IOWA CITY — Tom Brands bristles at the suggestion that the NCAA wrestling championship belongs to Penn State and the rest of the field is angling for second place this week in Pittsburgh.
“We’ve always been about team championships and individual championships regardless of what the pundits suggest,’’ the Iowa coach said Monday. “We realize that whatever way you look at things, we’ve got to perform.’’
The three-day tournament begins Thursday at Pittsburgh's PPG Paints Arena.
The Iowa lineup features a defending national champion in Spencer Lee at 125 pounds, an unbeaten and top-seeded Alex Marinelli at 165, another returning all-American in Sam Stoll at 285 and what Brands labels “plenty of possibilities’’ in six other weight classes.
Brands leans on history to give his team a chance.
Iowa won NCAA titles in 2008 and 2009 with nine qualifiers, crowning two champions and finishing with seven all-Americans in 2008 and finishing with five all-Americans but no champions a year later.
This year, the Iowa lineup has first-time qualifiers in freshman Max Murin at 141, sophomore Kaleb Young at 157 and freshman Jacob Warner at 197 and three-time qualifiers Cash Wilcke at 184 and Stoll as well as a pair of transfers with NCAA experience, Austin DeSanto at 133 and Pat Lugo at 149.
In the two weeks since a third-place finish in the Big Ten Championships, Brands likes the way things are coming together for a Hawkeye team which is working to top last year’s third-place effort in the NCAA meet.
“What we do, the way we’re working and preparing in nine weight classes, that will tell you that we’re in this thing to win it,’’ Brands said. “With an attitude like that, we’ve got a chance.’’
The only weight class where Iowa won’t have an entry this weekend is 174, but Brands said Mitch Bowman will join a number of other teammates in Pittsburgh this weekend.
“He’s driving out with some teammates and Mitch Bowman will be there giving support to his teammates and giving them the leadership he’s been giving us all season,’’ Brands said.
This year’s NCAA meet, the first to be held in Pittsburgh in 62 years, is a homecoming of sorts for four Hawkeyes who grew up in Pennsylvania.
A three-time state champion, Lee grew up 18 miles away from the arena where he will compete this week for a second national championship.
DeSanto, Murin and Young are also Pennsylvania natives, with Murin and Young growing up less than 80 miles away from Pittsburgh.
“I think we’re excited mostly about getting a chance to compete at nationals,’’ Lee said. “This is the biggest meet of the year, something we’ve been working toward for months. It’s good to be going back to where I grew up, but this is a business trip.’’
Brands said that suggests the Hawkeyes’ priorities are where they need to be entering the final meet of the season.
“These guys, they say their home is here and you love to hear that as a coach,’’ Brands said. “You love to hear that Iowa City and this university, this is where they want to be and where they want to train. Going back to Pennsylvania, this meet could be in Antarctica and they’d still be looking forward to going there to perform.’’