IOWA CITY – It’s now or never.
Tom Brands wants his Iowa wrestling team to embrace that notion as it prepares for Thursday’s start to the NCAA Championships.
“All season long we talk about having peaks for certain meets and that type of thing, but this week, it’s when you have to be at your best and when you have to peak,’’ Brands said Monday. “There is nothing beyond this meet. We build all year for this – let’s go do some damage.’’
Brands believes the Hawkeyes are among teams positioned to make a run at ending Penn State’s three-year stronghold on the NCAA title.
For the first time since 2010, Iowa has entries in all 10 weight classes for the NCAA meet, including six wrestlers who are seeded in the top five for the three-day championship which begins at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
A strong second-place finish 6.5 points behind the Nittany Lions at the Big Ten Championships earlier this month – and the realization that Iowa didn’t maximize its point potential in that meet – has energized the Hawkeyes.
“The Big Ten meet was eye opening,’’ Iowa 133-pounder Tony Ramos said. “It’s not Penn State and everybody. More than one team can win this.’’
Defending NCAA champion Derek St. John is the highest seeded Hawkeye, earning the second seed at 157 pounds despite going 5-4 during his most recent matches after a 20-0 start to his senior season.
Ramos is seeded third at 133, Mike Evans is the fourth seed at 174, while Nick Moore at 165, Ethen Lofthouse at 184 and Bobby Telford at 285 enter the NCAA meet as fifth-seeded entries.
“The seeds don’t matter at this point,’’ Brands said. “What matters now is being in the right frame of mind and getting ready for match number one. That’s where it starts.’’
Brands believes the tests provided by Iowa’s 15-2 dual season have prepared his team for the tests it will face at the NCAA meet, where seven Hawkeyes will be able to lean on previous experience.
In addition to the six Hawkeyes seeded in the top five, Iowa’s Nathan Burak at 197 is a returning NCAA qualifier while Cory Clark at 125, Josh Dziewa at 141 and the Hawkeyes’ lone at-large entry, Brody Grothus at 149, will make their NCAA debuts this week.
“Experience helps and I think the Big Ten meet showed us all how important it is for us to get as many points as we can from every spot in the lineup,’’ Lofthouse said. “We wrestled a good Big Ten meet, but we all walked away knowing that it could have been even better. It’s up for us to make that happen now.’’
That is what Brands wants his team to understand when it leaves today for Oklahoma City.
He likes the approach he has seen from his team during its final workouts before Iowa chases its 24th national title in the sport, saying that the Hawkeyes “have come to work with the right attitude.’’
“Our best wrestling has to come out now,’’ he said. “There is potential in every one of these guys and that potential has to come out now and it has to be there consistently over three days.’’