Wrestling Commentary: Good, but not great


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The Iowa wrestling team has reached the midway point (give or take) in its season. And, so far, it’s been a nice season.

The Hawkeyes are 11-1 in duals this year, and they have won every official conference dual so far — by an average of nearly 29 points, I might add. That’s nice.

Iowa also went to Evanston, Ill., at the end of December and brought home the Midlands team title. Tom Brands and Company did so in record-setting fashion, scoring 187.5 points (breaking the Hawks’ own record). That’s nice.

Even more, the team trampled longtime wrestling rival Oklahoma State, 24-6, in Carver earlier this month. They won eight of 10 matches in that dual. That’s all really nice.

These accomplishments, in all, have been nice. Like I said, it’s been a nice season for Iowa so far.
But it hasn’t been great.There have been very few great moments, if you will, this season from the Iowa wrestling team. I can count two solid ones.

Brands seems to have found his 125-pounder in Thomas Gilman. Gilman, a Council Bluffs native, ran through the field at the Midlands, toppling the weight’s defending NCAA champion, Jesse Delgado, before manhandling another former All-American in the finals to win the tournament.

The team has also found someone to fill the 149-pound void in the lineup. Brody Grothus, an Iowa product from Davenport Assumption, has stepped up and provided not only consistency and toughness, he has also beaten some top-ranked wrestlers. He appears to be the guy who can put to rest three years of mediocrity at a weight in which Iowa has failed to score a single point at the Big Ten championships, much less send a wrestler to the NCAA championships.

Those two stories are great. They really are.

But they’re being overshadowed by just about everything else that’s making this season just, well, nice.

It’s not going to be a cakewalk for Tony Ramos at 133 pounds this year, as most people — me included — thought it might be. Derek St. John seems to have taken a back seat to Nebraska’s James Green at 157 pounds. Mike Evans is continuing to struggle against the nation’s top 174-pounders.

There are other issues with this team, of course. Questions abound up and down the lineup. And that’s because of the expectations this team, this program, has for itself.

Those expectations are to be great, not nice.

Those expectations are to beat what Cael Sanderson is creating over in State College, Pa.

And right now, this team doesn’t seem to be in position to do that.

What Sanderson has built over there is exactly what he planned to build. He’s keeping those Pennsylvania and New Jersey prep wrestlers — which are consistently some of the best in the country — close to home, putting them in the same room together and letting them beat up on each other.

The result? Penn State has a team that, barring some sort of insane meltdown, will more than likely win its fourth NCAA title in as many years.

That’s great. Really great.

College wrestling is a strange world. Most coaches will tell you that the whole season is practice until March hits.

And there’s a lot of truth in that. March really is the only thing that matters.

From what I’ve seen so far in “practice,” Iowa is more in position to claim second place in March than some of the other contenders. When teams such as Minnesota, Oklahoma State, and the Sooners are healthy and primed to go, it will certainly be a dogfight for that silver trophy.

Iowa has what it takes to come out of that group on top and to take second place. Don’t be surprised if that’s where they end up after those three crucial days in March.

And second place is nice. It really is.

But it’s not great.

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