The Hawkeye 197-pounder is ranked sixth nationally but a redshirt candidate. Chad Leistikow/The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. – The first seven questions Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands fielded from reporters Wednesday had to do with a guy that hasn't wrestled a varsity match all season.
When your team is ranked No. 1 in the country, every lineup decision becomes critically important. And that's the case when Brands mulls whether he will redshirt Nathan Burak at 197 pounds.
Burak has battled unspecified injuries to start his junior season, but says he's 100 percent and ready to go at the Dec. 29-30 Midlands Championships in Evanston, Ill. Burak will be one of seven Hawkeyes to wrestle unattached at the Midlands, giving Brands more time to consider what to do with a guy that Intermat ranks No. 6 nationally at 197.
"He wants to go. We've got to make sure it's the right thing," Brands said. "This Midlands will tell us a lot."
Burak won his only four matches this year, at the Luther Open, wrestling unattached – keeping the redshirt option on the table. He was listed as the starter at 197 against Michigan State on Dec. 6, but redshirt sophomore Alex Meyer of Southeast Polk — who weighed in at 179 that night — got the nod instead.
On the Burak subject, Brands spoke Wednesday about having other good options at 197 "that might not be real evident on the outside looking in, but are very evident to us."
Of the redshirting option, Burak said, "It's ultimately up to Coach Brands, and I trust his decision. So that's where I'm at with it right now."
Meyer will wrestle 174 and Midlands, and junior Kris Klapprodt (8-3 this year) will go at 197. Brands said Sammy Brooks is cemented into Iowa's 184-pound lineup spot and was not a candidate at 197. Mike Evans is a two-time all-American at 174 who was a Pennsylvania high school state champion at 189 pounds.
"There's a lot of firepower at some other weights that we can play with," Brands said. "We've got some pretty tough guys at weights below 97 that are some good options at 97.
"We're not giving up on anybody, it's just a matter of where's the best place for guys, and who's going to be the No. 1 guy, and who gives us the best chance to score the most points at that weight. Because it's going to take 10 weight classes to win the nationals."
At Midlands, the Hawkeyes got a waiver to bring 17 wrestlers — two more than the usual 15 — and Brands is using some of those spots to see what some true freshmen can do against stiff competition.
Seth Gross of Apple Valley, Minn., will go at 141; Burke Paddock of Warsaw, N.Y., will go at 174; and Sam Stoll of Kasson, Minn., at heavyweight. All three will wrestle unattached to preserve their redshirts. All three are behind senior starters at their weights.
Brands will definitely have a close eye on how two other weight classes shake out — at 149 between Brody Grothus and Brandon Sorensen, and at 157 between Michael Kelly and Edwin Cooper.
Grothus and Sorensen have had a hot battle for that starting spot at 149. Brands mentioned Wednesday whichever wrestler emerged in Evanston would get the nod in Big Ten Conference road duals Jan. 2 (Rutgers) and Jan. 4 (Ohio State).
"This would tell as much as anything all year has told (between the two)," Brands said. "So it's pretty important."
The Hawkeyes will take 17 wrestlers to the Midlands on Dec. 29-30, including three unattached freshmen. Chad Leistikow
IOWA'S MIDLANDS LINEUP
The Hawkeyes will take 17 wrestlers to the Midlands Championships on Dec. 29-30 in Evanston, Ill. That list, with career records at Iowa:
125: Thomas Gilman, soph. (26-3 career); 133: Cory Clark, soph. (31-4); 141: Josh Dziewa, sr. (64-17); Seth Gross, fr. (11-2, unattached); 149: Brody Grothus, jr. (41-21); Brandon Sorensen, fr. (14-1); 157: Edwin Cooper, jr. (8-3); Michael Kelly, sr. (44-28); 165: Nick Moore, sr. (61-23); 174: Mike Evans, sr. (86-22); Alex Meyer, soph. (27-7); Burke Paddock, fr. (13-3, unattached); 184: Sammy Brooks, soph. (27-7); 197: Nathan Burak, soph. (43-25); Kris Klapprodt, soph. (46-12); Hwt.: Sam Stoll, fr. (12-3, unattached); Bobby Telford, jr. (84-22).