IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tom Brands likes to dig a little deeper.
The veteran Iowa wrestling coach was certainly pleased with the Hawkeyes’ first-place Midlands finish that included three individual champions, but the intricacies of the strong team outing had Brands the most excited.
“It’s not just a momentum-builder because the team had a good team performance,” he said during Wednesday’s media availability. “It’s more where we had a good team performance.
“We were without Cory Clark, but you have a guy like Phil Laux who scores bonus-point wins on the backside of the bracket and had a front-side win. Joey Gunther had two bonus-point wins. You had a guy in Sam Stoll who wasn’t even going to wrestle a full tournament and just kept talking about his next opponent after the match he got done with, and he ends up getting third. We’ve got two true freshmen who placed in the top five. Those are the things I’m talking about.”
The No. 3 Hawkeyes (5-0) will look to spill that success into this weekend’s Michigan slate. Iowa faces the 15th-ranked Wolverines (3-1 in dual competition) at 6 p.m. Friday, then heads north to East Lansing for Sunday’s noon showdown at Michigan State (2-4). That trek kicks off a treacherous stretch that features four top-15 foes in a three-week span.
Continuing to hone in on those details could yield a slew of positive results.
Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands talks Midlands win, upcoming Michigan slate.
“We’re going to know a lot more about this team after these next five events,” Brands said, “but the old saying that you just take care of what’s in front of you still holds true. So that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to get ready for Michigan on Friday night and then go from there.
“I think there are a lot of things you can look at about this team that are encouraging, and from my point of view, we want to make sure that stays consistent. We want to give them the message that we’ve got to keep getting better and keep doing the right things.”
Back at it
The Michigan road trip should mark the return of the top-ranked Clark, who is listed among Iowa’s probables for the first time in more than a month. The redshirt senior All-American has missed the Hawkeyes’ last three matches with an undisclosed injury and hasn’t wrestled since Nov. 27 at Purdue.
Clark is listed at 133 pounds along with Laux, who went 2-4 while Clark was sidelined.
‘I never said stop’
Stoll’s return was a promising one.
Sidelined indefinitely since undergoing knee surgery in March, the 6-foot-3 sophomore made his season debut at Midlands, going 5-1 with a third-place finish at 285 pounds. Stoll wasn’t even necessarily going to wrestle the entire tournament, Brands said. But the first day went smoothly. Things just kept rolling from there.
“I never said stop, and Tom never said stop,” Stoll said. “After I came off the matches, I was already thinking about my next matches. Just kept going.
“We never really talked about (not wrestling the whole tournament). The only time anything was said was after the first day. I asked, ‘What time are we leaving the next morning?’ And (Brands) was like, ‘You want to go?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’”
Given the extended layoff, Stoll was happy just “to be part of the team again.” He’ll be in the lineup again this weekend, looking to shake off any lingering rust.
“You come here and have a job to do,” he said, “You want to wrestle, and not getting to do that is frustrating, having to sit on the sidelines. And then even when you start to come back, you’re still not doing the things you want to do.
“… You’re never where you want to be. I think I did get a little tired in that (semifinal) match (against Arizona State’s Tanner Hall), but it probably didn’t affect me as much as I think it did. But you’ve always got more to improve there. So I just want my shape to keep coming around, keep wrestling and working hard.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.