Iowa wrestlers look to remove obstacles


By Richard Podhajsky

IOWA CITY, Iowa - No NCAA team title. No NCAA individual titles. Not even a National Duals title.

So what does the Iowa wrestling team have? Motivation.

A full six seasons removed from their last NCAA team championship, the Hawkeyes enter 2016 with plenty of talent but questions remain on how this team overtakes the new powers out east in Penn State and Ohio State.

"There's a lot of guys on this team and they have to be held accountable," said Brandon Sorensen, the junior who finished as a runner up at 149 pounds last year. "A great one is (senior 125-pounder) Thomas Gilman. He's holding people accountable, making sure you're getting every rep in, making sure everything's getting done right."

Iowa finished fifth at the NCAA Championships last season, its worst finish since Tom Brands' first season as head coach in 2006-07. With that in mind, accountability turned into the buzzword around Iowa's media day on Tuesday.

"You have to look at and analyze where you're at and that's on a lot of different fronts," Brands said. "One of the things that's a common theme, I talked about it already, is weight classes. You cannot give weight classes away and win a national title."

They should be covered on that front for half the lineup, with returning runner-ups in Sorensen, Gilman, and senior 133-pounder Cory Clark, to go along with All-Americans senior Alex Meyer at 174 pounds and senior Sammy Brooks at 184. And sophomore heavyweight Sam Stoll, who was on an All-American path before a knee injury derailed his season, will return at some point.

That leaves four weights where, as Brands says, someone has to take ownership of a weight. While he won't be in the lineup immediately, phenom 165-pound true freshman Alex Marinelli may get his chance this year. Brands says if guys are "whipping tail and taking names" they're going to be in the lineup.

Even if Marinelli ends up being utilized, it'll take big efforts from several others to make up the 42-point gap between Iowa and Penn State at the 2017 NCAAs.

"I happen to agree with the bonus point advantage; that's how you put good teams on the mat," Brands said of one magazine's analysis of the difference between Iowa and Penn State. "That doesn't mean we're in admiration of Penn State or that we're envious of them."

Gilman has long been the most vocal wrestler in the Iowa room and he'll be charged with helping get all 10 wrestlers not just competing, but wrestling at an acceptable pace.

"We're here to put on a show for the fans and to put ourselves out there," the senior said. "My sophomore year I didn't really put myself out there too much. I was too caught up maybe in just winning matches. And it's not really about winning matches here. It's about winning by a large margin and getting the fans excited."

Brands said this year's roster is deeper with those types of wrestlers and with the type of wrestlers who will hold themselves - and everyone else - accountable.

"Winning and dominating is very simple to talk about; a simple philosophy," Brands said. "But finding those ingredients in somebody everyday that's consistent, that's the challenge, and that's what everybody's challenge is. And we're in this the same as everybody else."

The problem for the Hawkeyes is they're not everybody else. And Gilman says they recognize the recent results haven't been good enough.

"It's definitely an elephant in the room," Gilman said. "But we talk about it. But more importantly we talk about individual titles because that's what's going to help us win a national team title."