IOWA CITY — Seeds don’t interest Tom Brands or his Iowa wrestlers preparing for Thursday’s start of the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Results are what matters to the nine Hawkeyes working to craft a strong finish to the season when they take the mat at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
“It’s about the mindset that you take into that first match, what you do with it and then what you do with the next one,’’ Iowa 125-pound freshman Spencer Lee said Monday. “If you approach it that way, you’ll get to where you want to be when it’s all over.’’
In general, where the Hawkeyes want to be when it’s all over on Saturday is to finish the season above expectations.
Iowa is looking to rebound from its worst finish in the Big Ten Championships in 13 years: A fourth-place effort that was disappointing by Hawkeye standards.
“We’re not looking back. We’re looking forward,’’ said senior Brandon Sorensen, the Hawkeyes’ top seed with a No. 2 at 149 pounds. “This is the meet you work toward all season. This is when you want to be at your best and where you need to be at your best.’’
Brands said every wrestler in the Hawkeye room understands that.
“It’s how we’re built,’’ he said.
He also believes the Hawkeyes have a chance to exceed lower-than-normal expectations on college wrestling’s biggest stage.
Among Iowa’s nine NCAA qualifiers are four sophomores, one redshirt freshman and one true freshmen, the largest collection of young wrestlers Among Big Ten programs in this year’s field and the most for the Hawkeyes since sending six sophomores to the 2008 NCAA meet in St. Louis.
Beyond Sorensen and Lee, the Hawkeyes’ NCAA lineup includes two No. 5 seeds, Alex Marinelli at 165 and Sam Stoll at 285; sixth-seeded Michael Kemerer at 157; 14th-seeded Cash Wilcke at 197; and three unseeded first-time qualifiers, Vince Turk at 141, Joey Gunther at 174 and Mitch Bowman at 184.
Lee and Sorensen enter the NCAA finals with the top RPI in the field at their weight classes, a ratings percentage index measure that rates Stoll second, Marinelli third and Kemerer sixth.
The RPI is among factors that led to the seeds Hawkeyes received and where they were placed in the bracket, but at the end of the day Brands said it still is and will always be about what takes place during seven minutes on the mat.
“We have the numbers and we know we have the firepower,’’ Brands said. “The seeds, they don’t mean a thing now. It’s about how you wrestle each match and how you handle your part of the bracket. Every wrestler we have is capable of good things.’’
The way Brands views it, it becomes about turning potential into points.
“Rock and roll, let it fly, one match at a time, that’s what it is all about now,’’ said Brands, who has qualified at least eight Hawkeyes for nationals in each of his 12 seasons.
Brands likes the businesslike approach he senses in the Iowa wrestling room and doesn’t mind that a number of his wrestlers left the Big Ten meet feeling like they have something to prove.
Kemerer, who joins Sorensen as a returning all-American, said he is healthy and ready to go after injuries impacted his sixth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships.
“Physically and mentally, you’ve got to believe in yourself and your abilities. That’s where it starts. Then, you’ve got to go out and prove it,’’ Kemerer said.
“We’re ready. This week is what we train for all year. For all of us, it’s about doing what we are capable of and if we get that done, everything else takes care of itself.’’