IOWA CITY — Tom Brands wasn’t overly enthused about finalizing his Iowa wrestling team’s lineup for this weekend’s Big Ten Championship by holding a couple of wrestle-offs last week.
"As nerve-wracking as it for the guys in those weights in that situation, it puts coaches in a straight jacket trying to figure out what is the right thing to do," Brands said. "You look at it, this guy beat that guy. That guy beat this guy. Nothing separates them."
So last Friday, the Hawkeyes held wrestle-offs to determine who would take the mat for Iowa at 141 pounds and at 174 for the two-day Big Ten Championships beginning Saturday at 9 a.m. at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.
Vince Turk earned his Big Ten opportunity at 141 with a 6-1 decision over Carter Happel and it took riding time to settle Joey Gunther’s 3-2 overtime decision at 174 over Kaleb Young.
All four have been in and out of the Hawkeye lineup all season, with coaches looking for separation that never happened.
"With just how the guys competed, they left us with no choice other than to do it this way," Brands said. "This is the fairest way to everybody involved."
Turk didn’t mind the winner-take-all scenario.
The sophomore has been walking a lineup tightrope all season.
"It’s been good competition all year, back and forth, and honestly, it’s probably helped both of us," Turk said. "It’s forced us both to be on top of our game every day when we show up for practice."
And now, the two-time Illinois state high school champ from Lombard Montini hopes to use that as he works to add to a 9-6 record this weekend.
"I always want to be the guy who pulls the trigger on offense," Turk said. "I want to be smart, but I want to be on the attack from the start. I’ve had to fight for a chance to compete this weekend, and I’m excited about it. I’m ready to fight, and I’m ready to go."
Turk attended last year’s Big Ten Championships at Indiana, supporting teammates while keeping one eye on the future.
"I spent a lot of time watching guys I knew I could find myself competing against this year. That was part of what I did there, just watching guys and thinking about how I might go at it if I was wrestling them," Turk said.
"I’ve done that the last two years, honestly, even when I redshirted. There’s been a lot I’ve learned by watching guys at my weight, how they handle certain situations, that type of thing. It helps get you ready to go out and be number one."
Turk will be one of five first-time entries for Iowa in the Big Ten Championships, one of the younger teams that Brands has taken to the conference tournament but a group with potential.
"It’s a big event, but our guys have wrestled in big events before," Brands said. "We’re approaching this as a qualifier, which it is (for the NCAA Championships), and all of our guys have wrestled in qualifiers before. Be ready. Go compete. That’s what we want to see."
Michael Kemerer is Iowa’s top returning placewinner from the 2017 Big Ten finals, looking to build on his runner-up finish at 157 pounds.
The only senior in the Iowa lineup, Brandon Sorensen, enters as the second seed to Penn State’s Zain Retherford at 149 pounds and looks for a chance to earn a championship that has eluded him during his career.
"The approach now remains the same as always," said Sorensen, a two-time runner-up who finished third at 149 a year ago. "You put what you learned all season to work and do everything you can to bring your best because in the Big Ten, that’s what it takes."