Iowa grappler Lofthouse finds his groove again at the Big Ten Championships

BY CODY GOODWIN | MARCH 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Optimism was high among Iowa fans. The Hawkeye wrestlers had completed a perfect morning session during Day Two of the Big Ten wrestling championships. A 5-0 mark from the men in Black and Gold singlets pushed Iowa back into the conversation for the league championship.

But then came 1:30 p.m., and the Iowa grapplers began to fall. Those same Black and Gold fans watched silently as all four of the Iowa finalists failed to score a takedown in each their championship bouts — each one, a loss.

Yet there was Ethen Lofthouse, standing strong at 184 pounds. He shone brightly and delivered an 8-1 decision over Nebraska’s Josh Ihnen to earn third-place, all while most of his teammates before him dropped. Lofthouse was just one of three Hawkeyes to win their final matches in Champaign, Ill., this past weekend.

“I know what I’m capable of,” Lofthouse said. “All I can do is control my actions out there on the mat.”

The Iowa junior’s third-place finish likely came as a small surprise. Lofthouse hit a skid late this season inwhich he struggled out on the mat. It began in mid-January when Iowa lost to Oklahoma State 18-12. Lofthouse played a role in the loss when he was upset by Chris Chionuma on a late third-period takedown.

The woes continued for Lofthouse shortly thereafter. He rebounded with a victory over Michigan’s Jordan Thomas before dropping two-straight bouts to Michigan State’s John Rizqallah and Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus. Those two losses were a part of a string that included four losses in six matches.

The frustration was noticeable on his face as well as his actions. After failing to get out from bottom against Missouri’s Mike Larson, which resulted in a 3-2 win for the Tiger, Lofthouse punched the mat — exasperation was all over his face.

“There was a time when I struggled during the season,” he said. “But I’m just trying to get back to that point where I know I need to be.”

The Hawkeye All-American produced, arguably, his best outing of the season in Assembly Hall over the weekend. He was more confident in his offense and showed urgency while on the defense. There was a swagger about Lofthouse this weekend — a swagger that led to a 3-1 mark.

One of those wins, a pin over Illinois’s Tony Dallago in the consolation semifinals, was part of Iowa’s early Day Two surge. It served as a microcosm to how far Lofthouse has come since he nearly lost his job to another former All-American, Grant Gambrall.

“That’s something he had to take care of, and he did,” Iowa assistant wrestling coach and Ethen’s uncle Luke Lofthouse said. “I think he did a lot of good things this weekend … He wrestled to win.”

Lofthouse will need to continue to refine his skills even further as the NCAA Tournament draws nearer. His season-opening ranking began near the top eight but has since slipped down to No. 14. His victory over No. 8 Ihnen will surely help, but his placement at the NCAA Tournament will still make the road tough.

“He’s wrestling smarter,” head wrestling coach Tom Brands said. “The last match, especially, was really good. Dallago [in the] morning was good … He’s got to keep moving forward.”

Lofthouse echoed his coach’s thought even though he knew this weekend was a huge stride forward.

“It’s a better example,” he said. “But I’ve got more.”

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