Lineup pieces coming together for Iowa wrestling
Piece by piece, Iowa is getting closer to putting its complete wrestling lineup puzzle together.
A key section is set to snap back into place Friday night when Cory Clark returns to his 133-pound spot in the Hawkeye order at Illinois, and Brody Grothus, the possible solution to Iowa’s struggles at 141, is on track to make his first appearance of the season Saturday at the Pat Flanagan Open in Dubuque.
Both are important developments for the second-ranked Hawkeyes in their pursuit of the program’s eighth Big Ten dual title in nine years.
Clark, a returning NCAA finalist ranked second, said he’s “ready to rock” again after pulling the plug on his title defense at the Midlands Championships prior to the Dec. 30 semifinals.
“I just banged up my knee a little bit and didn’t really think anything of it until the next morning,” he said. “I laid down and my heart rate and my adrenaline went down and I woke up in the middle of the night and my leg was throbbing.”
Clark said the injury responded well to rest last week. He’s stepping back into the 133-pound fire Friday against No. 7 Zane Richards in a clash of undefeated juniors. Clark won two of the three meetings against Richards last season, including an 8-2 decision in the Big Ten quarterfinals.
Grothus was an NCAA qualifier in 2014 at 149, where he posted regular-season wins against the eventual top-four finishers at the national tournament. He was off to a 14-2 start last season before an ankle injury shelved him after an overtime loss to returning national champion Jason Tsirtsis in the Midlands semifinals.
By the time Grothus was ready to compete again, though, Brandon Sorensen had seized Iowa’s starting job with a 14-match win streak that included four victories over top-five opponents. It left Grothus in a hurried attempt to shed pounds and challenge for the starting spot at 141. He made it to 142.9 before calling off his bid.
“This year is way different in terms of doing it the right way and shrinking my body the right way,” he said. “I feel better than I ever have in my life, and that’s honestly a fact. Getting to ’41, a lot of people have asked me how I’m going to hold up, but in my mind I’ve got to work out longer, I’ve got to work out more and both of those things combined, I’m going to be in the best shape of my life when I go out on that mat.”
Grothus said he’s been taking steps to make 141 since undergoing shoulder surgery in the summer. He said he altered his diet, eating more fruit, vegetables and chicken and less red meat and gradually shed pounds. He made scratch weight nearly a month ago.
The shoulder has been another matter. There was talk that Grothus might make his season debut at the Midlands, but Iowa coach Tom Brands has taken a conservative approach.
“He could go this week in our dual meets, (but) I think the smart thing to do is to break him in, like this is early-season for him, which it is,” Brands said.
“We’ve still got to be smart and safe. I think we’re on track. In my head, this was the timeline. We talked about Midlands, but maybe that’s more to speed things up in his head and put and urgency on him.”
Urgency hardly seems like an issue for Grothus at this point.
“It’s been over a year since I’ve wrestled a match and I frickin’ can’t wait,” he said. “I don’t care what tournament it is or who my opponent is, I’m ready to rip some heads off.”