OKLAHOMA CITY – University of Iowa wrestling fans are not accustomed to having to wait until next year.
After Penn State’s four-year title reign, two-straight fourth-place national finishes likely doesn’t set well with them and it certainly doesn’t with those in the Hawkeyes program.
Despite losing a pair of national champions and a two-time All-American from this year’s lineup, Iowa returns plenty of firepower. The Hawkeyes will look to return to the top next season, but will have to have individuals produce the offensive potency in competition the program has been known for.
“I think there has to be a serious evaluation on what the program stands for, and I’m not sure we’re embodying that,” Brands said Saturday morning of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. “That’s an obvious statement.”
Inconsistency seemed to be an issue for the Hawkeyes. Brands noted some wrestlers did not have the same mentality for early or consolation matches as they did in hard-fought quarterfinal and semifinal bouts. The Hawkeyes managed three major decisions and two technical falls, adding a medical forfeit, in the three-day event.
“The matches don’t have to be close. I say that a lot but they don’t have to be,” Brands said. “There are a lot of (losses) and how those losses were or how they happened.
“I don’t think you work on it tomorrow or today. You go to work on it up here,” as Brands pointed to his head.
The Hawkeyes, which brings back 44 points (56 percent) of its team points at the national tournament, have plenty of talent as they bid farewell to Tony Ramos and Derek St. John, who have been pillars of the program since they were freshmen. Iowa returns four All-Americans and seven national qualifiers from a team lead Penn State for the Big Ten title midway through the finals and placed in front of national runner-up Minnesota at conference.
“I feel good about what we have potential-wise,” Brands said. It doesn’t mean things are ironed out and fixed and set in stone and away we go and let’s start tomorrow or today and rah rah.”
As far as upperclassmen, the Hawkeyes have two-time All-American Bobby Telford, who placed fourth this year and sixth-place Mike Evans at 174. Nick Moore, a two-time national qualifier, will be back at 165. Josh Dziewa returns at 141, qualifying for the national tournament for the first time.
The youth of the team has the capability to bring that high-powered attack back. Cory Clark, a red-shirt freshman at 125, placed fifth. Sophomore Nathan Burak (197) placed eighth in his second NCAA tournament. Sophomore Brody Grothus (149) reached the NCAA tournament and earned a win.
Clark, who split time with fellow red-shirt freshman Thomas Gilman, was undefeated going into the Big Ten tournament and demonstrated the skills to stockpile bonus points with a wide-open style.
“It’s reckless, but it’s not reckless in a bad way,” Brands said. “It’s a good reckless, getting right back in and not panicking, going back and letting things fly. The fans navigate to that kind of excitement.”
Clark had a respectable finish but said he was far from satisfied. He had championship aspirations that will have to wait until next year. Brands said it’s easier to build on a win.
“He’s hungry,” Brands said. “He’s excited. He’s also berating himself and not happy. This is a guy that runs wrestling through his head 24/7. I think it’s a good thing if it’s channeled the right way.”
Add in Gilman, who was ranked as high as third after beating Illinois two-time NCAA champion Jesse Delgado on his way to a Midlands title, in the lower weights, and Sammy Brooks, who beat multiple ranked opponents at 184, filling in for two-time national placewinner Ethen Lofthouse. Freshman Brandon Sorensen, who placed third at 149 at the Midlands during his red-shirt campaign, has high expectations set on his shoulders.
Iowa needs more Clarks up and down the lineup.“Brooks has won some tough matches because of that, throwing it to the wind and letting it fly,” Brands said. “Also, he has a motor, too, but we have to be consistent as well. Even Gilman, he has potential. He has a little more control than those two guys but he has potential to score points as well.”