Commentary: Wrestler Mark Ballweg turning heads


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Trivia for the casual Iowa wrestling fan: Which Hawkeye wrestler currently leads the team in dual meet team points scored?

It's defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Matt McDonough, right? No.

Surprisingly, McDonough's first pin didn't come until his sixth match of the year, on Dec. 4 against Michigan State.

Is it highly touted and high-scoring redshirt freshman Derek St. John? Nope.

How about Grant Gambrall, whose national ranking — No. 7 — is second-highest on the team?

Wrong again.

The top spot goes to sophomore Mark Ballweg, whose 6-0 record includes four pins and 32 team points.

There have been numerous pleasant surprises for the Hawkeyes so far in this young season.

Redshirt freshman Tony Ramos has unexpectedly made a strong claim for the starting spot at 133 pounds after earning the team bonus points in both matches over the weekend. St. John cruised through his first five matches — winning three major decisions and a pin — until being tested against Michigan State's No. 13 David Cheza on Dec. 4. St. John passed the test, winning a gritty 9-7 decision despite falling into a 6-2 hole.

But the best and most surprising development for the Hawkeyes is Ballweg's emergence. The Waverly, Iowa, native entered the season entirely unproven after posting an 0-2 record in college competition last year. None of his first four matches this season lasted a full seven minutes, three ending in pins and one with a technical fall.

If it continues, Ballweg's knack for ending matches early will take on huge importance. The young and untested Hawks will have some close dual meets this year — two teams in their own conference have a higher preseason rankings. The two-point difference between a major decision and a pin could be the difference between winning and losing.

But in arguably the biggest match of his wrestling career on Dec. 3 against Iowa State, Ballweg showed he's capable of pulling out close matches, too.

Facing the Cyclone's 11th-ranked Chris Drouin, Ballweg traded escapes for a 1-1 tie entering the third period. He spent most of the period letting Drouin shoot past his defense, then barely wriggling away to avoid being taken down. With less than 20 seconds left in the match, Ballweg did it again.

But this time, he started a scramble that ended with him on top, Drouin's head on the mat in defeat, and Carver-Hawkeye Arena rocking.

Ballweg returned to his regularly scheduled pinning the next night, ending his match with Michigan State's Joel Trombly in 2:05.

Head coach Tom Brands said Ballweg has dynamic offensive capabilities that he hasn't yet displayed, suggesting the sophomore's hot start could get even better for Iowa.

After his win over Drouin, Ballweg said he didn't consider himself inexperienced, citing his two high-school state championships. He also said he didn't consider the match an upset, saying he knows he can wrestle with anyone in the country.

In short, Mark Ballweg isn't the least bit surprised by his performance this season.

And that makes one of us.

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