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Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands likes his squad's potential for next season.

Iowa’s Tom Brands touts program’s future while wrestling with expectations

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ANSWER: Iowa’s current wrestling predicament is bordered by relentless historical standards on one side and a genuine excitement for what it did last month at the NCAA Tournament and what it’s capable of doing next year and beyond.

Iowa wrestling finished third nationally in March behind Penn State and Ohio State. Third place never placates coach Tom Brands or any of the Hawkeyes’ supporters, which are the nation’s most loyal. But it’s a step in the right direction for the program.

“Third place in the national tournament is a hard topic to talk about because the thing is you never want to settle and be OK with anything with being the best,” Brands said, “especially when you have the kind of young men that we have in our wrestling room who strive and attain greatness. And greatness for them is to be the best and then they’re not the best. There’s 10 individual weight classes and we had one champ. So really we were 10 percent capacity.

“But on the other hand, as you get older, you realize that when you say those things in public, over and over again and you’re never satisfied, there’s like a stigma placed on you like you’re bitter. Or you’re just one of these guys that you have to be the best at all costs and nothing else matters. That is not true. That is not true with us. Everything matters in our program.”

The Hawkeyes, who were 12-3 in duals last year, were ranked seventh going into the NCAA Tournament. Iowa finished with 97 points, which was well behind Penn State (141.5) and Ohio State (134.5). But it was well beyond what fourth-place Michigan and N.C. State (80) scored as well.

Iowa featured one champion with one of the most dominant performances in NCAA Tournament history. Freshman Spencer Lee scored 27.5 points by himself in winning the 125-pound bracket. He outscored his five opponents 60-4 with two falls, technical falls and a 5-1 decision against previously unbeaten Nick Suriano of Rutgers, who hadn’t surrendered a point in the NCAA Tournament until that loss.

Of the Hawkeyes’ five All-Americans, four return — Lee, Michael Kemerer (157, fourth), Alex Marinelli (sixth, 165) and Sam Stoll (heavyweight, fifth). Penn State still brings back six All-Americans, including four who have won national titles. Ohio State has five returning All-Americans.

While Iowa won’t be the national favorite next year, it will enter the conversation as a contender.

“The team we have right now, we’re young,” Brands said. “We had one champ, Spencer Lee, and if you haven’t heard of him, you’re living under a rock. He’s a freshman, he’s got three years left.

“We’ve lost one All-American, Brandon Sorensen, who is a four-time All-American. He’s represented our program very, very well. Everybody else after that is a junior and below. When I say everybody else, I’m talking about the guys who are All-American or the guys who are going to factor in big-time next year.

“We have Jacob Warner, this guy, a 197-pounder we’ll plug into the lineup next year, we’ve got some recruits coming in. So we’re young, but it’s time to get the job done. It’s time to get the job done without sounding like a broken record.”

Warner redshirted last season but was a monster in high school. He won three state titles at Washington (Ill.) and didn’t allow a point as a senior.  Warner was a two-time Fargo national champion in freestyle and Greco-Roman (2015, 2017) and finished 15-4 wrestling unattached this season.

Iowa has won 23 of the last 44 NCAA titles but none since 2010. The Hawkeyes are still a step behind the Nittany Lions, but they’re getting closer to achieving the program’s expectations than any time in the last five years.

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