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Point-counterpoint: Which Iowa wrestling team is better — 2008 or 2009?

BY DI SPORTS STAFF | MARCH 3, 2009 7:20 AM

2008

Is it really fair to compare the two teams?

Last year’s wrestling team actually won both the Big Ten and NCAA championships. This year’s squad has yet to do either, and by default, it is the lesser of the pair.

It’s nitpicking, really. I won’t deny that Iowa’s current lineup, with ranked wrestlers at every weight class but 157, is significantly more adept than a year ago — Alex Tsirtsis has done nicely at 141 after redshirting, Ryan Morningstar has improved substantially since his move up from 157 to 165, and

Dan Erekson is quite an offensive spectacle at heavyweight.

But the firepower Iowa boasted last season still yielded two title-winners, a finalist, seven All-Americans, and the 10th-largest margin of victory in NCAA championship history.

Granted, this year’s undefeated Hawkeyes are the undeniable favorite to win another pair of prestigious team trophies heading into the postseason. However, it’s important to highlight one crucial point — this year’s dominance is ultimately grounded in last year’s struggles.

Not even ranked No. 1 at the beginning of the 2007-08 season, Iowa had to upset and uncrown No. 1 Iowa State in Ames before anyone would consider the team as a legit championship contender. Even after that, some skeptics lingered as the Hawkeyes lost to Oklahoma State at home and edged both Wisconsin and Michigan, but went 21-1 overall before managing a late comeback to win the Big Ten championships in Minneapolis.

That was where the team seemed destined to collapse, though, as Iowa trailed defending NCAA champion Minnesota by 12.5 points at the end of the first day of the competition.

But under a fusillade of questions, head coach Tom Brands vowed his team would take the tournament. And it did, and Brands smiled boyishly afterwards as he likened his team to a Gable-coached squad from the late-70s and early ’80s dynasty era.

This year, he hasn’t once echoed that statement.

The Hawkeyes had something to prove last year. This year, they’re just trying to prove 2008 wasn’t a fluke.

— by Ryan Young

2009

The simple fact that a repeat is looming leads me to believe the 2008-09 Hawkeyes are better than the 2007-08 squad, but only by the slimmest of margins.

I’m not taking anything away from last year’s team — it was a great team. It will always be the team that re-established Iowa as the premier wrestling program in the nation.

This season’s Hawkeyes are essentially the same team from last year, only better.

What are the differences between this year’s team and last year’s team?

Other than the departures of national champion Mark Perry at 165 and All-American heavyweight Matt Fields, as well as exchanges for Joe Slaton at 133 and Dan LeClere at 141, everyone is back.

Certainly the emergence of Daniel Dennis — ranked No. 1 at 133 — has been the biggest surprise for the Hawkeyes this season. Dennis wasn’t even in the lineup last year as he wrestled behind Slaton. Now, he the favorite to win the Big Ten and national titles.

Charlie Falck, Ryan Morningstar, Jay Borschel, and Phillip Keddy are all a year older, wiser and stronger on the mat.

All-American Alex Tsirtsis returned to his spot at 141 after taking a redshirt year in 2007-08, giving Iowa yet another weapon.

Then there’s Brent Metcalf, who has been “Mr. Automatic” this season; he lost once last year. Still, the defending national champion has been every bit the MVP he was last season and then some, sporting an unblemished 29-0 record. What’s more, Metcalf has scored bonus points for the Hawkeyes in 27 of 29 matches. Nobody strikes more fear into his competition than this guy, and he’s only a junior.

Toss in No. 7 heavyweight Dan Erekson and No. 15 197-pounder Chad Beatty, and what do you know? A more solid group of Hawkeyes go undefeated through dual competition for the first time in nine years; they lost once last year and struggled to find a consistent competitor at 197.
This year’s team is pound-for-pound a better team.

— by Zach Smith


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