IOWA CITY – The University of Iowa will head to Evanston, Ill., this week.
The University of Minnesota is in the rearview mirror.
The Hawkeyes slipped back to third in the National Wrestling Coaches Association/Amateur Wrestling News/USA Today after a 19-15 loss to the Gophers, now ranked second, and travel to face No. 19 Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said the team has responded well this week, working to improve from a performance where the Hawkeyes had just five total takedowns Saturday. The proof will be the showing of Iowa (11-2, 4-1 Big Ten) against the Wildcats (6-5, 1-5). Brands has faith in his wrestlers.
“We’ll find out,” said Brands, noting that being put on their backs as much as they did against Minnesota does not create content feelings. “We have guys that we believe in. We like our team. We wouldn’t trade them for anybody.”
There is always room to improve. Unless a wrestler records a perfect match, the Hawkeyes and staff are striving to get better. Plenty of work remains after that dual, but that is the case after most events.
“If you’re a fan, you would be concerned,” Brands said. “From a coaching point of view, you’re always concerned whether you get the fall or not. Our urgency is always up.”
Iowa has 10 ranked wrestlers in the latest AWN individual rankings, including top-ranked heavyweight Bobby Telford and No. 3 Derek St. John at 157. Thomas Gilman (125), Tony Ramos (133), Nick Moore (165) and 174-pounder Mike Evans are also ranked in the top five of their respective weights. Northwestern has five ranked wrestlers.
The Hawkeyes are undefeated on the road and are heavy favorites to continue the success. The venue and host do not concern Iowa. The Hawkeyes just want to compete.
“Does it really matter where you wrestle?” Brands asked. “ In Russia, you have a mat outside and it’s 40 degrees, so wherever it is just tell our guys to pull their straps up and go.”
Telford faces next test
Iowa heavyweight Bobby Telford earned the top spot in AWN’s individual rankings Tuesday after last weekend’s 3-1 overtime win over Minnesota’s two-time NCAA champion Tony Nelson.
Telford, a junior who is a two-time NCAA qualifier and 2012 All-American, doesn’t have to wait long for another test from a top contender. He faces Northwestern’s fifth-ranked Mike McMullan on Friday. McMullan also has a win over Nelson this season, owning a 7-1 mark.
McMullan has won four straight, while Telford has earned six consecutive wins for a 17-1 record. He is 5-1 against ranked opponents this year, and has split two previous bouts with McMullan.
The Big Ten is loaded with eight ranked wrestlers. All are ranked 11th or better, including Big Ten heavyweights in each of the top-five spots.
“Perfect,” Telford said of the next challenge. “It’s the Big Ten season, one after another. They are quality guys. You have to be ready to go.”
Telford overcame a big hurdle, getting his first win over Nelson in six matches. He scored an escape against a foe who had success controlling him and initiated offense for the winning takedown. Both are positive signs.
“That’s good,” Brands said. “He wrestled well. He hadn’t score many points on that guy, let alone an escape and a takedown.”
Lofthouse capable of wrestling
After the dual with Minnesota, Iowa Coach Tom Brands said two-time All-American Ethen Lofthouse could have wrestled but they are being conservative with his return from a knee injury.
Sam Brooks, ranked ninth by AWN, has filled in admirably. Lofthouse, ranked as high as fourth nationally, has not wrestled since a 4-2 win over John Rizqallah on Jan. 4. Brooks is 16-7 overall, wrestling part of the season at 197. Lofthouse is 16-2 this year.
“He’s getting better,” Brands said. “We went with the guy that was more ready. I think Ethen could go if we didn’t have any options or if it is the Big Ten (tournament). It’s just the smart thing to do.”
Both Brooks and Lofthouse are listed as possible starters for Friday’s Big Ten road dual against Northwestern.