Iowa wrestlers to start season at Luther Open


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Wrestle-offs have never meant much to Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands. He’s always preferred evaluating his wrestlers through true competition. It’s a much better indication of their potential for success.

When it was announced that this weekend’s Luther Open was added to Iowa’s schedule — taking the calendar spot that’s normally reserved for the annual wrestle-offs — it raised a simple question: Was this tournament taking the place of wrestle-offs?

“A little bit,” Brands said during the team’s media day on Nov. 7. “We’ll have some situations in the wrestling room, but it will be more closed door and not official. … Luther will tell us a lot.”

This is not to say that the Luther Open will serve as this year’s wrestle-offs. They won’t be. What Brands meant is that this weekend’s tournament — which includes a 21-team field full of Division II and Division III teams — will be an opportunity for his wrestlers to prove themselves.

“As is customary for years and years here, ever since I came here as a student-athlete, it’s how you perform in competition,” Brands said.

With that in mind, this weekend’s tournament might be best described as the first opportunity for Iowa’s grapplers. Brands is looking for national champions and All-Americans to fill his 10 roster spots, and if guys in his practice room are going to compete in March, he’s looking for them to dominate competition that might not appear as daunting this weekend — at least on paper.

There’s a fair chance that many Iowa wrestlers will compete against each other at some point on Saturday. Throughout the team’s media day, Brands noted that he’d have his eye on a few weights during the first half of this season.

The main one that he, along with many wrestling fans around the country, will pay close attention to will be the battle at 125 pounds. Cory Clark and Thomas Gilman, two blue-chip recruits from Southeast Polk (Iowa) and Skutt Catholic (Nebraska), respectively, are “even,” Brands said.

Clark enters this season with the glossier résumé. He made headlines last season when he topped Illinois’s Jesse Delgado, 6-1, in the 125-pound finals of the UNI Open. Delgado went on to win the 125-pound national championship.

Clark also defeated Gilman twice last season — a 3-1 overtime win during Iowa’s wrestle-offs and a 2-0 win in the finals of the Kaufman-Brand Open in December.

“We both want to win a national title,” Clark said at the team’s media day. “And we’re both going to do whatever we can to do that.”

Clark, a native of Pleasant Hill, Iowa, has already been pegged as the next great Iowa 125-pounder. He’s ranked among the top five in two of the three major wrestling polls.

But Gilman, hailing from Council Bluffs, knows the hype and that just one match won’t decide the starting spot for the entire season. For proof of that, he just needs to look up at Tony Ramos.

Ramos, now the nation’s top 133-pounder, lost in the wrestle-off finals before the 2011-12 season to Tyler Clark, then a senior for Iowa. In response, Ramos knocked off Clark twice in real competition — a 4-1 win at the Joe Parisi Wrestling Open and then again at the Midlands in a 5-3 decision in the quarterfinals.

It’s easy to forget that Ramos lost in the wrestle-offs two years ago because of his success that came after it. His ability to perform in live competition has served him well — and part of that is because of his mindset.

“I can’t look at March. It’s November now,” Ramos said. “You go day-by-day, match-by-match. When we get to March is when we get to March, and I’ll start thinking about it then. … Next up right now is Luther, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

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