IOWA CITY, Ia. – A corner section inside Iowa’s wrestling locker room morphs daily into a three-man battleground.
Juniors Thomas Gilman and Sam Brooks share turf with associate head coach Terry Brands. Sometimes they gang up to agitate everyone else in sight. Sometimes they turn against each other. Either way, they're known to playfully push and shove, toss someone else's belongings across the room and pull other button-pushing shenanigans.
“It’s all in good fun,” Gilman said. “But sometimes you’re not in the best mood and it gets under your skin a little bit and you’ve got to figure out how to deal with it.”
Iowa's Thomas Gilman is 8-0 with eight bonus-point victories this season. Andy Hamilton/The Register
Perhaps no coincidence, Gilman is ornerier than ever this season. And the second-ranked Hawkeyes followed suit with their leadoff man Thursday night by roughing up No. 11 Rutgers 29-6 in front of 6,791 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Gilman pulverized No. 18 Sean McCabe 21-6 at 125 pounds in a tone-setting technical fall and freshman heavyweight Sam Stoll topped sixth-ranked Billy Smith 3-1 in overtime to cap Iowa’s thrashing of a Scarlet Knights squad that came in flying high after a victory against then-No. 7 Cornell.
“We’re showing them they’ve got a long ways to go, and the rest of the country has a long ways to go, too,” Gilman said. “Whenever you have a good match, you like to run your mouth a little bit. But when you wrestle a real team like us, a real hard-nosed team, we’ll shut them up real quick.”
Iowa won eight bouts – its only defeats came in matches against All-Americans Anthony Ashnault and Anthony Perrotti – and picked up technical falls from Gilman and Brandon Sorensen at 149 and a major decision from Cory Clark at 133.
The Hawkeyes held a 31-7 advantage in takedowns and a 98-44 upper hand in match points.
Maybe more important, Iowa logged its first victories of the season against ranked opponents at 157 and heavyweight. Edwin Cooper capitalized on a shot off the opening whistle and held off No. 17 Richie Lewis late to win a 6-4 decision at 157 in a battle of former Iowa Central products.
Stoll ran his record to 7-1 when he spun around Smith 20 seconds into overtime for the winning takedown against the three-time NCAA qualifier.
“If he can (dictate the pace) for seven minutes, then we’re going to have a pretty good heavyweight,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “(That was) a good, solid patient match.”
Iowa coach Tom Brands on his team's 29-6 victory against No. 11 Rutgers. Andy Hamilton/The Register
There was hardly anything patient about Gilman’s approach. The second-ranked All-American jogged to the mat Thursday to the tune of Merle Haggard’s 1970 country hit ‘The Fightin’ Side of Me’ and promptly put his cantankerous side on display by scoring nine points in the opening period.
“I like old country music,” he said. “I’m an old soul. I think ‘Fightin’ Side of Me’ is a good song for the season for me. When I step on the mat, you’re offending me and getting on my fighting side and I’m going to show you that you shouldn’t be on the side of me.”
Gilman won 31 matches, scored bonus points in 20 and placed fourth at the NCAA Championships as a sophomore, but he seems to have found a new gear this season. He’s scoring faster and more frequently this season.
He said he’s trying to “put fear in” his present and future opponents with wide-margin victories. He has eight bonus-point wins in eight bouts this season.
Tom Brands credits Gilman’s dominance to a greater understanding of readiness and a bigger arsenal of attacks. Gilman chalks it up to a psychological advantage over opponents, perhaps some of which stems from mind games inside the Iowa locker room.
“They’ve got a nice little corner over there,” Brands said. “They call it ‘The Toughest Corner in the Locker Room.’ And it might be. I would say there’s other corners in the locker room that are pretty tough. My corner has (Dan) Gable in it, so when Gable shows up that’s a pretty tough corner.
“There’s a lot of sparring that goes on when that corner doesn’t group together and take on the whole locker room, then they’re sparring amongst each other, so they’re always battling.”
Iowa coach Tom Brands describes in-house mind games. Andy Hamilton/The Register