Tony Ramos has looked forward to the awaiting challenge.
The University of Iowa national finalist has a chance to win one of the more renown regular-season college wrestling tournaments in his home state, while having a shot at redemption.
Ramos will attempt to claim an individual title at Northwerstern University's 51st Ken Kraft Midlands Championships on Sunday and Monday in Evanston, Ill. He could get a chance to avenge his only loss of the season in the process, if he crosses paths with Edinboro's A.J. Schopp.
Schopp received the top pre-seed due to a 3-2 win over Ramos, the No. 2 pre-seed, on Dec. 5. They wouldn't be expected to meet until the final round. It is hard not to look ahead to the anticipated rematch.
"It's something I want to happen," Ramos said. "I want that chance to fix the mistakes I made, but it's something that might not happen so I can't dwell on it. I have to be ready for whoever steps out on the mat. Just get ready to win matches and score lots of points."
For the most part, Ramos has thrived on tough tests and big spotlights. A talented 133-pound field and a Midlands final would suit him well, especially since he has posted a technical fall and pin after his lone loss of the season.
"He embraces challenges," Brands said. "I think he's looking forward to some redemption. He's not a competitor that shies away from anything. If anything, this jacks him up. It doesn't rattle him."
The loaded bracket will provide some obstacles for both wrestlers to reach the finals. Eight of the top-20 ranked wrestlers in the country will compete, including five of the top seven. The list doesn't include Alan Waters, who is wrestling unattached for Missouri after placing fourth at 125 in the 2013 NCAA Championships.
"The first thing is we're both going to have to get there for it to happen," Ramos said. "I'm going to focus on going match by match. The way the seeds look, I don't want to say he has a tougher side, (but) he has more tougher opponents to go through than I'm going to have to get there."
The opportunity to face second-ranked Schopp crossed his mind shortly after he stepped off the mat at Edinboro. Ramos welcomes another shot at him, but Brands echoed the sentiment that Ramos does not have his sights set solely on Schopp.
"That is something as a competitor you learn to do, and I don't think Ramos is going to be looking ahead," Brands said. "I don't look at it that way. I look at it like if you're talking about a stacked bracket. There is nothing that is going to make Tony Ramos shy away from the competition."
Ramos will need to wrestle much better than his previous match. He said he knows what he must do to reverse the previous decision, including being more active and technically sound on his feet. He has to negate Schopp's strength on top.
"I need to score a lot of points," Ramos said. "I'm going to do that by keeping my head tight on shots. I gave him too much space and that's why he was able to whizzer down to get out of a couple of them. I need to get out on bottom. I've done it before. I know how he rides. I just have to be ready to go."
Ramos described the tournament as a "mini-national tournament" at 133. In addition to Ramos and Schopp, Lehigh's fourth-ranked Mason Beckman, University of Northern Iowa's No. 6 Joe Colon, seventh-ranked Tyler Graff, a national semifinalist who placed third at last year's NCAA's for Wisconsin, are expected to wrestle.
"I'm excited," said Ramos, who is three wins shy of 100 as a Hawkeye. "We'll see how things shake out after this and set the tone for the rest of the year."
The other aspect for Ramos is winning a prestigious title in Illinois, where he wrestled at Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream, Ill. He placed in the top six and is making his first appearance since a runner-up finish in 2011.
"It would mean a lot," Ramos said. "I grew up watching the Midlands when I was little. That was one of the biggest things, winning a Midlands title. I want to get that done and keep moving forward and then go for a national title."
Iowa returns to the Midlands after a brief one-year hiatus under Brands. Sixteen Hawkeyes will wrestle, including national qualifier Nathan Burak (197) and freshman Brandon Sorenson (157), who are competing unattached.
The Hawkeyes have 12 wrestlers listed as pre-seeds, including No. 1 selections Derek St. John (157), Nick Moore (165), Mike Evans (174) and Ethen Lofthouse (184). Heavyweight Bobby Telford was second, while freshman Sam Brooks was 11th, giving Iowa two pre-seeded wrestlers at 184.
At 125, Cory Clark and Thomas Gilman will both participate. They are pre-seeded third and fourth, respectively. Brands doesn't see a controversy at the weight, which likely means Clark remains the top choice, unless Gilman can produce better results and overturn a previous loss to Clark at the Luther Open final in November.
UNI has climbed into the top-10 of national dual rankings and has six wrestlers listed in pre-seeds. Ryan Loder leads the way, sitting in third at 184, joining the fourth-seeded Colon. Red-shirt freshman Dylan Peters is fifth at 125. Cooper Moore (165) and 174-pounder Cody Caldwell are both pre-seeded sixth. Joey Lazor is ninth at 141.
Cornel College's NCAA Divison III runner-up and fourth-ranked Alex Coolidge (11-2) will compete at the Midlands this year. He will be accompanied by Rams assistant Matt Fields, a former All-American for Iowa, as the rest of the Cornell team will compete in a tournament in Florida. Coolidge is the first Cornell wrestler to compete in the tournament in Mike Duroe's nine seasons as Rams head coach.
Interestingly, Duroe replaced Drew Pariano, who is now the Northwestern head coach.
"This is arguably the premier tournament in the country and will definitely be a good gauge for Alex as to where he is in his development," Duroe said in a story posted by Cornell Sports Information Director Kerry Kahl. "Alex has a goal to win a national championship in March. He wants to put himself up against the top competition in the country. It will be a great opportunity for him."
Smaller Iowa colleges and state preps will also be represented at the tournament.
Grand View heavyweight Eric Thompson, an NAIA national champion, is pre-seeded eighth. He is a former Waverly-Shell Rock state champion.Former Davenport Assumption Class 2A state champ (2010)and Wartburg NCAA Division III champion Landon Williams is pre-seeded 10th at 174. Former Columbus Junction 2A state champ (2009) Matt Mougin, of Northern Illinois. is listed at 12th at 174.