Wrestlers put Wolverines in their sights


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When Thomas Gilman found out Iowa had clinched a share of the Big Ten regular-season title last weekend, he stopped and thought about it. He was confused and responded with a question of his own.

“A share of it?” he said. “Who are we going to share it with?”

Well, nobody — but only if the team beats Michigan tonight in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa, the No. 1 team in the country, according to Flowrestling and 13-0 this season, including eight wins over Big Ten opponents, will close its regular season at 7 p.m. against the 16th-ranked Wolverines, who come to Iowa City with a 6-5 record, 4-4 in the conference.

It’s been a mixed bag of a season for Michigan and coach Joe McFarland. The Wolverines have proven they can compete with some of the better teams in the country, losing by just 1 point to No. 2 Minnesota and by 4 to No. 5 Penn State, but they haven’t been consistent — the Maize and Blue lost by 10 to No. 3 Ohio State and then by 13 to No. 10 Nebraska.

The inconsistency in Michigan’s dual results means Iowa coach Tom Brands is making certain his team is focused. He said earlier this week the Hawkeyes need to be ready for whatever McFarland and Company decide to throw their way.

“They’re coming to do some damage,” Brands said. “They have a heated rivalry with us, in their mind, and if you look at the lineups they’ve put out the last few times out, they seem to be gearing for us. This isn’t something that I’m going to pretend is a secret. We have to be ready.

“That’s what’s in front of us. That’s what we’re focused on.”

But on top of clinching the Big Ten regular-season title outright, tonight’s dual is also Senior Night. Of the 10 usual starters this year, half are in their final season in a Black and Gold singlet.

It’s a big deal for them, Brands said, because of how far they’ve come since their first year on campus.

“There was a lot of damage control that we had to implement early on in their careers,” Brands said and chuckled. “It was kind of like the Wild, Wild West, and that’s a reflection on their personalities being competitors and being wild — and I’m not saying wild like in a bad way.

“I think we’ve done a good job of [corralling them], especially when you see how these guys have emerged as leaders. Bobby Telford, Mike Evans, the way they speak to the media, the way they’ve created personalities for themselves — that grabs the fans’ attention.”

Specifically, Brands noted Telford’s ornery antics and Evans’ mustache as trademarks that have helped establish them as characters — not just in Iowa’s fan base but throughout college wrestling. The coach noted that fans were probably attracted to their wrestling first, and that’s how he wants them to be remembered.

The Hawkeyes, of course, have bigger goals than the Big Ten regular-season title, but Telford said it’d be a nice addition to the already-huge collection of hardware — and a good start to what’s going to be a wild postseason of wrestling.

“It’s another feather in your hat,” Telford said. “It’s another accomplishment. It’s not what the initial goal of the season was, but it’s a milestone.

“It’s good, but we’re looking at the bigger picture also.”

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

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