Nov. 4, 2010
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands is fine with a nearly complete overhaul of his starting wrestling lineup. Only one of 10 regulars returns for the three-time defending national champion Hawkeyes, but there is still plenty to like about this Iowa team.
"We understand that in college athletics there's only a short window, and that's the great thing about college athletics," Brands said Thursday at media day inside the Field House. "There's a lot of excitement that is going into this season because of that turnover, and when you're talking about excitement, it's not always about having a high powered team coming back. Actually the fans are almost contrary to that. They want to see the new guys on the mat."
The lone Hawkeye holdover is a dandy. Matt McDonough, now a sophomore, is the defending national champion at 125 pounds. He is expected to remain at that weight after winning 37 of 38 matches last season with 15 major decisions, four technical falls and nine pins. Brands said his returning team leader is far from a finished product.
"He's a work in progress and he knows it, so that's why he works hard," Brands said. "He's smooth, and is it automatic? No, and he knows it. As a matter of fact, we have to pull him off the mat, and he's holding on, because he is always working to get better, always. It's a very good example."
Iowa puts its 61-match dual winning streak on the line Friday, Nov. 19, against Iowa Central (4 p.m.) and Coe College (6 p.m.) in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes won't leave the state of Iowa to compete until the Midlands Championships on Dec. 29-30 in Evanston, Ill.
Because of their virtually untested competitors, the Hawkeyes are rated seventh in the nation in the first NWCA/USA Today Division I Coaches Poll. Brands shrugs off the preseason ranking as simple mathematics.
"Add it up. They've got a lot of our young guys ranked 15th, 16th, 17th," Brands said. "You don't score any points for 15th, 16th, 17th, so they're not going to throw a ranking up there. Our job is to make sure they're in point scoring capacity and point scoring capacity at the highest level. That means they're wrestling for championships."
Like he has done many times since the end of March, Brands repeated his affection for this group of student-athletes. In reality, nine returning Hawkeyes competed in duals a season ago: McDonough (125), sophomore Nate Moore (133), senior Matt Ballweg (157), senior Aaron Janssen (157/165), senior Jake Ker (157/165), sophomore Grant Gambrall (184), senior Luke Lofthouse (197), junior Jordan Johnson (285) and junior Blake Rasing (285).
"I like our team; I wouldn't trade it for the world," Brands said. "But we don't make predictions, either. We like what we have; we like what we see. I've spoken all over the state and I've talked about it like this: We have a group that's making progress, but the unknown is the individuals that don't have experience, how are they going to react when they get into the situation?"