IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tony Ramos’ eyes widened and he laughed for a second Thursday afternoon when the topic shifted to his sudden transformation into the top pinner on the Iowa wrestling team.
“I might’ve had 12 total going into last year,” the nation’s top-ranked 133-pounder said, overestimating his career count by two. “I don’t know when it clicked, I don’t know what happened. I got in one position one time, felt it and ever since when I get there I’ve been able to replicate it.”
Ramos registered a team-high 14 falls last year when he was a national finalist, almost tripling every other starter for the Hawkeyes — figures and facts that lend both optimism and pragmatism to Iowa’s hopes of returning to college wrestling’s apex.
As he looked around Iowa’s wrestling room during Thursday’s media day gathering, Ramos pointed to a few teammates who could evolve into the domination-minded competitors the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes will need to keep pace with No. 1 Penn State.
The fact of the matter is this: Iowa scored 11 bonus points last year when it finished fourth at the NCAA Championships. The Nittany Lions scored 30 1/2 on their way to a third straight national title, and NCAA champions David Taylor and Ed Ruth, the top two contributors to Penn State’s pile of extra points, are back for their senior season.
“I can match one of them, but who else is going to step up and match (the other)?” Ramos said. “It might take two (more) guys to step up to match them. But I think we can do it.”
With Ramos and 157-pound NCAA champion Derek St. John, Iowa has as many top-ranked wrestlers in its lineup as any other team in the country. Throw in No. 2 Ethen Lofthouse at 184, fellow all-Americans Mike Evans at 174 and Bobby Telford at heavyweight as well as a talented freshman-to-be-named later at 125, and Iowa has a championship starter kit.
Iowa coach Tom Brands lit up Thursday when he talked about the competition between freshmen Cory Clark and Thomas Gilman, which he characterized as “dead even.”
Clark has been ranked as high as No. 4, the highest an Iowa freshman has debuted in more than 15 years. He went 20-2 last season as a redshirt and topped eventual national champion Jesse Delgado of Illinois, while Gilman made the FILA Junior World Team during the summer.
“Both have good skills, both are serious about wrestling, both are coachable, attitudes are the same,” Brands said. “They work hard at the sport, they’re fun to be around.”
But the Iowa coach was short on praise when it came to discussing his squad as a whole. Brands said he wants to see his team’s recent trend of “giving away weight classes” come to an end and said Iowa’s results at 141 and 149 “may define our season.”
“Last year I was pretty optimistic (on media day), if I remember, and that was a little bit of a departure for me,” Brands said. “I’m not going to give them a lot of credit right now. I want to see emergence. I want to see urgency. I want to see fight. I want to see points.”
MEET THE WRESTLERS
125 pounds — Cory Clark, fr.: Four-time state champ from Southeast Polk enters the season ranked as high as fourth after a 20-2 redshirt season that included a win over NCAA champion Jesse Delgado of Illinois.
or Thomas Gilman, fr.: Four-time Nebraska state champ followed up a 23-5 redshirt season by winning the FILA Junior World Team Trials.
133 — Tony Ramos, sr.: Owns a 63-6 record during the past two seasons, and the only wrestlers to beat him have moved up to 141 this season.
141 — Josh Dziewa, jr.: Junior National champion has shown big-move ability during first two seasons with the Hawkeyes.
149 — Brody Grothus, so.: Part-time starter last year finished with a 6-8 record.
or Michael Kelly, jr.: Compiled a 25-22 record during his first two seasons at 149.
157 — Derek St. John, sr.: Captured the 80th individual national title in Iowa history last year when he finished 31-2.
165 —Nick Moore, jr.: Four-time state champion from Iowa City West compiled an 18-10 record last year.
174 — Mike Evans, jr.: Two-time Big Ten finalist placed sixth at the NCAA Championships after moving up from 165 early in the season.
184 — Ethen Lofthouse, sr.: Snapped out of a late-season slump by placing third at the Big Ten meet and fifth at the NCAA Championships.
197 — Nathan Burak, so.: Reached NCAA Round of 12 last year and compiled a 20-17 record last year as a true freshman.
Hwt. — Bobby Telford, jr.: Entered the NCAA Championships as the No. 6 seed, but suffered a knee injury in the opening round that knocked him out of the tournament.
A LOOK AT THE HAWKEYES
Last season: The Hawkeyes appeared on track to challenge for the national title when they beat Minnesota and Penn State to claim the Big Ten dual title. But Iowa’s surge came to a halt in March when injuries caught up to the Hawkeyes, particularly Telford and two-time NCAA champion Matt McDonough, both of whom failed to place at the national meet.
Strengths: Seven NCAA qualifiers and five all-Americans return, led by St. John and Ramos, who start the season ranked No. 1. The Hawkeyes like the potential of Clark and Gilman at 125, and Dziewa has demonstrated an action-packed style in a fill-in role. There’s depth in the upperweights as well.
Concerns: Iowa hasn’t qualified for the NCAA Championships at 149 since Brent Metcalf won his second national title in 2010, and the Hawkeyes can’t afford to show up at the national tournament short-staffed again this year. Iowa coach Tom Brands said his team’s success could hinge on what kind of production the Hawkeyes get at 141 and 149.
November — 16: at Luther Open; 22: Iowa City Duals.
December — 1: at Iowa State; 5: at Edinboro; 12: vs. Buffalo; 21: vs. Penn State; 29-30: at Midlands Championships in Evanston, Ill.
January — 3: at Purdue;
5: vs. Michigan State; 10: vs. Oklahoma State; 12: vs. Indiana; 18: at Nebraska; 25: vs. Minnesota; 31: at Northwestern.
February — 9: vs. Michigan; 14: at Lehigh; 23: at Wisconsin.
March — 8-9: at Big Ten Championships in Madison, Wis.; 20-22: at NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City.