After winning three straight national titles, the rest of the college wrestling world was thinking this might be the year that Iowa took a step back. They must have forgotten that this is Iowa Wrestling you are talking about. The Hawkeyes head into the Big Tens this weekend as one of the teams to beat. We visit with wrestling analyst Mark Ironside to preview Iowa's post season chances.
Q: What have you thought about the development of this team over the course of the season?
IRONSIDE: That was kind of how it was going to be this season. People knew it was going to be an exciting year, but people didn't know what to expect. I think that made it exciting with all the new faces in there. I have been saying all along, it was going to be a year of progression and development and that is kind of what we are seeing. I think it makes it fun when you have coaches like Tom Brands and Terry Brands to have confidence in them and bring those guys along.
Q: Did some people maybe underestimate Iowa a little bit coming into the year based on how things have played out?
IRONSIDE: I think so. I think a lot of people underestimated us. Everyone talked about Penn State and Cornell, but I still think they underestimate us. We have to continue to go out and prove ourselves when it really counts, in the post season at the Big Ten's and at Nationals.
Q: Is this Coach Brands' best coaching job at Iowa given the way that he has brought this young team along?
IRONSIDE: That's hard to say. I've been asked that question a lot lately. I go back to his second year here when he won the national title. I thought that was a pretty phenomenal feat in bringing so many guys along so fast in that second year. That was really impressive. I couldn't answer it to be honest. Ask me that after we win a Big Ten title and an NCAA title and then we will have better answer.
Q: There has been some talk that Iowa is just a good dual team, but that they don't know how they will translate at events like the Big Ten's and NCAA's. What is your thought?
IRONSIDE: It's hard to say. I think the reason that people say that is the only thing they have to go off of is our dual meet season, which is undefeated with one tie and that looks very good. Then the only real tournament was the Midlands, where a lot of guys didn't perform up to their capabilities and we ended up getting fifth, or something like that. I think that the guys have really come a long way, which I think we have proven since the Midlands. They haven't had the chance to prove themselves since then in an individual tournament. I think one of the biggest things with this team and why they didn't perform as well at Midlands was they were off for Christmas break and they are still young. When they were off, they probably didn't get the things that they needed done in that short period of time during the break. Since then they been under a structured environment with the coaches and that has made a huge difference. I look for them to perform a lot better at the Big Ten's and at Nationals than they did at Midlands. I think the important thing for this team is that if and when they get into wrestlebacks that they don't just throw in the towel and fold up their cards. They have to keep fighting back and that is what will win the Big Ten's and NCAA's not just for Iowa, but any other team that wants to win.
Q: Coach Brands talks a lot at this time of the year about peaking. What goes into preparing this time of the year to be peaking in your performance?
IRONSIDE: A lot of it is fine tuning things from the wrestling standpoint. You have to fine tune your skills and preparing to beat specific individuals. A guy like Matt McDonough is going to be getting ready for Precin right now. He will start focusing on that. The other thing that comes into play is your nutrition. You can't let it slip even for a day. The other thing is your mind. It has to be feeling fresh and good as well as your body. You can't over train at this time of the year because you really aren't going to get into a whole lot better shape at this point. A lot of that homework should have been done. Now you just fine tune.
Q: How much of an impact did getting Montell Marion back on the mat have on the team? Did it energize the entire team?
IRONSIDE: I think so. You didn't really know what to expect with Montell back. You didn't know if he was going to be in good condition and he proved that right off the bat that he was. The other thing was that people say is that while he made the finals last year at the NCAA's, he didn't win Big Ten's. Is he real or not? I think he has proven that he is for real. The biggest thing is that he is a competitor. As far as energizing the team, absolutely. If you have a guy that is going to go out and wrestle at that high of a level every time he is out on the mat, that brings everyone else up to another level.
Q: Talk about some of these young guys that will be headed to their first Big Ten's and NCAA's. Guys like Tony Ramos, Derek St. John, and Grant Gambrall. What kind of an impact can they have?
IRONSIDE: It's really yet to be seen. I think it is a situation where myself and everyone else just don't know. We haven't really seen the real Tony Ramos come out in an event or competition like this. Same thing with Gambrall and a lot of the other younger guys like St. John. I am anxious to see what they are made of when it really counts. Obviously we have seen what they have done and they have come through in big matches. You look at Ramos against guys like Long and he has come though. But, the past is the past. I like what we have seen from Midlands on, but this is a whole different time of year. This is when it counts and you have to keep improving.
Q: What do you think of the way Matt McDonough has taken care of his business this year?
IRONSIDE: I think McDonough has done fairly well this year. He wasn't really himself early in the year. I think it was a situation where he might have been having to concentrate more on his weight control a little bit more. I think he is getting things under wraps now and since the Oklahoma State meet, he went into the Ohio State meet and started getting on a streak where he got some falls in a row. It is just a matter of him getting better all the time. Even though he was a national champion last year as a freshman, he is young and has a lot of improving to do. Same thing with his shots. The thing with Matt is you never have to worry about him. He has never had the attitude that since he was a national champion, he wouldn't have to work as hard. You do have to work that hard. They always say it is harder to win the second than the first, especially when you have guys like Precin and Robles in there. Those are good motivators for him and keep him from getting complacent. He is extremely fired up right now and that is the good thing about Matt McDonough.
Q: Are there any guys for Iowa that you think are peaking right now for Iowa who have the potential to do really well for the Hawkeyes?
IRONSIDE: I like Luke Lofthouse right now. He is a senior and he has been in the fire for quite a while. He is really coming along right now. The thing I really love about him is he gives you 100% every time out and he has a gas tank that never runs out. That will go a long way at that weight class and I look for good things out of Luke Lofthouse. He is a great kid, great personality, and a good leader in and out of the room. He does a lot of things right and that you are supposed to do. He is a little smaller for that weight, but he is keeps working and chopping away and eventually that tree will fall.
Q: Do you expect Welsh Ryan Arena to be a bunch of Iowa fans and then a bunch of fans cheering against Iowa this weekend?
IRONSIDE: I do, but the problem is I've heard that they aren't giving us the tickets that we need. It is going to be Iowa against the rest of the country, like it used to be. One whole side will be Iowa and the other side will be everyone else. I don't think Welsh Ryan is a big enough facility to hold the Big Ten's this year because of the way it is set up this year. With the NCAA's in Philadelphia, a lot of people can't make it out to that tournament because of the cost, so they are coming to the Big Ten's. I think Iowa fans could basically sellout Welsh Ryan on our own. It is matter of how many tickets are they going to give to the University of Iowa and then how many can our fans get from other schools, like Purdue, if they don't sell all of their tickets. That is what is so fun about being a Hawkeye. No matter what tournament it is or dual meet, it is everyone against us and that is what we love.
Q: How do you see the Big Tens playing out? Is it Iowa or Penn State as the favorites?
IRONSIDE: Yeah, I would say Iowa or Penn State. But, you can't count Minnesota out of there. Stranger things have happened in different tournaments. Minnesota has a lot of potential and they are expecting big things out of a lot of their guys. I think it will probably come down to Iowa or Penn State, but it is an 11 team field and all of the teams have individuals who they are expecting to do good things. When you get into a situation like that, anyone can knock off anyone at any given time.