Kelly ready for mat time


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Michael Kelly knows his performance from last weekend’s Luther Open can be improved upon. He can be more dominant. He can score more points. He can take his wrestling to another level.

Those were his goals for this year, after all.

But before he talked about building leads and bonus-point victories this week, Kelly talked about having … fun?

“I’m just focusing on going out there and having fun,” he said. “That’s scoring points and building leads. Especially scoring lots of points.”

In Decorah last weekend, Kelly had a ton of fun by that definition. He corralled five-straight victories to win the 157-pound bracket in the Elite Division of the Luther Open, earning two pins and three decisions by a combined score of 28-15.

It was a good, but not perfect, start for Kelly, who enters his senior season as Iowa’s lead 157-pounder. He’s spent his last four years in the program bouncing back and forth between 157 and 149 with a mixed bag of results.

The native of Cedar Falls has a career record of 28-3 at 157 pounds while struggling to 30-26 at 149. There are plenty of reasons for this, of course, but a main point Kelly mentioned was that being up a weight allowed him to focus more on wrestling than the weight cut.

“I’m a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger,” Kelly said. “I feel good about things. I can worry about fine-tuning my wrestling and keeping my mind fresh. My mind’s energized and my body’s energized when I come [to practice], so I can continue to build.”

Kelly needs to continue to feel good about things if he’s to carry on the success Iowa’s recently had at 157 pounds. For the last four years, that spot was occupied by Derek St. John, who became just the 18th four-time All-American in program history — and that includes the 2013 157-pound national title.

Now that St. John graduated and moved on to coach at North Dakota State University, it paves the way for Kelly, who has been noticeably more motivated in the practice room.

“Mike Kelly, he’s a guy who knows what he wants,” 149-pounder Brody Grothus said. “This is his last crack at it. He said he’s having fun — winning’s fun. That’s how you have fun in this sport. You win.
“He wasn’t in the [final] lineup last year, and that’ll motivate you.”

It’s not as if Kelly has been handed the lineup spot, though. Head coach Tom Brands has indicated some wrestlers — specifically Brandon Sorensen and Edwin Cooper — might bump up from 149 pounds to challenge Kelly.

“We’ll see,” Brands said. “Mike Kelly, right now, is the guy there. We’ll see how it goes. I know that we have a lot of options there that we feel good about, at both weights — whether we’re moving guys up or if guys are already solid there. We have good options there.

“It’s really early to answer those questions, except if you’re one of those guys, you can answer them real easily. And that’s with performance and a wide gap in your scores.”

Brands said he has an idea of how all four guys — Cooper, Grothus, Sorensen, and Kelly — will be used in the early part of this season, and at which weights, but he still wants to see how each guy competes on the mat before he makes a decision down the road.

And if any of those guys decide to move up and try to usurp Kelly — well, he has a message for them.

“I welcome it,” Kelly said. “If they want to come up, come up. I welcome anybody that’s going to step out on the mat with me.”

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

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