Back in the spotlight, Iowa wrestling's Ballweg 'tearing it up'


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Mark Ballweg doesn’t talk much. He answers questions about his success on the wrestling mat this season with a shrug, a sentence, and a sheepish smile indicating there isn’t anything more to it.

Iowa wrestling head coach Tom Brands said on Tuesday the team is looking for “statements” and “exclamation marks” against top-ranked Penn State on Friday. At least Ballweg’s results this season have provided those.

The Waverly, Iowa, native is off to a 15-1 start this year, and he has moved from No. 14 in Intermat’s rankings before the season to No. 8 this week.

“I probably am wrestling the best I have in my entire career,” he said on Tuesday. “I’m excited about that, feeling confident.”

His biggest win of the season came in Minneapolis on Jan. 27. Nine of the 10 matches in Iowa’s dual against Minnesota had clear favorites. But Ballweg, then ranked ninth at 141 pounds, faced No. 10 Nick Dardanes.

Ballweg took a quick shot with 22 seconds left in the match and fought for a takedown that gave him a 3-1 victory. The Hawkeyes went on to escape with a 16-15 win.

“We believe that’s our match to win,” Brands said on Tuesday. “It’s a tossup on paper, but I don’t know if you can really march that way. Ballweg is wrestling well. I think he knows what he wants to do, and he probably found out something about himself Saturday.”

The senior isn’t just winning matches. He’s frequently dominating them, racking up a team-high nine major decisions this season. He’s also scored 59 dual-meet team points, trailing only Tony Ramos and Derek St. John.

It’s been something of a payoff for Ballweg, who suffered through a frustrating two previous years. In 2010, Ballweg was a surprise success story for Iowa, starting at 141 pounds and showing a knack for pinning opponents. But then Montell Marion was reinstated from what had been previously called a permanent suspension, sending Ballweg back to the bench.

Since then, he’s only seen spot duty at 149 pounds, where he struggled. In typical fashion, he doesn’t have much to say about the experience.

“It wasn’t easy to deal with, but I dealt with it,” Ballweg said. “I moved forward, kept training, and didn’t let it bother me.”

Ballweg said he is “older, wiser, and a little more experienced” in his second stint in the starting lineup. It also helps to be back at his natural weight class, where he has won 40 of 44 career matches — compared with 14 of 27 at 149.

The Hawkeyes will likely need an NCAA Tournament run from Ballweg in order to compete for a team title. And after a few years spent on the outside looking in at the team’s tournament lineup, the senior is ready to make one.

“He’s really putting himself all in this year,” teammate and occasional practice partner Brody Grothus said. “Being at the weight you feel comfortable at is a big thing. He may have felt like he was the smaller guy [at 149], and that may have played a role in how he approached those matches. But he’s at his weight this year, and he’s tearing it up.”

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