Burak ready for next step


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The knock on Nathan Burak is that he’s always been a takedown — not a few points, a literal finished takedown — away from beating some, and being one, of the nation’s best at 197 pounds.

“A lot of it’s probably mental for me,” the junior said. “It’s just being in there and focusing on not being tired. It’s focusing on pressing and finishing, getting after it, and knowing that, no matter what, I’m going to take that guy down.”

Burak’s Iowa wrestling career has consisted of small strides. His freshman season was a struggle at first, but he ultimately managed a 20-17 record and was just a win away from becoming an All-American at the 2013 NCAA championships.

Last season, he improved, albeit slightly, en route to a 19-8 record and an eighth-place finish at the national championships.

This year, Burak is ready to improve further. He wants a higher spot on the podium at 197 pounds come March, and to get there, he said, consistency will be key.

“Consistency, as in, practice-wise,” Burak said. “Making sure I have good practices every day. I need to focus on dominating guys, getting my points, scoring points, not waiting, not holding back. Going early, getting to the legs, every practice, every day.”

Practicing with that kind of ambition is something Iowa head coach Tom Brands preached when asked about Burak. Brands noted that consistency should help Burak win some of those closer matches that eluded him during some of the season’s bigger tournaments.

At last year’s NCAA championships, Burak lost a tight 6-3 match to Virginia Tech’s Chris Penny in the quarterfinals. A victory would have sent Burak to the semifinals, which guarantees a top-six finish at any weight.

Even more, in the wrestlebacks of that same tournament, Burak lost to Duke’s Conner Hartmann, 4-2, in overtime. A win there would have also given Burak a top-six finish. He instead fell to the seventh-place match — and lost that, too.

“That can’t happen. We need those points,” Brands said. “So do you put the boot up his butt from a pressure point of view? Or do you kind of back off, because maybe he’s not that type of guy to respond that way?

“At some point, he has to figure out that this is your role and your responsibility that you have to come ready to go.”

Brands figures that time could be now, noticeable by the way Burak is more relaxed off the mat. He appears comfortable and often tells corny jokes before practices.

An example, from Brands: “He came up to me before practice the other day and asked if I heard the joke about the pepperoni pizza. Then he said, ‘Never mind, it’s cheesy.’ ”

That loose nature and sense of balance in his life, Brands said, is going to be crucial for Burak’s performance when the whistle blows.

“That’s where Nathan Burak is going to help himself the most, and he has taken steps,” Brands said. “So what steps has he taken? He’s gotten better.”

The pundits sure think so. Entering this season, Flowrestling ranked Burak sixth at 197 pounds. He’s listed behind five other returning All-Americans — including last year’s national champion, J’Den Cox, of Missouri.

If his individual strides are big enough, Burak is sure to be an integral role in Iowa’s title chase this season — something the whole team is working toward.

“We have a lot of motivated guys who want to bring the title back home,” 174-pounder Mike Evans said. “It’s going to take 10 guys firing on all cylinders.”

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa wrestling team.

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