New wrestling faces look to make a name for themselves


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Ask Iowa wrestling head coach Tom Brands to name some unproven Hawkeye wrestlers who could step up this year, and he'll rattle off a list of names like a teacher taking attendance. The list includes the likes of Derek St. John, Grant Gambrall, Dylan Carew, Ethen Lofthouse, and Tony Ramos.

Iowa hopes several of those names will become well-known by the end of the season.

Brands called the upcoming year one of "complete turnover." Eight All-Americans are gone from last season's national championship team, but the fifth-year head coach said he looks forward to the challenge of restocking his lineup.

"There's a lot of excitement going into this season. We like our guys; they know how to wrestle," Brands said. "But it also shows the problem where if you want to be an expert and make predictions, there's a lot of unknowns here."

Those unknowns led to a No. 8 ranking to start the season for the Hawkeyes. St. John, who will compete for mat time at 157 pounds this year, said the team doesn't pay much mind to the rankings.

"We're going to have to step it up and make a point to everyone out there that we're the No. 1 team," the redshirt freshman said. "Just going to have to shut 'em up, I guess."

Amid the massive roster turnover, one weight class is firmly settled. Matt McDonough is the team's lone returning All-American and the defending national champion at 125 pounds. The sophomore said he is a better wrestler than he was last season, and he motivated to win a second time.

McDonough, who Brands said will be relied upon for leadership this year, knows outsiders aren't giving the Hawkeyes as much respect this year as they've had in the past. But until real wrestling starts, McDonough said, none of that is important.

"We'll see when the season comes," he said. "There are a lot of guys that are hungry. It doesn't really matter if people underrate us, because it's all hearsay until the first meet of the season."

Around McDonough, however, is a group eager to establish a legacy of their own after watching last year's senior class — perhaps the most-accomplished in Hawkeye history — move on. Junior heavyweight Blake Rasing will replace two-time All-American and 2010 Big Ten champion Dan Erekson.

"You look at what [the seniors] did, and that's great for them," he said. "But we're a new team, and, hopefully, we can build on what we have."

Brands said his team is capable of doing that. He has been pleased with how the new-look squad has looked in practice, he said, but he can't know how good they truly are until they are tested in big matches.

"Are our guys ready to compete? You bet they are," Brands said. "But in a tough situation, are they going to poop their pants or are they going to get tough? That's a good question."

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