The haze hanging over a few spots in Iowa’s wrestling lineup was supposed to clear last week at the Midlands Championships.
But the seventh-ranked Hawkeyes walked away from their most-recent outing without clear-cut starters across the board. There’s still an “or” at three weights on the probable lineup sheet for Friday’s 7 p.m. dual against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
It’s Tony Ramos or Tyler Clark at 133 pounds. It’ll be Matt Ballweg or Jeret Chiri at 149. It says Aaron Janssen or Jake Kerr at 165.
Iowa coach Tom Brands isn’t tipping his hand publicly with which direction he’s leaning at those three weights and candidates at the three weights said Wednesday that they aren’t certain whether they’ll be in the lineup when the Hawkeyes (7-0) wrestle the Cougars (1-6).
“It really hasn’t been discussed,” Janssen said. “I’m coming in here and working as hard as I can to prove myself every single day. I can’t be complacent.”
Janssen learned last year how fragile a lineup spot can be with the Hawkeyes when he defeated Kerr in the preseason wrestle-off and held the 157-pound job until January when it turned into a platoon. Ultimately, Brands picked Kerr for the postseason.
“I got really worked up about things and I was always thinking, ‘If I don’t get this win, I probably won’t be the guy,’” Janssen said. “But I was going out there and winning by margins of 1 or 2 points. This year, I don’t know if it’s my spot or not. I’m going to go out there and wrestle (the way) I’m capable and not worry about getting a win necessarily but going out and doing my thing. The lack of worries has helped my wrestling.”
Janssen’s 14-2 record this season includes a 3-1 win that knocked Kerr out of the consolation bracket at the Midlands. Janssen went on to place fifth and his performance in the tournament could make 165 the easiest decision of the three weights for Brands at the moment.
The other two spots are harder to read.
Chiri became the de facto starter when Dylan Carew went down in November with a season-ending knee injury, and that’s when Ballweg began cutting down to 149 after starting the season at 157.
Chiri went 1-2 at Midlands to even his record at 4-4. Ballweg won two of his four matches in his first event at 149.
“I had a lot of time to (make the cut),” Ballweg said. “I worked hard at it and did it the right way — slow and consistently — and I actually felt pretty good my first match after making weight. It was good.”
Ramos and Clark split a pair of head-to-head matches at the Midlands. Ramos scored a late takedown to win a 3-1 decision in the quarterfinals, while Clark scored a 2-1 victory in a tiebreaker in a bout for fifth place.
They both left the Midlands with a better understanding of where they need work.
“There’s another level I can wrestle at,” Ramos said. “I’ve been wrestling hard all year, but there’s still another level I can get up to, and I need to be able to wrestle like that for seven minutes and not four and a half or five minutes.”
For Clark, it’s turning up the offense. He produced nine points in his last five matches of the tournament.
“That’s not how I want to wrestle and I hold myself to a higher standard than that,” he said. “I just need to go out and start firing shots.”
That could be a tipping point when it comes time for Brands to make a decision at 133.
“There’s certain things that are not tangible to what the score is,” Brands said. “You want to see output, you want to see aggressiveness, and Ramos has (made) more attempts. I look it at like this: Clark is warding Ramos off, and Ramos is trying to get to him more. That’s worth something, and I think Clark knows that.
“You give yourself the best chance to win by giving yourself opportunities. Ramos had him up in the air with three seconds to go in the second period and ran out of time in that second match. He was in on him deep on the edge of the mat. Those attempts are what we want to see, but that doesn’t mean that Ramos is automatically the best guy, either. Clark has proven himself. He’s worthy.”