MADISON, Wis. – The chorus of cheers from his fans and echoing jeers of others drowned out the sigh of relief that might have come from the University of Iowa’s Tony Ramos.
When the time elapsed, Ramos fell to his back and pointed upward and released the pressure coming with his quest to earn a nameplate on the wall of the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex wall with former Hawkeye conference champions.
The Hawkeye senior claimed his first major college title, winning the 133-pound bracket at the Big Ten Wrestling Championships on Sunday at the University of Wisconsin’s Kohl Center. Ramos was the only one of five Hawkeye finalists to win, helping Iowa challenge Penn State, which won its fourth straight Big Ten title by a 140 ½ to 134 margin.
Top-seeded Ramos defeated Wisconsin’s No 2-seed Tyler Graff, 2-1, and has already switched focus to a national title.
“A huge weight was lifted off,” Ramos said. “I finally got my name on the side of the wall that you look at every day. It is exciting but now I just need the asterisk on the other side and I’ve done everything I could possibly do here.”
Ramos escaped on the second and then rode Graff for most of the third period, earning the decisive point on riding time. Graff escaped with 12 seconds to go, but Ramos avoided Graff as the final seconds ticked off the clock. He didn’t relax until the match was over.
“I heard the guy on the outside counting down,” Ramos said. “I knew I had to keep wrestling and stay in the center. I couldn’t go back.”
The victory wasn’t the prototypical Ramos match. He did not need his aggressive and explosive offense from his feet. Ramos built a 1:37 riding-time advantage, controlling Graff and pulling him back to the center more than once.
“I guess it is weird winning by riding on top and not getting a takedown,” Ramos admitted. “Yes, that might be different for fans…”
Ramos advanced to the finals with late dramatics Saturday night. He has overcome each challenge.
“He is finding ways to win,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said of Ramos. “Now it is on to the thing everyone in America is shooting for – the national championship.”
The victory seemed to fan the flames of the contentious relationship between Iowa and Wisconsin fans. Both were loud and members of each team had exchanges with the opposing crowd after head-to-head matches.
“It’s fun,” Ramos said. “I love it. Wisconsin did a great job getting a lot of fans here and running a great Big Ten tournament.”
Ramos (27-2) is a two-time All-American, becoming a national runner-up last year. The performance should assure a high seed, but it also proved his potential.
“For me, it shows you can win the big one,” Ramos said. “You can win Big Ten titles, you can win big tournaments. I’m ready to go.”
His teammates didn’t fare as well in the finals. Derek St. John (157), Nick Moore (165), 174-pounder Mike Evans and Ethen Lofthouse at 184 all dropped finals bouts to place second.
Penn State grabbed the lead in the finals and clinched the title with head-to-head wins against the Hawkeyes. David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (184) each won their fourth conference titles with major decisions over Moore (21-3) and Lofthouse. Taylor was named Outstanding Wrestler and Big Ten Wrestler of the Year.
His best conference finish did not provide Lofthouse solace. He had placed third each of the last three seasons.
“I’ve trained my whole life to win tournaments,” said Lofthouse, a senior who is a two-time All-American. “I don’t compete to take a backseat to anybody. No moral victories.”
Lofthouse (20-3) reached Ruth’s legs a few times in the finals but could not finish. He expects big things at nationals if he can stay on his offensive attack and be offensive. Lofthouse wrestled a strong tournament, continuing a habit of wrestling well in the postseason.
“I felt there were some glimpses of my best wrestling,” Lofthouse said. “Now, I have to put it for a whole seven minutes.”
Nebraska’s James Green handed St. John (25-4) his only loss in the conference tournament for the second straight year. He used two takedowns and riding time for a 7-4 win over the defending 157-pound NCAA champion.
Green’s top-seeded teammate Robert Kokesh topped Evans (25-4), 6-4, for the 174 crown.
Iowa had its chances but didn’t capitalize on some opportunities through the two-day event. The showed they can challenge at the NCAA tournament March 20-22 at the Chesapeake Energy Center in Oklahoma City, Okla.
“I believe we had a team to win it here,” Brands said. “I believe we have a team to win it in a couple of weeks. That is how we’re feeling and that’s what our next mission is.”
The Hawkeyes had nine automatic qualifiers with 149-pounder Brody Grothus awaiting a possible at-large bid. Heavyweight Bobby Telford was third, red-shirt freshman Cory Clark was fourth at 125 and Josh Dziewa and Nathan Burak were fifth at 141 and 197, respectively.
The will need to iron out some of the bad habits that kept them from overcoming three-time NCAA champion Penn State.
“We have to go to work on them,” Brands said. “We have to iron them out and you can’t let them be a factor in the end and bite you in the butt. You have to be strong and go forward.“We have the mental and emotional makeup for this team. We have a lot of good guys.”