March 8, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- How deep and talented is this weekend's 2013 Big Ten Conference wrestling championships? An example would be the path Tony Ramos -- one of Iowa's three competitors ranked No. 2 in the country -- must take to reach the top of the award stand.
If the 133-pound tournament pre-seeds hold, Ramos would open the competition against Chris Dardanes of Minnesota, seeded seventh in the Big Ten, but ranked No. 5 in the nation. A win there and Ramos would meet Wisconsin's Tyler Graff in the semifinals. Graff is ranked No. 3 in the nation. The top-ranked wrestler in the country is defending national champion Logan Stieber of Ohio State.
"If you go by the rankings, I'm going to have the No. 5, No. 3, and then No. 1 all back-to-back-to-back, but I'm not worried about it, I'm excited for it," Ramos said. "It also says anyone can get upset any day and that's why the seeds went out that way. You have to be prepared every match."
Ramos (23-0 this season, 81-10 in his career) is 5-0 against Dardenes, 0-1 against Graff, and 0-3 against Stieber.
Three weight classes (165, 174, 285) at the Big Ten Tournament have 12 seeded wrestlers, and two others (149, 197) have 11 who are seeded. The strength of the Big Ten regular season has hardened Hawkeye 174-pounder Mike Evans.
"It helps your mental aspect when you get those ranked guys match after match after match," said Evans, the No. 2 seed at Big Tens behind Logan Storley of Minnesota. "That's how it's going to be at Big Tens and NCAAs -- you have them match after match after match."
The top eight 174-pound seeds at the Big Ten Tournament are ranked in the top 11 in the nation."Add a couple more guys and (the Big Ten bracket) is the NCAA bracket," Evans said.
"This is the most exciting time of the year. This is where you put your name on that wall back there with the best of this program, which is with some of the best in the history of college wrestling."
The Big Ten Championships run March 9-10 in Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill. The meet serves as a qualifier for the NCAA Championships, with 74 Big Ten competitors moving on to Des Moines from March 21-23. The Big Ten will qualify nine at 285; eight at 149, 165, 174, and 197; seven at 125, 133, and 157; and six at 141 and 184.
"This is the most exciting time of the year," UI head coach Tom Brands said. "This is where you put your name on that wall back there with the best of this program, which is with some of the best in the history of college wrestling."
"That wall" is a gigantic gold space in the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex that includes names and years of every Hawkeye NCAA and Big Ten champion. Senior 125-pounder Matt McDonough added a second year by his name last season on both the NCAA and Big Ten Champions boards; junior 157-pounder Derek St. John won his first conference title last season.
"It's the postseason, it's game time," McDonough said. "The postseason is where champions are made. In-season matches are a barometer and they are always a battle -- you want to win every single one of those -- but to be the NCAA champion you have to win all your matches in the postseason. That's what I'm going out there trying to do."
During three postseasons, McDonough has compiled a record of 24-2 (14-1 at NCAAs, 10-1 at Big Tens). He also has a career record of 118-6, but he is 4-2 in his last six matches, including a 4-0 loss to Alan Waters of Missouri the last time out on Feb. 23.
"You have to keep moving forward," McDonough said. "When you lose, it's something that has to be extremely motivating, if it (upsets you) or makes you realize there are a lot of tough opponents out there, or it makes you understand you have to work that much harder in the practice room. Whatever it is, you have to use it to emotionally charge yourself for the next time you go out to battle."
The first session of the tournament begins Saturday at 10 a.m. (CT). Finals will be held Sunday starting at 1:30 p.m.