Nov. 2, 2012
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 -- Mark Ballweg sat in the top row of the bleachers inside the University of Iowa wrestling room Tuesday afternoon. He laced his Asics and looked toward a near empty wrestling room.
"I have a great opportunity in front of me and all I have to do is go out and get it," said Ballweg, a fifth-year senior from Waverly, Iowa. "It's all up to me. If I'm motivated and hungry, anything is possible."
The opportunity Ballweg refers to goes beyond simply making the Hawkeye lineup, but that's where the challenge begins. Iowa has 37 names on its 2012-13 roster, and six of those names are listed as potential 141-pound wrestlers. Unfortunately for five Hawkeyes, only one can wear the famed black singlet in the varsity lineup. Ballweg's done it before, and he has done it well. But nothing's a given in the Iowa wrestling room, so the question is can he do it again?
"A lot of those questions are up to him," said UI head coach Tom Brands. "Making the team has to happen first. But that's not primary. Primary is being the best that you can, and I think the ceiling is as high as he wants it to be."
Brands has written Ballweg's name into the lineup 17 times in dual competition. In the fall of 2010, when the Hawkeyes wrestled without All-American Montell Marion, Ballweg, then a sophomore, earned the 141-pound slot and posted a perfect 11-0 dual record with six pins.
Later that year Marion returned to the lineup and Ballweg bumped up to 149 pounds. He was unable to duplicate his success at the heavier weight and finished the year with five losses in six matches. It wasn't the ideal ending to a once promising season, but the year still proved to be an experience you can't simulate in a wrestling room.
"Any experience is good experience," said Ballweg. "It will definitely help me because I've been out there in the spotlight, and I think a few little things will make a difference for me."
"I think he was this close to doing well at 149," said Brands, "so is he capable of performing at 141? Absolutely. I know that he feels like he's capable. I like what I've seen in the last couple of months and even further back.
"But you have to put it together and you have to burst out. He has been right there, he just hasn't been able to burst out. But he has had some big wins."
Bursting out in the literal sense of the word means running onto the mat from the bowels of Carver-Hawkeye Arena and back into the spotlight. But figuratively speaking, Ballweg wants the burst to happen on the national scene.
"I think to win the whole dang thing is everybody's goal in this room," Ballweg said.
His journey to the top of the NCAA medal stand continues Nov. 8 when the Hawkeyes host their annual wrestle-offs inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. Competition begins Thursday at 3:30 p.m. (CT), Friday at 4 p.m., and Saturday at 8:30 a.m. All times are approximate and subject to change.
The 141-pound bracket will likely include Ballweg, Josh Dziewa, Ethan Owens, Connor Ryan, Nate Skonieczny and Nick Trizzino. Ryan and Skonieczny are true freshmen. Owens has an 18-7 career record, but has no dual experience. Dziewa and Trizzino have each wrestled in one career dual, both victories, while Ballweg owns a 39-16 career record that includes a 13-4 dual mark. He's also rated No. 16 in Intermat's preseason poll, but he's not paying attention to rankings or looking for additional pressure.
"None of that means a whole lot," said Ballweg. "I never look at the rankings. I don't think you really need to. You have to do it on the mat every day.
"I don't feel like there's any more pressure than any other year. If you're in the lineup, it's all riding on you."