By the end of the second day at the NCAA Championships, Tom Brands’ voice and his team’s national title hopes were both virtually gone.
Though his vocal issues were unrelated to a message the Iowa wrestling coach conveyed throughout the tournament, Brands found himself repeating a well-worn line this week.
“Do I sound like a broken record for the last eight months?” he asked reporters after the Hawkeyes scored two takedowns in 48 minutes of quarterfinal action. “We’ve got to do a better job of scoring points. It’s that simple. It is that simple.”
The reality is this: Most of the Hawkeyes wrestle like just about everyone else across the country. They use the same top-position tricks to rack up riding time. They take a few shots. They wind up in a lot of bouts that hinge on one move.
Iowa won its share of those matches this week, but not enough to contend with Penn State, Minnesota and Oklahoma State when the title was there for the taking. The Hawkeyes took home an NCAA trophy for the seventh straight year under Brands, just not the one they prefer.
For seventy-some other schools, a fourth-place finish is grounds for a celebration. For Iowa, fair or not, it launches a program assessment.
“I think there’s got to be a serious evaluation on what the program stands for and I’m not sure we’re embodying that,” Brands said. “That’s an obvious statement.”
Let’s not lose sight of the fact the Hawkeyes drilled Oklahoma State in a dual, finished ahead of Minnesota at the Big Ten meet and took Penn State to the wire at the conference tournament. Contrary to what you might read on the message boards, it’s not like a system reset needs to occur. But this is also a squad that failed to register a fall this week and averaged just 5.6 points in its 26 bouts Thursday and Friday on the championship side of the bracket.
“I feel like a lot of our guys try to (score) more than people realize,” said Cory Clark, who placed fifth at 125 pounds. “It’s tough when you’ve got an opponent who’s watched video and knows your best shot and blocks it off. It’s one of those things from the outside looking in, it’s a whole different perspective than being on the inside. But yeah, all of us can get more offense going.”
This is where the Hawkeyes need to evolve and add more dimensions to their arsenals. Clark was consistently Iowa’s most aggressive, entertaining and versatile wrestler this week when the freewheeling freshman used a wide array of attacks to rack up a team-high 58 points in seven matches.
“I hate settling for a 0-0 first period,” Clark said. “I hate winning by one point. I love racking the points up.”
With NCAA finalist Tony Ramos and national champion Derek St. John nearing the end of their brilliant careers, the Hawkeyes will need a new face of the franchise next year. Clark might be guy best suited for that role.
“(He’s) reckless, but not reckless in a bad way,” Brands said. “It’s a good reckless and I think you saw a lot of good reckless. What I mean by reckless is getting right back in there, not panicking, letting things fly. I think fans gravitate toward that kind of excitement.”
The Hawkeyes need a lot more recklessness next season and they’ll add some when Sam Brooks adds a foot-to-the-gas mentality at 184 pounds.
With Midlands champion Thomas Gilman at 125 pounds, Clark presumably moving up a weight to replace Ramos and four-time state champion Brandon Sorensen filling another void, it’s a lineup with national title potential.
“I feel good about what we have coming back potential-wise,” Brands said. “But that doesn’t mean you have things ironed out and fixed and set in stone and away we go and let’s start today and rah rah.”
Andy Hamilton is a three-time national wrestling writer of the year. On Twitter: @Andy_Hamilton.