Nov. 16, 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.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Tomas Lira didn't win the wrestle-off, but that doesn't mean he didn't earn his spot in the University of Iowa's starting lineup.
A junior from Nichols, Iowa, Lira will be the Hawkeyes' 197-pounder when the team opens the season today with three duals on the campus of Tennessee-Chattanooga. It's a similar position to the one he occupied last year when he began the season in Iowa's starting lineup, but this time around he wants his story to have a new middle and ending.
"It feels different this way," Lira said about his second straight season opener. "I don't want to say it's more stabilized, but I feel like this is my second chance, so there is even more put on myself to do better than I did last year. Last year did not go the way I wanted at all, so this year I'm just really pushing myself more to get better results and prove myself."
Lira is one of only two 197-pounders on the Iowa roster. The other is freshman Nathan Burak, who defeated Lira, 5-3, in the wrestle-offs. But Burak is a first-year freshman, and no true freshman has ever cracked a dual lineup for UI head coach Tom Brands.
That could change this season -- albeit with an asterisk. Burak is a true freshman by NCAA standards, but he spent last year training at the Olympic Training Center and is two years removed from prep competition. He still has his redshirt available, but Brands acknowledged before the season that he could see action this year, and Lira doesn't need reminded of the constant push that lives inside the Iowa wrestling room.
"In order to give myself the best possible chance for success I have to make the most of every opportunity I have. That applies to everything in life. I have to show up every day. Show up early and get as much as I can in that day," said Lira, a chemical engineering major who embraces the student-athlete balance.
"Whether it's going to class, taking notes during a lecture, doing the homework all the way and doing it the right way, or getting in and making sure I work hard in practice. It has to be my best."
Last year Lira took an 8-3 record into the Midlands Championships, but he went two-and-out at the tournament and was eventually unseated in the Iowa lineup by 2011 All-American Grant Gambrall. He didn't take the perceived demotion lightly, but he admits in his mind he didn't do enough on the mat to warrant a second look from Brands.
"Last year I took it too personally when I got out of the starting lineup," Lira said. "I kind of let myself down a little bit by letting that carry over into my wrestling. This year I have to keep working hard no matter what happens. Just keep my head up and keep working hard."
Brands said that newfound attitude is not regurgitated lip service.
"Tomas Lira is very determined," said Brands. "Sometimes his body gets ahead of his wrestling and he finds himself out of position, but as far as determination goes, I'm not sure there's anyone more determined."
Lira said a return to the lineup has been eating at him since last year, when Iowa failed to qualify a wrestler in the 197-pound bracket at the NCAA Championships.
"I've been waiting for this since nationals last year. To get going again and get another crack at the lineup. It's everything I've been waiting for and working for," Lira said.
"I have to take it one match at a time and do the best I can every time. The results will take care of themselves in the end. I just have to give it my all -- hard, smart, intense."
Lira's second chance begins today in the first of three consecutive duals at Maclellan Gym. Fourth-ranked Iowa will face Cumberland University at 2:30 p.m., No. 17 Virginia at 4 p.m. and Tennessee-Chattanooga at 6 p.m. All times listed are Central and all three matches will be streamed live on Hawkeye All-Access. The Hawkeyes open their home schedule Saturday, Nov. 24, when they host the Iowa City Duals on Mediacom Mat inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.