Iowa restoring order in college wrestling with its dominance
Top-ranked Hawkeyes performing at a level umatched right now
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – For nearly a decade as Penn State grew into a college wrestling dynasty, Tom Brands had to deal with not being the best in his sport for a change.
And he dealt with it the best way he knew how, and that was to just keep working, competing, grinding, teaching, recruiting, mentoring and inspiring, everything a head coach does on a daily basis.
Brands never has talked much about Penn State’s rise to dominance under Cael Sanderson, at least not to the media, because he would rather focus on his team, and on his challenges.
Or so it seems, and fair enough because why worry about what you can’t control?
Brands knew that Iowa had to climb to Penn State’s level of dominance because Penn State is built to sustain under Sanderson.
And though it took nearly a decade, Brands, with help from so many people on and off the mat, has lifted Iowa to Penn State’s level, and beyond.
You don’t have to be a wrestling expert to see why Iowa is the top-ranked team in the country right now, and why Iowa was the heavy favorite to win the 2020 national championship before it was canceled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The Hawkeyes demolished Illinois 36-6 on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, improving to 3-0 on the season, and with all three matches hardly competitive.
Spencer Lee opened Sunday’s match with a first-period pin at 125 pounds, and that helped set the tone for dominance.
It’s unfortunate that Iowa didn’t have the chance to face second-ranked Michigan on Sunday because that would’ve been a true test of Iowa’s strength.
Michigan had to cancel due to COVID-19 health concerns.
It also is unfortunate that fans can’t attend Iowa’s matches due to COVID-19 restrictions because imagine the energy they would provide for this team.
Penn State made its debut on Saturday, winning two matches against Indiana and Northwestern by scores of 24-15 and 29-13, respectively.
The Nittany Lions are loaded with talented wrestlers, and led by a living legend in Sanderson, who won an Olympic gold medal and never lost a match in four seasons at Iowa State.
But Iowa has more firepower up and down its roster than Penn State has right now.
The current Iowa team is sort of similar to some of the Penn State teams that combined to win eight of the last nine national titles.
Building depth is a big part of establishing dominance and Iowa currently has 10 wrestlers ranked in the top eight nationally, including three who are ranked first: Lee at 125 pounds, Jaydin Eirman at 141 pounds and Michael Kemerer at 174 pounds.
Lee and Kemerer are both from Pennsylvania, as is Austin DeSanto at 133 pounds, Max Murin at 149 pounds and Kaleb Young at 157 pounds.
Half of Iowa’s starting lineup comes from the state of Pennsylvania, which just adds some spice to the storyline.
The Iowa coaches have gone to Penn State’s backyard to add the pieces that it took to end Penn State’s stranglehold on wrestling.
Kemerer’s commitment was big because he was the first in the group to pick Iowa.
Lee’s commitment was huge because he is now poised to become the greatest wrestler in the history of the Iowa wrestling program.
And that speaks volumes because just think of all of the great wrestlers who have represented Iowa.
Lee is an incredible talent, a near-perfect blend of physical and mental dominance. He has helped to change the culture, not that it needed a huge change, but Iowa’s culture needed a spark.
Tom Brands and his twin brother Terry Brands were also dominant wrestlers for Iowa, combining to win five individual national titles.
Tom Brands also won an Olympic Gold Medal in 1996, so he’s used to being on top.
It would be foolish to consider Iowa a lock to win the 2021 national team title because there are too many uncertainties, from injuries to upsets to the impact of the global pandemic.
The competition also deserves respect, and in Penn State’s case, there is no way it’ll give up the throne without a fight.
But the days of Iowa having to look up to Penn State are gone, at least for now.
Tom Brands, with help from Terry Brands, and from the other Iowa assistant coaches, has worked hard to close the gap with Penn State, and to achieve this level of dominance. Iowa is now in position to win the national team title for the first time since 2010, as it was last season.
Iowa’s dominance on Sunday, and in its first two victories over Nebraska and Minnesota, was reminiscent of the dominance under Dan Gable in the 1980s and 1990s.
It sort of feels like order has been restored in college wrestling.