IOWA CITY – When the University of Iowa and Minnesota stare each other down on the mat, they should be able to recognize somewhat of a mirror image.
The two college wrestling powers have a comparable philosophy and mentality in competition, reflecting the traits of their respective head coaches.
“I think there is a similar coaching style,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said about Gophers head coach J. Robinson. “I think it’s physical, hustle, attitude and toughness.
“I think their coaching staff is about toughness. J. Robinson has been about toughness his whole life. I think there are a lot of similarities there. I think that leads to certain things that are similar when you watch the wrestling.”
Second-ranked Iowa hosts No. 4 Minnesota in a Big Ten Conference dual Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The dual will be televised on BTN, beginning at 1 p.m. The Hawkeyes are 11-1, including a 4-0 conference mark, and Minnesota is 7-1 overall, coming off Sunday’s 19-14 loss to No. 12 Michigan.
The aggressive and physical styles seem to suit each team well, promising plenty of action. Wrestlers better have their chinstraps and their shoestrings cinched tight.
“It’s exciting because you know you’re not going to have to chase someone around,” Iowa 133-pound senior Tony Ramos said. “At the same time, you have to be ready for a fight because you know they’re coming out to fight and battle every position.”
Iowa volunteer assistant coach Ben Berhow wrestled heavyweight for Minnesota, serving as an administrative assistant on Robinson’s staff the last two years. He said he watched the rivalry as a kid in Minnesota.
“It’s a special rivalry and it’s great for the sport of wrestling,” Berhow said. “Two real tough-minded programs with similar coaching philosophies, scoring a lot of points (and) making it exciting.”
Being familiar with the opponent’s approach does not affect preparation. It doesn’t get easier, facing someone with the same tendencies. The focus remains on improving and developing individual strengths for the Hawkeyes.
“It’s more about us doing what we can do to the opponent,” Brands said. “It’s always that way. Some programs want to strategize, according to their opponent. We want to use what we do well and put it on our opponent.”
The Hawkeyes are coming off a 22-9 win over No. 10 Nebraska. Iowa won seven matches and have won 43 of 50 matches in five duals in January. It includes a 35-5 match record in conference duals. Brands said there are more positives than negatives, but the goal is consistently performing at the highest level all the time.
“We march to that beat and we don’t make it a secret,” Brands said. “Our guys pick up on that and they embrace it, so let’s do a better job.”
UNI joins Iowa in top-five rankings
The University of Northern Iowa made a monumental leap in the Panthers wrestling program, joining Iowa in the top-five of the National Wrestling Coaches Association/Amateur Wrestling News/USA Today NCAA Division I Coaches Poll this week. UNI, ranked ninth last week, dropped previous No. 4 Oklahoma, 19-17, Sunday in Norman, Okla.
It was UNI’s first win over a top-10 since beating Iowa State, 22-21, in the 2004 NWCA National Duals. The Panthers won five bouts, receiving a pin from 141-pounder Joey Lazor, who decked No. 10 Nick Lester in 2:06.
“He had him flat for a long time … it was a position where he is pretty good there,” UNI Coach Doug Schwab said Monday during a weekly press luncheon. “He turned into him and pinned him. That was a big win for us. Those bonus points ended up being the difference.”
The Panthers, which have adopted the “Panther train” slogan, have jumped on the fast track of revitalizing the program. In less than three seasons, UNI has gone from finishing 46th at the 2011 NCAA Championships in Schwab’s first season as head coach to 15th last year and now have moved into the upper echelon of dual teams.
“It was a good team win, and it was good for them to come together,” said Schwab, who is in his fourth season leading UNI. “You can see them growing from it. They are starting to believe they are a really good team. We just need to keep building.”
The Panthers won’t have much time to relax. They host No. 7 Missouri, who made the move to the Mid-American Conference last season with UNI, at the West Gym in Cedar Falls on Friday. UNI is 6-0, while the Tigers are 4-0. Missouri beat UNI, 27-9, last season.
“We’re always telling them they need to be ready but they have to be ready to wrestle us, and wrestle us on our home turf with a team that is very confident right now,” Schwab said. “I like where we are at, but Missouri is a very good team. They are a MAC rival.”
UNI will host 18th-ranked Iowa State on Saturday, Feb. 8, beginning at 5 p.m. The dual between state schools will be televised on KCRG 9.2.
Williams named honorary captain
University of Iowa three-time NCAA champion Joe Williams will serve as honorary captain for the second-ranked Hawkeyes dual against No. 4 Minnesota at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, beginning at 1 p.m. Williams, a four-time All-American for Iowa from 1995-98, will be recognized before the start of the meet.
Williams started his career at 158 pounds, placing seventh as a freshman before winning two straight national titles in the class. He capped his career with a national championship at 167, grabbing his second Big Ten title and posting a 34-0 mark as a senior.
The Harvey, Ill., native ranks 11th on Iowa’s all-time wins list with 129. He also holds the Midlands Championships record with 10 individual crowns.
Success continued into international competition. Williams was a member of six United States World Teams, earning bronze medals in the 2001 and 2005 World Championships. He also competed at the 2004 Summer Olympics held in Athens, Greece.
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