OKLAHOMA CITY — Tony Ramos walked into the interview room Wednesday on the eve of the NCAA Championships as a billboard of confidence.
Iowa’s senior 133-pounder arrived at the pre-tournament news conference wearing a black shirt with three words written across his chest in gold and white letters: I will dominate.
“I want to run through the tournament,” Ramos said as he sat at the dais beside four returning NCAA champions, all who have obtained the prize the third-seeded Hawkeye is chasing this week. “I don’t just want to win, I want to dominate everyone. I want to dominate every match and I still think I can do that against anyone I wrestle.”
If there were any questions about whether the Hawkeyes believe they can knock Penn State from college wrestling’s pedestal, Ramos squashed them Wednesday. He said Iowa’s narrow loss to the Nittany Lions a couple weeks ago at the Big Ten Championships might’ve been an eye-opener for outsiders, but it wasn’t for those wearing black and gold singlets.
“We feel good about ourselves,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “We feel good about our team as coaches and I think our guys feel good about themselves, if I could speak for them. I don’t know how many eyes we opened at the Big Tens, not to be in disagreement.
“Tony Ramos talks a lot bigger game than I talk. He’s a pretty confident guy. Opening eyes at the Big Ten would’ve been slamming the door on Sunday in that final round. We were close, but close doesn’t get it done.”
Penn State hasn’t lost in a tournament setting since David Taylor and Ed Ruth stepped into the lineup three years ago and started racking up pins, technical falls and major decisions at a historic pace. The seniors have compiled a 260-6 record and they’ve scored bonus points in more than 83 percent of the time they’ve taken the mat.
“It’s not necessarily pressure,” Taylor said when asked about how handles the enormous expectations his accomplishments have created. “It’s an opportunity. We have an opportunity to go out and do some special things.”
Bonus points were the difference last year when Penn State, with five finalists and no others on the medal stand, edged Oklahoma State by four points in Des Moines. There could more drama in the team race this year with Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and others in trophy contention.
Some have more room for error than others.
“We could wrestle really well and not win or we can wrestle great and give ourselves a chance,” said Oklahoma State coach John Smith. “I think that’s what we did last year — we wrestled great and gave ourselves a chance.”
Iowa helped its chances by qualifying a full lineup for the first time since 2010, the last year the Hawkeyes won the national title. Nine of the wrestlers in Brands’ lineup are seeded, including six who are in the top five.
Penn State also has 10 qualifiers and six wrestlers seeded fifth or better, but the Nittany Lions will have to contend with a series of rugged early-round draws.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “The team that scores the most points wins. Same thing with every match. It’s a simple sport, simple philosophy. Everybody has tough draws. The other thing, too, you motivate people by challenging them. You challenged us, so thank you.”
WHEN: Thursday (11 a.m.) through Saturday (finals, 7 p.m.)
WHERE: Oklahoma City, Chesapeake Arena
DEFENDING CHAMPION: The Penn State Nittany Lions are aiming for their fourth consecutive crown.
ONLINE: The Register will have full coverage from Oklahoma City, from Thursday’s opening action through Saturday’s championship round, at DesMoinesRegister.com. Andy Hamilton will have regular updates and analysis on Twitter (@Andy_Hamilton) and at facebook.com/insidetrip.