Looking for wrestling revenge in the nationals

BY ZACH SMITH | MARCH 12, 2009 7:27 AM

Tom Brands is not big on superstition, nor are his wrestlers.

Whether it’s a uniform change, a pre-match ritual, even a select pair of socks, the Hawkeye wrestlers rarely lose their focus on the big picture — or, in Iowa wrestling terms, the NCAA championships.
“You have to be ready to go every match,” Brands said. “You have to get tougher as the rounds go on. You get tougher as the season goes on, and you have to get tougher when you’re at the most important time of the year, and that’s where we’re at.”

Daniel Dennis doesn’t get caught up in superstitions, either.

When asked why he shaved his month-old mustache, the 133-pounder said there was no real reason for the change in his profile, not even a fifth-place finish at the Big Ten championships on March 8 in State College, Pa.

Dennis and teammate Jay Borschel grew the push-brooms as a joke, but with exactly one week until the opening round of the national tournament, Dennis knows the time for funny stuff is long gone.
“Now is not the time of the season to be screwing around anymore,” he said. “It’s time to be unbelievably disciplined, unbelievably smart.”

Going into the Big Ten championships, Dennis was 25-2 and hadn’t lost a match since the championship finals of the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals on Jan. 11. Top-seeded Dennis was the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten title and, carrying the nation’s No. 1 ranking, was in the same position on the national stage.

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But all of that changed following a 5-2 loss to now second-ranked Reese Humphreys of Ohio State in the semifinals last weekend. For the first time all season, Dennis had trouble getting his offense going as Humphreys fended off virtually all of fifth-ranked Dennis’ attacks.

“I was reacting way too much to what he had to offer. I wasn’t focusing on what I can do, I wasn’t focusing on making it a hard match on him,” Dennis said. “I was doing way too much, wrestling his style and where he wanted to be in his pace, and that’s not how I need to be winning matches.”

To make matters worse, Dennis was clipped, 4-3, by high-school teammate Jimmy Kennedy of Illinois in his next match, forcing him to wrestle sixth-seeded Jake Strayer of Penn State for fifth place — Dennis won, 11-7.

With seven days left to train, Dennis, and his eight teammates making the trip to St. Louis will be working obsessively in order to be ready to battle.

And even with revenge on his mind, Dennis said he’d like to get a rematch with Humphreys or Kennedy, but he doesn’t really care if he bumps into any Big Ten foes.

“We’ll see what happens. I’m not straying away from anyone. I’m not trying to duck anyone. I’m not trying to avoid anyone,” Dennis said. “If I could, I would wrestle all of them. As long as I’m ready to wrestle, I like my odds. I’ve said that before, and I just have to get out there and get ready to wrestle.”

The rest of the 133-pound field at the NCAA championships is as open as it has been all season.

Five weeks as the leader of the pack lulled Dennis to sleep.

Perhaps the setbacks at the Big Ten championships were just the wake-up calls Dennis needed.

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