A common road map.
As many as eight relatively untested native Iowans could dot the lineup in Tom Brands’ fifth season as Iowa’s wrestling coach — a stint that has produced three straight national titles.
And with all but defending 125-pound national champ Matt McDonough’s spot up for grabs, uncertainty spells great opportunity for several home-grown products hungry to make their marks in the sport’s most decorated program.
“Good for Iowa,” said Brands, whose teams have never featured as many as eight Iowa-born starters. “It may be a coincidence or not, but not really because we recruit the best guys in the country and when they happen to be from Iowa that’s a coincidence. … It just happens that those Iowa boys are getting tough.”
They’d better be.
Brands recycled a popular quip from last year’s media day that he used to roughly measure a green wrestler’s proclivity toward fight or flight.
“I’m not a propaganda guy,” said Brands, who added Saturday’s wrestle-offs will help settle a crowded and clouded lineup situation. “I’m not going to sit up here and be rah-rah. Are our guys ready to compete? You bet they are. Are they fired up? You bet they are. But I don’t know. I’ve said this in the past, too: Are they going to poop their pants or are they going to get tough? That’s a good question. So ask (157-pound contender Derek) St. John.”
“If you’re not tough in this room, you’re not going to go very far,” said St. John, who went 26-4 last season while competing unattached.
One doesn’t have to go very far to imagine the Hawkeyes’ possibly state-rooted lineup.
Ethen and Luke Lofthouse of Utah are likely front-runners at 174 and 197.
Other than that, there’s Marion’s McDonough, who went 37-1 at 125; Iowa City West’s Nate Moore and St. John; heavyweight Blake Rasing of New Hampton; 184-pounder Grant Gambrall of Iowa City West; as well as 157- or 165-pounders Aaron Janssen of Emmetsburg and Oskaloosa’s Jake Kerr.
And that’s just a sampling.
“I guess it gives us more of a connection with Iowa as a whole,” said Janssen, who went 12-4 in sporadic duty at 157 and 165 last season. “It just goes to show Iowa has talent in the small schools and even the bigger schools. We’re just excited.”
McDonough has emerged as an obvious leader after his national title run, and he has adopted the role with gusto.
“You’ve got to take what you get and when you win a national title, that comes with it,” he said.
McDonough has been drawing inspiration from past greats in the program for a long time.
“As a kid, you get those posters of Iowa wrestling and the statements that people come up with,” the top-ranked McDonough said. “They grow on you and one of them I can remember is the Mark Ironside poster that says, ‘Dominate. Give them nothin.’ The more I think about that, that’s really what it is: selfish. Selfish wrestling, Kind of going out there and being a (jerk). Just taking it all for yourself. It’s 10 guys in a team but we’re not working together. We’re working individually for a common goal.”
Iowa, which is ranked 11th in WIN Magazine’s preseason tournament power index, lost seven all-Americans from last year’s dominant team, including two-time NCAA champ Brent Metcalf.
Native Iowans plan to help fill those sizable gaps — melding with out-of-staters to prove doubters wrong.
“I’m sure pride goes a long ways with all the kids who are from Iowa, but even the kids who aren’t from here, everything just kind of bonds together,” St. John said. “It’s all kind of one mindset.”
125—Matt McDonough, soph.: Defending NCAA champ
133—Nate Moore, soph.: Placed sixth at Midlands last season
Or Mark Ballweg, soph.: Two-time state champ in high school
141—Mark Ballweg, soph.: Could compete at 133
Or Nick Trizzino, red. fr.: 9-6 last year competing unattached
149—Dylan Carew, red. fr.: 11-1 last season as unattached
157—Derek St. John, red. fr.: 182-9 at Iowa City West
Or Matt Ballweg, sr.: Won Kaufman-Brand Open last year
165—Aaron Janssen, sr.: Went 4-0 in Big Ten dual matches
Or Jake Kerr, senior: NCAA qualifier last season
174—Ethen Lofthouse, red. fr.: Four-time Utah state champ
184—Grant Gambrall, soph.: Won two open titles last season
197—Luke Lofthouse, sr.: Subbed for Chad Beatty last year
Hwt—Jordan Johnson, jr.: Won Wisconsin Open as part-timer
Or Blake Rasing, jr.: Went 9-9 last season
Or Bobby Telford, fr.: Two-time Delaware state champ
The 2010-11 Hawkeyes at a glance
LAST SEASON: Went 23-0 in dual meets. Won third straight Big Ten and NCAA titles.
COACH: Tom Brands enters his fifth season and his teams have won 68 of their last 69 dual meets. As a competitor, Brands won the 1996 Olympic Gold medal, and three NCAA titles.
STRENGTHS: Tradition. Iowa has won 23 NCAA team titles and 35 Big Ten team crowns. 125-pounder Matt McDonough went 37-1 last season en route to an individual NCAA championship. Talent base is deep, but largely untested at the college level.
WEAKNESSES: Experience. McDonough is the only returner who started for the Hawkeyes the entire 2009-10 season. Iowa’s 40-man roster features 25 underclassmen.
NOVEMBER 9: Iowa City Duals vs. Iowa Central (4 p.m.) and Coe (6 p.m.); 26: Chattanooga, at Mount Vernon, 6:30 p.m.; Cornell College, 8 p.m.
DECEMBER 3: Iowa State, at Iowa City, 7 p.m.; 5: Michigan State, at Iowa City, 5:30 p.m.; 9: Northern Iowa, at Cedar Falls, 7 p.m.; 29-30: Midlands Championships, at Evanston, Ill., all day.
JANUARY 7: Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, at Iowa City, 7 p.m.; 16: Oklahoma State, at Stillwater, Okla., 2 p.m.; 22: Ohio State, at Iowa City, 3 p.m.; 28: Northwestern, at Evanston,Ill., 7 p.m.; 30: Penn State, at University Park, Pa., 2 p.m.
FEBRUARY 6: Indiana, at Iowa City, 5:30 p.m.; 11: Purdue, at Mishawaka, Ind., 6 p.m.; 13: Michigan, at Iowa City, 1 p.m.; 20: at Minnesota, at Minneapolis, 1 p.m.
MARCH 5-6: Big Ten Championships, at Evanston, Ill., all day; 17-19: NCAA Championships, at Philadelphia, Pa., all day.