Wrestlers look to make their mark at the Big Ten Championships

BY J.T. BUGOS | MARCH 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa wrestling is all about winning championships. It’s a mentality that was cultivated under Dan Gable, the legendary head coach who led the Hawkeyes to 15 NCAA titles and 21 Big Ten titles. It’s a mentality that continues under Tom Brands, who won three national championships wrestling for Gable and guided Iowa to wins in the last three NCAA and Big Ten Tournaments.

The mindset permeates the wrestling room, from head coach to the freshman grapplers.

“[Championships are] what Iowa wrestling has been about for years now, and this team is no different,” senior 197-pounder Luke Lofthouse said. “It might be young, and it might be the first for a lot of us to compete there, but we’re all excited, and we all know how to compete. Our mentality is full steam ahead, and we’re ready to compete.”

The Hawkeyes will begin their drive to a postseason title Saturday in Evanston, Ill., for the Big Ten championships. But as Lofthouse noted, this Iowa squad is short on college-tournament experience.

Only three wrestlers have competed in the Big Ten championships — Matt McDonough, who placed second last year, Montell Marion, who finished third last season, and Lofthouse, who suffered two defeats as a true freshman in 2005 as a 174-pounder.

No one is worried about an alleged lack of experience or increased pressure hindering this Iowa team, though. Lofthouse said the only difference from the regular season to Big Tens is intensity, which every wrestler has handled before in national tournaments and even during this season.

“It’s a bigger stage now, but each match is going to be the exact same, and it’s going to be a dogfight to the end,” the native of Avon, Utah, said. “And everyone is going to be fighting a little bit harder because it means more. But added pressure? I don’t think so. The stakes are higher, but the pressure isn’t any greater.”

Lofthouse noted the tough competition Iowa has faced all season long, some of which came at the Midlands Championships, the last tournament setting the Hawkeyes wrestled in — and with underwhelming results. But since Midlands, each Iowa wrestler has shown improvement, as evidenced by the squad’s undefeated run through Big Ten dual competition.

Despite the disappointment, Midlands proved to benefit the whole team.

“I feel we have more of a chip on our shoulder,” redshirt freshman Tony Ramos said. “I feel that we’re more prepared and more ready now for everything that we’re going in to. I feel like the coaches also learned a lot from the Midlands. Tom said it made him a better coach, and it made us better athletes.”

Brands noted the team has more “tough in their toughness” since the beginning of the season and Midlands, but still, whispers of inexperience continue to find their way to Iowa City.

McDonough and Marion, only a sophomore and junior, respectively, are the most experienced Hawkeyes come postseason. McDonough’s advice to his teammates is to go head on at the opportunity they have to leave their mark — something he knows how to do after capturing the national title last season.

“The biggest wrestling stages in the world aren’t dual meets, they’re tournaments,” the 125-pounder said. “You win the tournament, you beat the whole country. You don’t beat one guy, you beat every single guy one after the other. I love tournaments, I love this time of year, and I think every guy on our team is fired up and ready to go.

“The importance of you have to beat the best to be the best comes right now.”

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