Iowa wrestlers prep for Gophers


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In a dual at Northwestern on Jan. 28, Tony Ramos was making a strong effort to focus on his own match. He was trying to concentrate on his opponent, and not the fact that his teammate, Matt McDonough, trailed 3-0 late in the match.

Then McDonough threw a headlock and pinned then-No. 1 Brandon Precin. And Ramos took notice of that.

The redshirt freshman called it a “big momentum swing” and cited his ensuing 9-3 win as an example of how the quick starts Iowa has gotten off to this season can help the team build momentum throughout a meet.

The Hawkeyes have wrestlers ranked in the nation’s top seven by Intermat at each of the first three weight classes. Matt McDonough is No. 1 at 125 pounds, and Ramos is ranked seventh at 133 pounds. Montell Marion is third at 141.

That lower weight talent has allowed Iowa to jump out to early leads often this season. In the team’s win over then-No. 1 Penn State, those three gave Iowa a quick 12-0 lead. The Nittany Lions never recovered.

“It’s awesome,” Ramos said. “Awesome for the fans, awesome for us to keep the momentum going. When you can get the other team down, get the coaches down and screaming, it’s tough on them.”

A quick start could be even more important on Feb. 20, when No. 3 Iowa travels to Minnesota for a clash with the fifth-ranked Gophers.

Head coach Tom Brands praised Minnesota coach J Robinson as “old-school” and predicted Robinson, like Brands, would elect to start at the traditional 125-pound match.

If that’s the case, two of dual’s first three weights will be bouts between top-five wrestlers.

McDonough will face No. 5 Zach Sanders, who he went 3-0 against last year — with two victories coming by major decision. Marion gets second-ranked Mike Thorn, who beat him twice in three meetings last season.

And even Ramos’ match with No. 20 David Thorn will feature a rivalry that Ramos said “goes all the way back to freshman year of high school.”

Ramos said the Hawkeyes could send a strong message early if the lower weights wrestle well.

“McDonough goes out there, and I know he’s going to set the tone,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and set the tone for my match, and the crowd’s going to start to quiet down. Montell goes out there and beats Thorn, they’re going to be dead. And that’s when we’re going to explode on them.”

Silencing the crowd could be important in this rivalry, which Brands said could be the best in college wrestling.

“There’s a lot at stake,” Brands said. “This is important to them. They’re going to have their team ready. This isn’t going to be an ambush.”

McDonough agreed, and said the Hawkeyes have to be at their best against a good opponent that wants badly to beat them.

“There’s no love lost,” he said of the rivalry. “It’s two teams consistently in the hunt to be Big Ten champs. We’re going to have to leave everything we have out there.”

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