IOWA CITY – They aren’t handing out any medals Thursday at the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Iowa coach Tom Brands wants the Hawkeyes’ nine entries in the three-day tournament at St. Louis’ Scottrade Center to understand that a narrow focus can lead to big-picture objectives.
“Right now, the first match is the only thing that matters,’’ Brands said. “Then you concern yourself with the next one. Then, think about the next one. That’s the way it has to be.’’
With Cash Wilcke awarded a late spot in the bracket after another 197-pound qualifier dropped out because of an injury, the Hawkeyes will send an entry to mat in every weight class with the exception of 285.
“The numbers are there. We have to make sure the wrestling is there, too,’’ Brands said. “I like my guys. I like the way they are working. They understand that is when you have to be at your best every single time you step on the mat.’’
Five Hawkeyes will enter the meet as top five seeds, including top-seeded 125-pounder Thomas Gilman. The 27-0 senior is one of three Iowa wrestlers looking to improve on runner-up finishes from last year’s tournament, joining fourth-seeded Cory Clark at 133 and fifth-seeded Brandon Sorensen at 149.
Iowa redshirt freshman Michael Kemerer is seeded second at 157 and the Hawkeyes’ Sammy Brooks is the third seed at 184.
Kemerer, Wilcke, senior Topher Carton at 141 and freshman Joey Gunther at 165 will be making their NCAA debuts for the Hawkeyes, joining four returning all-Americans in the Iowa lineup including 11th-seeded Alex Meyer at 174.
Carton, a Davenport Assumption graduate, takes a 25-8 record into his opening-round match against Joshua Heil, a Campbell wrestler with a 15-11 record.
Wilcke, 16-11 in his first season in the Hawkeye lineup, simply welcomes the opportunity to compete.
“When I got the call, I was excited and then it was time to go back to work,’’ Wilcke said.
Iowa, which has finished no worse than fifth at the NCAA meet annually over the last nine seasons, enters the meet ranked third behind Penn State and Oklahoma State.
“We’re going to have to wrestle very well,’’ Brands said of Iowa’s chances in the team race.
“In the three weight classes where we are unseeded, we are going to have to wrestle well. Our guys who are seeded have to wrestle well. It’s about showing up every day and every round for three days.’’