Feb. 10, 2013
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- You would be excused for overlooking Mark Ballweg in a University of Iowa lineup that includes two undefeated wrestlers, a two-time NCAA champion, and a fourth-ranked 174-pounder.
Ballweg is in his fifth season with the Hawkeye wrestling program, but his first as a fulltime starter. It would be easy to think of him as one of the "other guys" in the lineup, following two-time NCAA champion Matt McDonough to center mat at 125, and second-ranked Tony Ramos at 133.
But results make Ballweg impossible to ignore.
As Iowa (17-1 overall, 7-0 Big Ten) closes in on a conference dual team championship this afternoon on Mediacom Mat inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Ballweg is closing out a phenomenal regular season. He is 17-1, including a 2-0 win against Steven Rodrigues of Illinois on Friday.
"I don't think he has been overlooked," UI head coach Tom Brands said. "He has created a name for himself, and it's because of his performance. That's what you want when you're a coach. You want to see guys make names for themselves. I talk about it quite often: becoming a household name and knowing there are two L's in how you spell Ballweg."
"Maybe that's a good thing that no one is talking about me. I'm doing my job and keeping my head down and plugging away."
UI senior Mark Ballweg
Most of Ballweg's collegiate career has been spent competing in open tournaments, with an occasional cameo at Midlands, or bumping up in 2011 during a season that saw four Hawkeyes compete at 149. After spending his junior season in the shadow of NCAA runner-up Montell Marion, he is in the spotlight now, winning 22 of 23 bouts. Ballweg's only loss this season was 6-4 to Ohio State's Hunter Stieber, who is ranked No. 2 in the nation.
"I made a few mistakes in a few positions, and if I improve on those, I think I can pull out a win there, too," Ballweg said. "I'm doing well so far. I have to keep it up and keep a good thing going. I knew I was capable of it, and the only thing was being at the top of my game and performing."
Ballweg is ranked seventh in the nation at 141 by WIN and Amateur Wresting News, and eighth by Intermat. With an injury to third-ranked B.J. Futrell of Illinois, Ballweg could secure the second seed at the Big Ten Championships -- behind Stieber, and a position above Minnesota's Nick Dardens -- who Ballweg defeated 3-1 on Jan. 26 in Minneapolis.
"It's pretty important that I win this last match for seeding in the Big Ten," Ballweg said. "It would be nice to keep moving my way up, and I think I have another opportunity to do that nationally, because the Edinboro kid (Mitchell Port) is ranked ahead of me (fifth). I have a chance to knock him off."
Ballweg quietly enters today's dual with a career record of 56-17 and seven consecutive victories. Three of those wins were by major decision and another by technical fall. His efforts are keeping Hawkeye fans in their seats with eyes glued to the mat after the 125 and 133-pound matches of every dual.
"Maybe that's a good thing that no one is talking about me," Ballweg said. "I'm doing my job and keeping my head down and plugging away."
It's a recipe that works well for Ballweg, and draws admiration from his head coach.
"You are creating awareness for yourself and declaring war on the rest of the country at your weight class because of it," Brands said. "It's not because of pomp and circumstance, self-promotion, Twitter, and how he dances when he comes off the mat. It's about good, hard, tough wrestling and results. He fits in well with that."
The second-ranked Hawkeyes and the No. 13 Cornhuskers (10-4, 4-3) begin action today at 2:05 p.m. (CT). Mediacom will televise the dual live with Rob Brooks, Mike Duroe, and Dan Gable handling the mat side call.