Commentary: A Brands smile tells all

BY J.T. BUGOS | DECEMBER 11, 2009 7:30 AM

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The Iowa wrestling team went to Ames on Sunday and won an uncomfortably close match against Iowa State. Between the rivalry, the No. 1 versus No. 2, and hostile Hilton Coliseum, adrenaline was spilling out of Hawkeye ears while facing the Cyclones.

Iowa’s intensity showed in the first five matches (four wins), but the last five were sluggish (four losses).

Combine their finish with the emotionally draining win, and one could imagine the Hawkeyes coming into Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday against Northern Iowa with an Iowa State hangover.

It happened to the football team after its win over then-No. 5 Penn State. One week after the Hawkeyes’ dominating win over the Nittany Lions in State College, Pa., Iowa nearly let Arkansas State come to Kinnick Stadium and steal a victory.

The football team’s situation was eerily similar to what the wrestling team faced Thursday.

Both had just beaten highly ranked teams. Both won on the road in very hostile environments. Both faced a vastly inferior opponent next.

But the wrestling team didn’t falter.

Not even close.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the results of the nine winning weight classes.

Six pins, including the first four weight classes, and three major decisions.

Two of those first four pins belonged to Nate Moore and Montell Marion, both of whom were making their season débuts for the Hawkeyes.

Each wrestler came out ready to make a statement. After building comfortable leads, you could see the grapplers working for the pin. They did not want to accept winning by anything but the greatest margin.

The only loss Iowa suffered was at heavyweight. Unranked Hawkeye Blake Rasing faced No. 17 Christian Brantley, who defeated Dan Erekson last year, and lost, 3-2.

But Rasing was in the match until the final seconds, and he spent the entire third period taking shots at Brantley’s legs, not satisfied just hanging with his ranked opponent.

The reason the Hawkeyes avoided a letdown is their head coach. Tom Brands simply would never allow his team to come unprepared.

After the Iowa State victory, Brands was not happy. Iowa had just beaten the best team in the country outside of Iowa City, and the coach didn’t even crack a half-smile. Not even the corner of his mouth twitched indicating the slightest feeling of happiness.

Brands called the win “sloppy.” At practice on Tuesday, he told me the team had work to do.

On Thursday, Brands was smiling.

After the match, he went on the radio to chat with Mark Ironside. Brands said he looked over at Ironside at one point and saw him grinning, and that’s when he realized he wore the same expression.

It might be one of the only, if not the only, times you see the fourth-year head coach smiling, though. He joked that he would have to go back to being a “sour-puss” for the cameras and then proceeded to do just that when he said the team can’t rest and must build on the win.

Much of this comes from the “Gable philosophy,” referring to the attitudes of legendary Iowa head coach Dan Gable, whom Brands wrestled under.

I’m sure Gable would tell you his nine-straight national championships weren’t enough, nor were his 21-straight Big Ten titles.

Thursday demonstrated that the wrestlers and coaches at Iowa carry those same attitudes, and you can expect nothing less out of them than a national championship.

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