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Big Ten Championships: Iowa wrestling ready to defy B1G seeds

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | MARCH 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa wrestling team is rarely — if ever — considered an underdog.

The 2008 team that ended the regular season with an 8-0 Big Ten record and a No. 1 seed for the conference tournament wasn't. Neither were the teams that accomplished the same feat in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

But Iowa finished third in the Big Ten this year, and it enters the tournament with a 6-2 conference record. Iowa, the wrestling program with 34 Big Ten titles in 53 years, is the underdog in the Big Ten championships this weekend.

Penn State (13-1, 7-1 Big Ten) and Minnesota (14-3, 7-1) are tied for first in the conference standings. Iowa lost a 22-12 dual against the Nittany Lions. And despite beating the Gophers 19-17 in a league dual meet, Iowa lost to Minnesota, too, 16-15 at the National Duals.

Tony Ramos, the nation's third-ranked 133-pounder, said Iowa has a lot to prove because everyone is counting the Hawkeyes out.

Iowa's 125-pound frontman Matt McDonough is seeded first in his class; Ramos and 165-pound Mike Evans are seeded second in theirs.

But Derek St. John, a returning All-American who finished fourth in the nation at 157 pounds last year, is seeded sixth. So is heavyweight Bobby Telford. Mike Kelly is 10th at 149 pounds.

"We're going to have to wrestle our tails off to win the tournament, based on the seeds," head coach Tom Brands said. "We're going to have to go above and beyond those seeds, and we're going to have be solid and smart to do that."

The wrestlers said they know what each has to do. Ethen Lofthouse said he'll try to score early and often this weekend. Kelly said he'll focus as hard as he can for all seven minutes of his match. Ramos said he's determined to prove everyone — the opponents, spectators, and critics — wrong.

"I like proving people wrong, the team likes proving people wrong, so that's what we're going to go out and do," he said. "I think we're real dangerous. They had St. John as a sixth seed? He's not a sixth-seed wrestler … He's going to go out there, and it wouldn't surprise me if he wins the whole thing."

Iowa began the season ranked No. 1 nationally but dropped to No. 2 after it fell to Oklahoma State in early January. Then, the Hawkeyes lost to Ohio State and Penn State and fell to No. 5 in the nation.

Iowa has worked its way back up to third since then — Penn State is first and Minnesota is second — but the Hawkeyes don't seem concerned with the rankings or bothered by the seeds.

"I don't know if to the fans, it feels like we're an underdog or not," Brands said. "I know what they expect. And I know what we expect."

Iowa expects to win.

Lofthouse didn't have much to say about being an underdog. He said the Big Ten might not be taking Iowa as seriously as they have in the past — but those teams are still scared, so Iowa is still a target.

"Everyone is still out to get us," he said. "They know what we're capable of."


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