EVANSTON, Ill. – Michael Kelly's face looked like he'd been in a brawl Monday, which is just the way he likes his wrestling matches.
A white wrap covered his left leg from the bottom of his singlet to the top of his socks. His cauliflower ears were bright red and his cheeks were swollen.
Despite all that, the Iowa senior insists he feels different this season. He said he feels fresh and to emphasize the point, he said so three times in one sound bite after grinding through three 157-pound slugfests Monday to reach the semifinals of the Midlands Championships.
"I'm fresh," Kelly said. "I'm motivated. My mind's fresh. I can worry a lot more about my wrestling as opposed to controlling my weight. I'm fresh. My mind's energized. I'm pumped up."
Then he paused and continued: "I didn't come here for five years to not get anything out of it."
To this point, Kelly's best finish in a significant tournament is the fifth he posted here as a redshirt freshman. But he has a chance to change that Tuesday.
Kelly is one of 10 Hawkeyes who advanced to Tuesday afternoon's semifinals as Iowa built a commanding lead in the Midlands team race.
The Hawkeyes racked up 110.5 points Monday to finish the day 21 ahead of second-place Illinois. Eight of the 10 wrestlers Iowa designated for team scoring remained in title contention, along with freshman 149-pounder Brandon Sorensen and All-American Nathan Burak, who competed unattached at 197.
Iowa picked up quarterfinal pins from Cory Clark and Bobby Telford and major decisions from Mike Evans and Sam Brooks, who dismantled All-American Ophir Bernstein of Brown 12-3 at 184.
"(The semifinals are) a big round," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "That's really where we're at. We've got to ratchet it up. We've got to be better (Tuesday) than we were in the quarters."
The Hawkeyes had slow starts in at least four quarterfinal bouts.
Clark gave up the first takedown before reversing Purdue's Danny Sabatello to his back for a first-period fall at 133. Nick Moore gave up early points before pulling out a 4-3 win at 165 against Cal State Bakersfield's Adam Fierro.
Sorensen used three takedowns in the third period during a 9-6 comeback win against Minnesota's Seth Lange at 149, and top-seeded Thomas Gilman turned a 5-1 lead into an 11-4 victory with three takedowns in the third against Minnesota freshman Ethan Lizak.
"The mat was right in front of the Iowa fans, so you've got to give them a show," Gilman said. "There's the team race, whether it's here or Big Tens or nationals, those majors, tech falls and falls are the difference, especially in close tournaments.
"But also, it's a personal thing. I want to get the best out of myself every second I'm on this Earth, so I need to push my lungs and push my capacity. I can do it, I've just got to do it a little bit more."
Kelly extended his career-best winning streak to 12 with a 7-4 victory against Rider's fourth-seeded Chad Walsh, who bounced the Iowa senior from last year's tournament with a fall in the consolations.
Besides the payback element, it capped a 3-0 day for the Iowa senior, whose job status appeared tenuous at the beginning of the tournament. Transfer Edwin Cooper, who moved up to 157 for compete for the starting spot, went 0-2 Monday.
Kelly said the challenge motivates him — and so does the thought that outsiders may have written him off after he compiled a 35-28 record during the previous three seasons. He said what drives him most, though, is his past results.
"He's very confident (this season), he's solid, he's not doing what he would call or I would call or any fan would call boneheaded mistakes," Brands said. "And even if you make a mistake, you overcome it. … He's starting to eliminate that kind of stuff. He's purging it from his wrestling and making guys work hard — because he's got a gas tank."