Wrestlers look for title
Ryan Young - The Daily Iowan
Issue date: 3/7/08 Section: Sports
PrintEmail Article Tools Page 1 of 1 Of the 10 starting Hawkeye wrestlers expected to take to the mat for the Big Ten championships in Minneapolis on Saturday, exactly half have been through a postseason crusade.
Of those five, only heavyweight Matt Fields and 165-pounder Mark Perry - both seniors - have been in Big Ten and national battles more than once. The rest have never competed in a postseason tournament.
In the past weeks leading up to March, wrestling coach Tom Brands has had to answer inquires regarding Iowa's youthful grapplers.
He's gotten an earful, but he has talked just as much, despite not wanting to compare his team from a year ago with the one he's cultivating now.
"It's one of those things that has been brought to our attention via message boards or questions like that," Brands told media on Tuesday. "That's something that I don't buy into, so to speak.
"These guys have been wrestling postseason competitions their whole careers. That's how you get to this level - state championships, junior national championships."
Last year, the Hawkeyes placed third in the Big Ten meet, qualifying eight wrestlers for the NCAAs. The only time Iowa got close to qualifying all of its wrestlers for the national tournament was in 1983, when the Hawkeyes sent nine.
Fields and Perry, along with 125-pound junior Charlie Falck, and sophomores Ryan Morningstar and Phillip Keddy were among those who advanced last year, and they will vie for another trip to nationals as top-ranked Iowa tries for its 32nd conference wrestling title in Williams Arena.
Even though the Golden Gophers have won five of the last seven Big Ten crowns, Brands said, he doesn't mind his squad once again venturing into the 80-year-old locale where Iowa won a month ago, 20-13.
"Enemy arenas have always been, I guess attractive - my way of thinking - when you're invading someone," he said.
The Hawkeyes have had significant success in tournaments and opens so far this season.
Iowa had six champions at the Kaufman-Brand Open last November, four champions and a first-place finish at the Midlands Championships in December, and it came out as the victor in the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals in January.
And with each regular-season tournament win, Brands said, the confidence level has expanded exponentially.
Although, he said, that frame of mind is a product of both their environment and past preparation. And the result is the perception, Iowa is peaking.
But Brands noted that just because his wrestlers appear to be capping themselves at the correct time of year, that doesn't mean they're safe from upsets or early exits.
"We're at an even slate right now," the second-year head coach said. "That means our No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 seeds that appear to be automatics - there is no automatic.
"You can rise to the occasion and shock some people - shock the world."
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