Iowa wrestler Kelly’s urgency proving to be the difference


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The difference in Michael Kelly’s wrestle-off performance on Nov. 9, and Michael Kelly’s match against Iowa State on Dec. 1 was in his head.

It wasn’t the bandage that was wrapped around his skull during his 16-6 major-decision victory over Iowa State’s Luke Swalla. Kelly said it was his mindset — the sophomore constantly reminded himself to be on the attack, both on his feet and on the mat.

“After wrestle-offs, all I told myself was, ‘[I’ve] got to go to the legs, got to go to the attacks,’ ” he said. “That’s all I’ve really been focusing on since then.”

Kelly was on the losing end of, perhaps, one of the most surprising upsets of Iowa’s wrestle-offs this year. Leading 3-1 in the third period, redshirt freshman Patrick Rhoads took Kelly to his back following an escape. That six-point sequence proved to undo Kelly as Rhoads held on for a 7-4 victory.

Since then, coaches have noticed a sense of urgency coming from Kelly in the practice room. He’s intensified his drills, focusing more on getting to the legs on his feet, and turning while on top.

The Iowa wrestling coaches said the urgency is a good thing, but that’s only part of what Kelly needs to fix in order to contend for the 149-pound spot — a spot in the lineup that belonged to him last season.

“There needs to be more of a come-along,” associate head coach Terry Brands said. “In the way of weight control, diet, and discipline, where he doesn’t just try to fix half of it and maybe comes all the way and really does all of it.”

Terry Brands said it plainly by submitting that, “all aspects of your life have to count.” Kelly, in the eyes of his coaches, has to work on everything that encompasses their sport — weight control, discipline, practicing to get better, to name a few — and be “disciplined in all realms.”

“You know, give us a reason to go with you, and that’s it,” Terry Brands said. “[Make it a] this is our guy through March, type of thing.”

Kelly admitted his weight control — or realistically, the struggle with it — might have been one of the reasons his wrestle-off performance was subpar. That was one of the first things both Terry and Tom Brands noted when asked if Kelly’s latest performance would have an effect on the 149-pound spot.

Tom Brands said there’s still a chance Kelly can permanently reclaim the spot that was once his. But in order to do so, he’ll have to work on the aforementioned struggle, along with consistency in his matches.

“In the former, he’s working on it, and in the latter, he seems to be heading that direction,” head coach Tom Brands said. Kelly’s last two matches have been victories, both by major decision.

But until Kelly can reclaim the spot officially, redshirt freshman Brody Grothus will re-enter the lineup once he heals from a minor injury. Grothus dinged up his left knee on Nov. 16 in a dual against Virginia.

Kelly may still get the call for the next few string of matches at 149. Grothus, much like his coaches, is looking more at the big picture in terms of recovery time rather than getting back out on the mat as quickly as possible.

“The big picture is looking down the road,” Grothus said, referencing Big Ten and NCAA competition. “You don’t want something this early in the season to set you back further and reduce the opportunity to get better.”

Kelly wants to take advantage of that same opportunity.

“[It will take] discipline and doing things the right way,” Kelly said. “Just have to keep doing things the right way.”

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