Mike Evans had enough on his agenda during the past two weeks as he prepared to tangle with the Big Ten’s biggest collection of ranked wrestlers.
The Iowa sophomore didn’t bother taking time during workouts to look around the practice room and measure the rest of his team’s mental state entering this weekend’s Big Ten Championships in Champaign, Ill.
“I can only answer for myself,” Evans said. “On my end, I’m going in there to hammer guys. If everybody has that same mentality that we’re going to scrap for every point, I think we’ll be fine.”
The Hawkeyes fueled questions about their postseason readiness with their most recent performance when they dropped consecutive duals on Feb. 24 against Minnesota and Missouri at the National Duals.
It wasn’t the type of confidence-reinforcing outing that assures Iowa supporters the Hawkeyes are charged and ready to compete with two-time defending champion Penn State or top-ranked Minnesota for the team title this weekend.
But after an undefeated run through the conference dual season, the Hawkeyes aren’t tearing everything apart to rebuild it again.
“Do you completely reinvent what you’re doing? Absolutely not,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “You have to go back to getting guys feeling good, and obviously going forward as a team is easier with a win than a loss, but at the same time it’s an individual sport.”
That’s why Evans is taking a solitary approach to the tournament. The sophomore is 17-3 and seeded second at 174 pounds, a weight that features eight of the top 11 wrestlers in the national rankings.
“(Wrestling those opponents during the regular season) definitely toughened me up from the mental aspect,” Evans said. “When you get those ranked guys match after match after match, that’s how it’s going to be at Big Tens and NCAAs.”
Evans, a Big Ten runner-up last year, is one of Iowa’s five returning conference finalists. Defending Big Ten champions Matt McDonough (125) and Derek St. John (157) earned No. 1 pre-seeds, although both are coming off rare defeats.
McDonough, a two-time Big Ten champion and three-time conference finalist, is one of six NCAA champions in the field.
“It’s game time,” he said. “This is the time you get excited for every single year. In-season matches are a barometer and those are always still a battle and you want to win every single one of those. But to be (a Big Ten and) NCAA champion, you have to win all of your matches in the postseason and that’s what I’m going out there trying to do.”