OKLAHOMA CITY – If you were to rank the Iowa wrestling team according to level of confidence, it wouldn't be long before the name "Tony Ramos" was uttered.
But even the outspoken Hawkeye senior admits he received a jolt from claiming his first Big Ten championship on March 9.
"It was a reliever," Ramos said at a press conference before the NCAA Division I wrestling championships at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. "I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders."
With a conference title in hand, Ramos turns his attention to one final chance at a coveted national championship. After finishing third two two years ago and dropping a 7-4 decision in the final last year at Des Moines, Ramos begins Thursday as the third seed at 133.
"I think coming in here it's going to let me open up a lot more," Ramos said of the confidence boost. "Wrestle even tougher and just let it fly even more going into this tournament."
Competition begins Thursday at 11 a.m. with pigtails and first-round matches.
If the seeds hold up, Ramos (27-2) will have the opportunity to avenge one of his two losses this season in the semifinals against second-seed A.J. Schopp. Ramos, who scored a major decision over Schopp last season, dismisses the notion that the Edinboro junior has closed the gap following the 3-2 decision on Dec. 5.
"No, I don't think he closed the gap at all," Ramos said. "There's a lot of weaknesses that we've noticed watching film on him, and if I do wrestle him in the semis I think I'll exploit that a lot."
With 10 national qualifiers – including three first-timers – and a second-place team finish in the conference tournament, the Hawkeyes enter the national tournament with some momentum.
"We feel good about ourselves," Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. "We feel good about our team as coaches and I think our guys feel good about themselves."
Ramos felt the team's performance in Madison last week "opened some eyes."
"Tony Ramos, he talks a lot bigger game than I talk," Brands countered. "He's a pretty confident guy. Opening eyes in the Big Ten would have been slamming the door on a Sunday."
IOWA STATE WELL RESTED
Iowa State qualified six wrestlers for the national tournament, highlighted by fifth-seed Kyven Gadson (25-2) at 197. Due to the limitations of a four-team, one day Big 12 tournament, the Cyclones will have had just one day of competition between their dual at Minnesota on Feb. 23 and nationals.
It is a format that Big 12 coaches find less than ideal when preparing for this week.
"I don't think a one-day tournament does much for you," said Oklahoma State Coach John Smith, who voted against the one-day format. "I don't think it's a disadvantage, but I don't think it gives you every advantage to wrestle your best."
LAST HURRAH FOR NELSON, TAYLOR
A Big Ten pair of No. 1 seed, three-time All American wrestlers – Minnesota heavyweight Tony Nelson and Penn State 165-pounder David Taylor – will close out their decorated college careers this week. Nelson (26-4) faces Blaize Cabell from Northern Iowa in the first round and will attempt to become the first three-time national champion in Gophers history.
"We've always had guys coming in," Nelson said. "Really awesome to be part of that tradition. It's special to be in that class of guys."
Taylor, one of just three undefeated top seeds at 29-0 and the 2012 Hodge Trophy winner, enters with a sparkling career record of 129-3 hoping for his second national title."I just have to focus on what I have been doing for my entire life," Taylor said. "I have five matches left to do that and that is all I can really focus on at this point."