National Duals: Iowa to face top-ranked familiar foes in finals


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Four men were on the mats in the Dan Gable wrestling complex before Iowa's practice on Tuesday: Walt and Stew Gillmor, Ethen Lofthouse, and head coach Tom Brands.

Lofthouse rolled around with one of the Gillmor brothers as Brands shouted at him from above, "Wrestle. Wrestle." He had a sense of urgency in his voice.

After stepping away from the private training session to address the media, Brands seemed eager — almost anxious — to get back to his 174-pounder. When asked what was on his mind, Brands pointed to Lofthouse.

"He's on my mind," he said.

Lofthouse has a lot to prepare for; he'll challenge Minnesota's No. 5 Logan Storley in the first round of the National Duals Final Four tournament in Stillwater, Okla., on Feb. 19.

If Iowa beats the Gophers, he'll face either No. 3 Chris Storley or No. 9 Jordan Blanton in the second dual.

But he's not the only Hawkeye with a lot to prepare for. Iowa, the tournament's second seed and nation's fourth-ranked team, will challenge third-seeded and third-ranked Minnesota in the first round. The Hawkeyes will compete against eight top-10 Gophers.

Twenty-nine of the 40 wrestlers in the tournament are ranked, and 21 of those sit in the top 10 of their respective weight classes.

"It's a step above; it's a peak; it's a national championship now," Brands said. "These are good teams with good, solid lineups, so we've got to be ready to go."

The first matches of the Hawkeye-Gopher dual will pit No. 1 Matt McDonough against No. 2 Zach Sanders, No. 3 Tony Ramos against No. 8 Chris Dardanes, and No. 5 Montell Marion against No. 8 Nick Dardanes.

While Iowa's upperweights have struggled with injury and consistency, bonus points from McDonough, Ramos, and Marion have helped the Hawkeyes win in recent matches. But that won't cut it anymore.

"We need to score as much as we can right away," Ramos said. "But everyone's got to do it at every weight class; it can't just be the first three."

Grant Gambrall, Iowa's returning All-American at 184, has wrestled at 197 for much of the season after suffering injuries in the off-season that caused him to gain weight. But Gambrall is certified at 184 again and will weigh in there on Feb. 19.

Gambrall is expected to wrestle Minnesota's No. 7 Kevin Steinhaus; the Hawkeye is 0-2 against the Gopher. The Iowa City native dropped a 5-4 decision to Steinhaus in Minnesota's dual meet last season and then lost a 4-1 decision to him at the Big Ten tournament.

"I owe him a couple; he beat me twice last year," Gambrall said. "He's definitely been on my radar ever since I planned on going back down to 184."

Gambrall isn't the only one who will face a familiar opponent in the dual. Other Hawkeyes are fairly familiar with their individual opponents, but Iowa has also faced all three potential National Duals opponents in a dual meet already this year.

Iowa snatched a 20-13 win from Illinois on Dec. 2. The Hawkeyes won on account of bonus points, 19-17, against Minnesota on Jan. 29. The Hawkeyes lost, 17-16, to Oklahoma State on Jan. 7, when the Cowboys were awarded a criteria point for riding time.

But the Hawkeyes are approaching the National Duals with a clean slate. The rankings and seeds don't matter. The familiarity with the opponents doesn't mean anything.

"You know what you're going up against," McDonough said. "[But] you've got to be able to wrestle everyone, no matter if you don't even know how to pronounce his name or if you've wrestled him every day in a wrestling room."

Follow DI wrestling reporter Molly Irene Olmstead on Twitter.

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