’s Josh Kreimier, 9-5.
Iowa’s team title hopes took a hit when Bobby Telford suffered a knee injury in the opening session. Telford, seeded sixth, hurt his right knee in an 8-1 win over Bucknell’s Joe Stolfi in the first round. He was assisted off the mat and spent time secluded with coaches and training staff before being helped from the arena.
Telford had his right leg taped before the evening’s second round and took the mat, defaulting to Boise State’s 11th-seeded J.T. Felix in two seconds. A default differs from a medical forfeit, because he is allowed to compete in later rounds instead of bowing out of the tournament.
“It’s not safe to assume anything,” Brands said about Telford trying to wrestle Friday. “We’re working it.”
The Hawkeyes had all nine wrestlers alive in the tournament. Nick Moore (165) lost a close match to Iowa State’s Mike Moreno, rebounding with a pin in the consolation round. Nathan Burak (197) lost to Kent State’s NCAA champ and top-seeded Dustin Kilgore. He won a 4-0 decision to eliminate Harvard’s James Fox.
The field was chasing two-time defending team champion Penn State. The Nittany Lions have six in the quarterfinals, including NCAA champions David Taylor (165), 184-pounder Ed Ruth and Quentin Wright at 197. They were powered by bonus points, getting consecutive second-round pins by Taylor, 174-pounder Matt Brown and Ruth.
“As a team, I feel like everybody’s doing what they have to do,” Ruth said.
Minnesota has six semifinalists, including Chris Dardanes (133), Cody Yohn (165), Scott Schiller (197) and second-seeded heavyweight Tony Nelson.
Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver leads the Cowboys’ charge, reaching the 149 quarterfinals. The Cowboys have seven in the quarterfinals.
Cornell’s Kyle Dake moved closer to becoming the third four-time national champion in NCAA Division I history. He majored Indiana’s Ryan Leblanc to reach the 165 quarterfinals. Last year, Dake become the first D-I wrestler to win three titles at three different weight classes, capturing the 141, 149 and 157-pound crowns.