Saturday, June 2, 2007
Wrestlers staying busy in offseason
By Andy Hamilton
Iowa City Press-Citizen
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The trip was expected to start in the early hours of Friday morning and four Iowa wrestlers were bound for a destination nearly 5,000 miles from home.
Mark Perry Jr., Ryan Morningstar, Alex Tsirtsis and Matt Fields were headed on 10-day trip through Turkey and Bulgaria to wrestle between six and 10 freestyle matches on a dual team featuring a collection of top collegiate competitors.
Many of the other details on the itinerary were hazy for the four Hawkeyes.
"I don't really know besides the Iowa guys," said Perry, who typically has his finger on the pulse of the wrestling world.
"I'm hoping there's some top guys in the world there, but I'm not really sure who's going to be there," Perry said. "I've heard it's going to be some of the top Senior guys from Bulgaria and Turkey, and I know they're known for good wrestling. I could be wrestling anybody from 17 years old to 35, probably."
"I expect to wrestle my best, and I expect to show up and compete hard, and that's about all I can expect," Morningstar said. "I don't know how good the guys are that we're wrestling. I don't know much about it, I just know we're going to go wrestle some Turks and Bulgarians and that's about it."
The European trip is a National Wrestling Coaches Association tour that features 22 collegiate competitors, including a collection of Division I, Division III and NAIA wrestlers.
Wade Genova, the Official International Exchange Coordinator for USA Wrestling and organizer of the trip for the NWCA, said the tour is typically booked with collegiate All-Americans.
Perry is the lone Division I national champ in the bunch and the only member of the Iowa quartet who stood on the medal stand this year at the NCAA Tournament in Detroit. Clarion coach Teague Moore will lead a group that also includes Pittsburgh's Keith Gavin, the NCAA runner-up at 174 and Lock Haven All-American Obe Blanc.
Tsirtsis was an All-American in 2006, and Fields and Morningstar have won freestyle University National and Junior National titles. They could be competing against some of the best wrestlers from Turkey and Bulgaria.
"We've asked that they bring strong competition for our boys," Genova said. "We're trying to get them to wrestle a high level of International competition. The teams (from Turkey and Bulgaria) have instructions that they are free to throw Senior-level wrestlers against our college guys.
"If there are Olympians and National Team members available, they have the authority to throw them against us. I gave those special instructions to find tough matches for the Iowa boys."
Genova laughed when asked if the special instructions came from Iowa coach Tom Brands.
"They came from me," he said. "I didn't want Tom to get mad at me and say, 'These boys didn't have any tough matches.'"
Genova said the wrestlers will spend four days in Istanbul, Turkey, three more in Varna, Bulgaria, and then a night in Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria.
Perry and Morningstar will compete at 163 pounds, while Tsirtsis will wrestle at 145.5 and Fields at 264.5.
"If I decide I want to go the Olympic route, it would probably be wise to get experience before the Olympic Trials," Perry said. "Overseas, (freestyle) is really all they do, so they're obviously pretty good at freestyle. I've never been overseas, I've never wrestled a foreigner in a freestyle match and (I want to) just get experience."
The European trip is another illustration to the growing "year-round system" Brands is trying to implement with the Hawkeyes.
"That doesn't mean you're wrestling 12 months a year," Brands said. "But we have a year-round system and part of that year-round system is wrestling in the so-called offseason."
Coming off Brands' first season leading the Hawkeyes -- a year in which Iowa was up and down with a 14-5 dual record and an eighth-place finish at the NCAA Tournament -- the desire to get back to the top seemingly is burning a few degrees hotter than past offseasons inside the Hawkeye wrestling room.
Perry said the daily turnout for workouts is markedly higher now than at any point during his previous three summers with the Hawkeyes.
"I think it's just building an edge," he said. "We're training in the offseason and guys are making pretty much season leaps by treating the offseason like it's the season.
"The coaching staff has preached that the offseason is when you win national championships. I think this is going to be a huge leap for the program, and it'll continue throughout the Tom Brands era."
Morningstar and Fields have already reaped some of the rewards for their work this spring. They captured titles at the freestyle University Nationals in April in Akron, Ohio.
"A lot of other people right now are going to the beach, hanging out, they're not worried about wrestling," Morningstar said. "Right now we're busting our tails, we're getting ready. Knowing that we're working hard while other people aren't is good for our minds, it's good for confidence building, and it'll pay off."