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Iowa wrestling looks for leaders to find national success

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | NOVEMBER 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa wrestling head coach Tom Brands said he believes his wrestlers shouldn't get what they deserve. Instead, they should get what they earn.

And he's still waiting for someone to earn a definitive leadership role on his team this season.

The Hawkeyes have several upperclassmen that could be the team role models. Junior Matt McDonough — a returning All-American who has won Big Ten and national championships — is ranked No. 1 in the country at 125 pounds. Eighth-ranked heavyweight senior Blake Rasing is a returning Big Ten champion. No. 4 Montell Marion is a returning All-American and national runner-up at 141 pounds.

But Brands is still looking for someone to step up and be a vocal, present leader on the mat.

"We've got a lot of guys that are like punching people and stuff — there are some tough guys there that you could call leaders," Brands said. "But we want to see guys that are tough on the mat within the rules of the sport of wrestling and then carrying it to the edge because, 'I'm a hustler because I'm mentally tough, because I'm emotionally tough, and I'm spiritually tough.' "

Marion might be a perfect example.

After being "permanently suspended" from the team in 2009 after numerous run-ins with the law, Marion made several lifestyle changes that persuaded Brands and Athletics Director Gary Barta to reinstate him as an Iowa wrestler in February 2010.

"I'm a passionate person — definitely some of the things I've gone through have had some passion and some fuel to the fire," Marion said. "I wrestle with my heart. I've got my heart in this sport … I definitely lead with emotion."

Brands said Rasing has also had to "deal with some demons," and the manner in which he has overcome them could help make him an important leader for the Hawkeyes.

After leaving the team during his sophomore year in 2008, Rasing struggled with the decision to come back to the program. After being convinced by Brands that he had the potential to become a champion, Rasing rejoined the team and earned a spot as a top heavyweight.

Rasing went undefeated at the Big Ten championships to claim the title, but at the NCAA championships lost two matches — 3-1 and 8-6 — to lose his shot at a national title.

This season, he's using his disappointment to fuel him.

"Last year, I didn't get what I wanted, so I get another year to go after it and get a national title," Raising said.

All the upperclassmen — McDonough, Marion, and Raising included — have potential to be the vocal leaders Brands hasn't seen since Brent Metcalf graduated in 2010.

"We need guys to not just say, 'Hey, I'm doing it right. Look at me,' " Brands said. "We need guys who are going to grab guys and say, 'I'm an extension of the coaching staff, and what you're doing is out of line — and by God, you're going to get it right.' "

Marion said the upperclassmen are ready for the challenge of bringing the team further than their third-place NCAA finish last year.

"I'm looking to definitely lead by example," he said. "Once you set that example, all the dominos start to fall into place — that's when we start getting our national titles and our Big Ten titles. You've got to see it 125 [pounds] through heavyweight. When you see the guy before you win that match, it makes you want to go out there and do the same thing."

Follow DI wrestling reporter Molly Irene Olmstead on Twitter.


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