Iowa's Aaron Janssen wrestles Indiana's Ryan LeBlanc in their 165-pound match, Friday, Feb. 4, 2011, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Press-Citizen/ Matthew Holst)


Aaron Janssen is trying to pass today off as just another wrestling match.

He wants to approach it just like the other 10 times he stepped onto the mat inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena to wrestle for the Hawkeyes, but the Iowa senior knows this isn?t a run-of-the-mill dual meet.

It?s the last time he?ll wrestle in the building. It?s also the first time he?ll do it with his father and grandmother in the stands.

Janssen said the 1 p.m. dual Sunday against Michigan is just another wrestling match, but he knows it?s more than that.

?It?ll have a much greater meaning to me,? he said.

The second-ranked Hawkeyes (13-0-1, 6-0 Big Ten) will honor Janssen and four other seniors before they take on the No. 10 Wolverines. Then Iowa will begin its quest for its 31st consecutive conference win in a dual that isn?t short on story lines.

The meet features 17 wrestlers who are ranked by at least one service, highlighted by the showdown at 141 pounds where third-ranked Iowa junior Montell Marion takes on No. 1 Kellen Russell.

Janssen?s last home match is important for seeding purposes for next month?s Big Ten Championships. Janssen, ranked 13th nationally at 165 pounds, takes on No. 19 Dan Yates, a freshman who two years ago passed on a scholarship offer from Iowa to attend his home-state school.

Beyond the on-mat implications, there?s more to this afternoon?s plot for Janssen.

Janssen?s parents divorced when he was starting grade school. He was raised in Emmetsburg by his grandmother, Cecilia Janssen, while his father, Don, worked long hours driving a truck and as an extraction operator at Ag Processing.

?If he wasn?t working,? Aaron said, ?he was sleeping.?

Aaron was in second grade when former Iowa standout Jeff Kerber got him started in the sport after watching him wrestling around with a friend at a birthday party for his son, Justin.

Janssen and Justin Kerber became close friends, training partners and cornerstones on three state championship teams at Emmetsburg. Kerber won three state titles and signed with Cornell, where he?s ranked fifth at 165.

Janssen attracted Division-I interest after going 47-0 and claiming a state title as a senior. He was considering Virginia Tech, where second-year coach Tom Brands had established a recruiting pipeline from his home state. He was looking at Iowa, too, and coach Jim Zalesky was scheduled to make a home visit March 29, 2006.

Zalesky was fired that day and replaced a week later by Brands. Janssen was the second wrestler Brands landed at Iowa.

?I was probably going to go where Tom was because I knew the firepower he had (at Virginia Tech), and I was probably going to join him out there,? Janssen said. ?But it worked that I could wrestle in my home state and for Tom Brands.?

Janssen has played a supporting role for the Hawkeyes for most of his career, filling in as a freshman in 2008 for injured NCAA champion Mark Perry Jr., backing up Ryan Morningstar in 2009 and splitting time last year with Jake Kerr at 157. But he?s having his best year yet as a senior with a 19-4 record and on his way to representing the Hawkeyes in the postseason for the first time in his career.

Janssen said his mother, Brenda, has been in the stands for some of his big moments with the Hawkeyes. Don and Cecilia watch whenever an Iowa dual is televised, and they were in Hilton Coliseum last year when Aaron?s gritty 8-6 win against Andrew Sorenson helped the top-ranked Hawkeyes beat No. 2 Iowa State 18-16.

Don said his work schedule has made it difficult to make the eight-hour round trip from Emmetsburg to Iowa City. But this is Don?s last chance at a first chance to sit beside his mother inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena and watch Aaron wrestle.

?It?s exciting but sad,? Don said. ?I?ve only watched him in one other college meet in person and that was at Hilton at Iowa State. I?m looking forward to it.?

So is his son. Although Aaron said he?s approaching today like an ordinary match, he knows there?s more to it than that.

?I think it?s special just because coming from where I grew up to where I am now,? said Aaron, who graduated last May with a degree in business studies and is working on another in economics. ?I own a house and they?ve never seen that. I?m proud to say I own a house at 23 years old and just to show them that I?ve gone through the nation?s toughest wrestling room and letting them see the maturation process. I want to prove to them that I?m really not a kid anymore.?

His dad said he?s already proven that.

?I know the first year he went down it was a whole new world for him being away from home and in a college environment,? Don said. ?I?m sure there?s probably some things I don?t need to know that he did. But I?m very much impressed with him. He?s a lot more mature than when he first went down there.?

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