Iowa grapplers eager to complete an unbeaten conference campaign


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Confusion filled Iowa wrestling fans on the night of Feb. 1, when Grant Gambrall — not No. 14 Ethen Lofthouse — took the mat for the Black and Gold at 184 pounds.

Gambrall hadn’t wrestled a match for Iowa since Dec. 6, 2012, in the dual against Lehigh. There, at 174 pounds, he lost to Nathaniel Brown, 3-2. His match with Penn State’s Ed Ruth wasn’t much better. Ruth won a 21-10 major decision over Gambrall that night.

This decision to start Gambrall over Lofthouse came strictly from the coaching staff.

“First of all, he probably earned a shot,” Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands said Tuesday. “I know there’s been discussion that he wants a shot. The other thing was the timing for Lofthouse. He wasn’t wrestling well.”

Over his last four matches, Lofthouse has posted a 1-3 record. That includes a 3-2 upset loss to No. 11 Chris Chionuma of Oklahoma State and a pair of 6-3 losses to Michigan State’s unranked John Rizqallah and No. 5 Kevin Steinhaus from Minnesota.

In those matches, Lofthouse didn’t show the kind of toughness and urgency that Brands hoped to see from his All-American wrestler. He gave up a late lead against Chionuma to lose the match — and in some respect, the dual for Iowa — and wasn’t truly focused on opening up his offense against either Steinhaus or Rizqallah.

The benching, at least Brands hoped, would get Lofthouse’s attention.

“When you’re getting beat and you’re not making a move, let’s fire a shot across their bow and get some doggone attention,” Brands said. “This is not about just going out in your black-and-gold singlet and whatever happens, happens. This is about preparation, this is about getting ready, this is about coming to compete at a high level every time.”

Gambrall, much to the surprised Carver crowd, was able to garner a takedown against the top-ranked Ruth and held, momentarily, a 3-2 lead. This was short-lived — Ruth escaped with ease and went on to score eight more takedowns en route to the major decision.

But Gambrall went into the match fearless, and that’s what Brands is looking for. Lofthouse saw this, and it has, in a sense, awakened him.

“If I would have been sent on the mat, I would have been ready,” Lofthouse said. “But Tom [Brands], and I talked and we just thought it was good. I trust the coaching staff and their decisions.”

Lofthouse said he does feel better, and he will be ready to compete. His spot in the lineup, though, will remain up to Brands and the Iowa wrestling coaching staff. No wrestle-off is planned.

Iowa’s new rankings

The Iowa wrestling team, after stunning the wrestling world with an upset win over then-top-ranked Penn State, jumped from No. 3 to No. 2 in the latest Intermat rankings. The Hawkeye grapplers also moved up to No. 2 in the National Wrestling Coaches Association Poll.

The mystifying thing about both rankings are the teams that sandwich the Black and Gold in both rankings. In the coaches’ ranking, Oklahoma State is No. 1 and Penn State fell to No. 3. But in the Intermat poll, Penn State stayed atop the rankings and the Cowboys fell to third.

This is because the coaches’ poll is based mainly on the power of dual teams, and the Intermat is based on NCAA Tournament strength — an individual tournament with team points accounted for.

With that in mind, it makes sense, then, that Iowa is above Penn State in one and behind it in the other. Penn State’s potential to rack up tournament points remains more potent than Iowa’s, according to the Intermat voters.

The Hawkeyes, who know how both systems work, continue to use each one as motivation.

“This sends a big message,” 133 pounder Tony Ramos said of beating Penn State on Feb. 1.

“Everyone’s counting us out. We had a hiccup against Oklahoma State. I think we should have won that dual meet, too.”

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