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Top-ranked wrestlers look to defend Big Ten title

BY RYAN YOUNG | MARCH 6, 2009 7:22 AM

The top-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes or the defending Big Ten Tournament champs?

While either title is applicable to the Iowa wrestling team heading into this weekend’s conference championships, which will begin at 10 a.m., on Saturday in State College, Pa., junior 133-pounder Daniel Dennis said the answer depends on whom you ask.

He isn’t siding with the defensive thinkers, though.

“I’m not looking at it as we’re the defending champs,” he said. “Maybe because I wasn’t in the lineup last year. But I don’t think anyone is going in there protecting something because it’s not the right mindset we need to be going into that tournament with.”

Iowa head coach Tom Brands is looking at the Hawkeyes’ 33rd conference title run from a similar vantage point.

With him, there is no hindsight during tourney time — only untapped promise.



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“You’re talking about things that are in the past when you’re talking defending,” he said. “So I don’t think anybody thinks about what he has accomplished. I think there is a lot of work left undone, and you have to go out and get ready to wrestle at a high level. That’s where we’re at right now and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Historically, Iowa has accomplished a lot at the Big Ten championships. The Hawkeyes hold records in five of seven event categories — including most consecutive conference crowns (25 from 1974-98) and most individual champions in a single tournament, which was set at nine in 1983.

Last year, Iowa finished far from that mark — Brent Metcalf captured the team’s only individual title at 149 after defeating previous two-time conference champion Dustin Schlatter of Minnesota.

Now, as the No. 1 seed after tallying a perfect 29-0 record during the regular season, he stands as an obvious favorite to repeat the feat. But he admits challenges await him in the coming days, because he hasn’t faced No. 2 seed Bubba Jenkins of Penn State or No. 3 seed Lance Palmer of Ohio State over the last four months.

“I think you have to be aware that there is probably a target on your back and that people are going to be gunning to beat us,” Metcalf said. “I think my game plan is to really wrestle my style, you know, [execute] my aggressive, relentless offensive attacks that I do every time I step out on the mat. So really, there is not much of a game plan change with me.”

Iowa’s tournament lineup doesn’t appear to be changing, either. While 15 alternates will also make the trip out East with the Hawkeyes’ 10 primary starters, Brands said those extra bodies are “more for support role and warm-ups,” adding, “We know who our 10 guys are.”

Six of those 10 will carry Big Ten tournament experience from a year ago, when Iowa staged an inspiring comeback on the final day of competition and captured the program’s first conference championship in four years.

“I think that if we take care of business, you’re not worrying about fighting your way out of a hole,” he said. “It’s time for this team to put together a total performance.”


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