EVANSTON, Ill. – The University of Iowa made a big statement as a team.
University of Northern Iowa’s Joe Colon made his own individual mark.
The Hawkeyes dominated the field in the 51st Ken Kraft Midlands Championship, crowning three champions and setting a new team record with a whopping 187 1/2 points Monday at Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena. Colon provided a highlight for the Panthers, conquering the toughest bracket in the field and earning the Dan Gable Outstanding Wrestler and Champion of Champions awards.
Iowa set a new scoring record, breaking the mark of 185 set by the 2007 Hawkeyes team when Mike Evans stuck Columbia’s Shane Hughes for the 174-pound crown. It was almost the most individual champions for the Hawkeyes since 2009.
“Bouncing back after with the Penn State dual really needed to happen,” St. John said. “It needs to continue from here on out. It can’t stop from here.”
Many seemed to turn a corner when it came to being offensive and tallying more bonus points, including Evans, who had three falls and two major decisions, while scoring a tournament-high 29 team points.
“I think there were some things that were addressed and with communication,” University of Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “I think there were some things that were emphasized and there was some response there.”
Red-shirt freshman Thomas Gilman produced one of the top performances of the tournament, claiming the 125-pound title with a decisive 6-1 decision over Jarrod Garnett of Bison Wrestling Club. The win came on the heels of an impressive 3-1 win over Illinois’ defending NCAA champion Jesse Delgado in the semifinals.
“Compared to last year it’s a big deal,” said Gilman, noting that he failed to place here a year ago. “I came here and won it last year it’s a big improvement, I guess.”
Gilman dominated Garnett with two takedowns and earning a riding-time point after riding Garnett the last 1:53 of the first period. He was a lot more offensive, relying more on his instincts.
Gilman used a strong ride on Delgado in the final period of their match, getting a tilt for a two-point nearfall, which was the difference. He declined comment about whether he should be the Hawkeyes starter, but said his confidence has always been strong.
“I don’t think it has changed other than the fact that I need to bring it to the surface,” Gilman said. “So, I know I can go and when I go I can get to the legs and when I need to ride I can ride and when I need to get out I can get out.”
Derek St. John finally captured a Midlands title to go along with his 2013 NCAA championship and his 2012 Big Ten title. He seemed more offensive this tournament looking to score all the way to the end of the title bout, handling Indiana’s Taylor Walsh, 9-3, at 157.
St. John had no problem with Walsh, whose style has resulted in 22 pins in 25 wins this season, including 15 straight until his loss in the finals.
“He’s dangerous. He’s funky,” St. John said. “He’s tough to feel out.
“You have to stay real basic. You have to stay real strong with your positions.”
He has focused on being more aggressive and looking to score. St. John had 40 points in his five wins.
“It’s something I’m really working on just going out and letting her fly a little more,” St. John said. “That’s the key to scoring a lot more points.”
The Hawkeyes opened the second day, posting a 14-4 record through the semifinals and two rounds of consolation. It secured 14 of the team’s 16 entrants a spot on the podium and seven in the championship matches. Tony Ramos (133) posted his second runner-up finish at the Midlands. Nick Moore (165), Ethen Lofthouse (184) and heavyweight Bobby Telford all placed second.
Brody Grothus and Brandon Sorensen, who wrestled unattached, placed third and fourth, respectively, at 149. Nathan Burak, also wrestling unattached, was third at 197. Dziewa was third at 141, helping Iowa top second-place Edinboro by 85 points and third-place Michigan by 103 1/2.
The Hawkeyes seemed to build momentum at times, except for maybe the finals. Iowa will attempt to carry it over to the start of the Big Ten season later this week.
“You build regardless,” Brands said. “It’s a lot easier as a team with success and also individual. We have some guys that are pretty motivated, right now.”
UNI’s Colon conquered the toughest bracket in the Midlands field, providing sparks in the finals and leading UNI to fifth place with 70 ½ points. It was the Panthers’ best finish since getting fifth in 1974.
He held a 2-1 lead, securing double underhooks and putting Ramos on his back and getting a fall in 2:37.
Colon was able to wrestle to his strength, sticking to the strategy UNI Coach Doug Schwab described as controlling ties, setting the pace and wrestling hard.
“Using my underhooks is big time,” Colon said. “That is one thing I’ve been working on, too. Not just hanging out, but using my hands in there, pushing and pulling them.”
The final was a surprise. Ramos has rarely experienced that result.
“Ramos is missing something right now,” Brands said. “His timing is off. We got to get our timing back and that takes work.”
Colon beat three wrestlers ranked in the top seven in the nation, dropping Wisconsin All-American Tyler Graff for the second time this season before defeating Edinboro’s top-seeded A.J. Schopp, 3-0, in the semifinals.
“This is only Midlands,” Schwab said. “It was a huge tournament. He took out three really good guys, but we have to continue to build him and get him better.”
Colon, UNI’s first Midlands champion and tournament OW since Nick Baima won the 165-pound title in 2005, plans to use this as a steppingstone.
“I’m here to win a national title,” Colon said. “It’s not done yet. This is just a step. I have to keep training and doing what I’ve been doing and get that national title.”
The win was satisfying for another reason. After qualifying for the 2012 NCAA tournament, Colon was dismissed from the team last season. Schwab said the sting of having wrestling taken away has motivated Colon, now has one year left to achieve the goals he set for his entire college career.
“It is redemption,” said Colon, a former NJCAA national champion for Iowa Central. “I got one year taken away from me last year. I can’t make up for that now. I can’t dwell on it. I have to do everything I wanted to do my whole four years in college right now.”
Schwab said training was never a problem and the issues were off the mat. He has been focused and discipline to take advantage of this opportunity.
“He’s grown a lot as a person and a wrestler,” Schwab said. “Last year at this time, things were up in the air a little bit about where he was going to be, what he was going to do, how is he going to respond to not being on the team. He responded the right way.”
Cornell’s Alex Coolidge became the first Rams wrestler to compete in the renowned amateur wrestling event. He went 3-2, coming a win away from placing in the top-eight and losing to Maryland finalist Christian Boley and fifth-place Alex Polizzi of Northwestern.
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