The Hawkeyes haven't won an NCAA wrestling title since 2010.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Thomas Gilman stood confidently as recorders and cameras encircled him, completely unaware he was a Tom Brands talking point 30 minutes earlier.
The nation’s top-ranked 125-pound collegiate wrestler was fiery. He was motivated. He was the biggest personality in the Iowa wrestling room.
And he bore a striking resemblance to the coach who had proudly described him at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“The expectation every year is to be national champs, team and individual, from (125) all the way up to heavyweight,” Gilman said at Wednesday afternoon’s media day.
“Are those realistic? Some people say no. I say yes. I’m biased and I’m wired a little bit differently, but if we put everything together every single week and every single minute of match, there’s no reason we can’t have a national champ at every weight and blow everyone out of the water.”
Gilman is one of three returning NCAA runner-ups to Iowa’s lineup for the 2016-17 season, bringing energy and aggressiveness from the leadoff spot. Which is just how Brands wants the entire team entering his 11th season in charge.
Animatedly holding up a sticker from a weight-lifting contraption downstairs — “STAY CLEAR: Machine in use” — Brands started his season-opening press conference by comparing the senior to the warning sign.
“This goes on all his gear,” Brands said. “It’s a warning to his opponents, in the practice room, and it’s serving as a national message.
“We love Gilman. Gilman is the leader of this team. He does things right from a practice point of view, lifestyle point of view, the way he competes, the way he represents the team.”
And the fifth-year wrestler from Council Bluffs is not alone at the top of the national rankings. Southeast Polk alum Cory Clark returns after a runner-up campaign at 133 and an offseason of workouts around Gilman and Olympic qualifier Daniel Dennis.
“We all wish we could go back in time and re-do our finals matches,” Clark said. “But you can’t do that and that’s reason to continue to pull forward and move on quickly.”
Clark went 26-2 as a redshirt junior. Gilman was a smidge better at 28-2 with his only losses coming to NCAA champion Nico Megaludis. Brandon Sorensen was the third finalist at 149, earning all-American honors for the second time.
Preseason expectations are sky-high for the lightweight group. Like Wednesday’s press conference was a Big Ten dual, Brands refused to back down from them. And Gilman dove straight in.
“When you start calling people and calling attention to yourself, you’ve really got to make sure you’re doing all the right things,” Gilman said.
“There can be no more lapses in judgement. I’ve got guys looking to me everywhere I turn … I’ve got to walk the walk and lead by example.”
Sam Stoll slugging back to lineup
Iowa’s heavyweight starter is likely opening his sophomore season on the sideline. Sam Stoll injured his left knee late last season, competing in the Big Ten and NCAA Championships despite the pain, but was forced to injury default in both tournaments.
The Kasson, Minn., native is back to working out with the Hawkeyes and hoping to be cleared for competition soon.
“It’s been a struggle,” Stoll said. “It’s not fun to sit and do rehab and watch a bunch of my teammates wrestle. I can only go forward.
“There’s a hurry to get back, just that I want to get out there and compete. But I’ve also got to do what’s right my health. I don’t want to come back too soon and not be ready to go.”
Hawkeye Wrestling Club heavyweight Bobby Telford and volunteer assistant coach Ben Berhow have been his training partners recently. Iowa expects redshirt freshman Steven Hollway to take the heavyweight spot until Stoll returns to full-speed.
“Is (Stoll) practicing? Yes,” Brands said. “Is he on the mat? Yes. Is he ready to go right now, today? No. Is he making progress? Absolutely.”
Weights with question marks
Iowa’s situation in two weight classes without obvious starters wasn't cleared up on Wednesday. Contests at 141 and 197 will likely be decided in early season tournament action at Grand View, Luther and in Iowa City.
“It’s the same theme and maybe it’s why we’re not where we want this program to be,” Brands said. “And we need somebody not to just be in the lineup, or even have that mentality about being in the lineup. We need somebody to take ownership of it.”
The race at 141 is deep and appears to be leaning towards redshirt freshman Vince Turk, who was ranked No. 21 nationally by TrackWrestling on Tuesday. No rating appears at 197 as Mitch Bowman, Cash Wilcke and Cade Brownlee have gone from Sammy Brooks’ backups at 184 to starting possibilities.
“Holloway could go down there,” Brands said. “We’ll see what shakes out. We’re going to know a lot more after this weekend.”
Tom and Cael’s tickets
Iowa’s rivalry with Penn State is secured in the schedule, at least for another season. The Nittany Lions have won five of the last six NCAA titles and visit Carver on Jan. 20, 2017.
Brands happily offered up details of the dual to close his press conference. They came with a deal for Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson.
“He wants four pristine tickets for four of his fans,” Brands said jokingly. “I don’t know who they are. But I said, ‘No problem. You reciprocate and we’ll do it.’ And he said, ‘No problem, man.’ So, we’re getting along.”
But the tickets didn’t close the deal.
“I think they owe us a charter (flight), by the way, now that you say it,” Brands added. “We chartered them in. Maybe the next time we’re not on the schedule, they charter us out.”
November—12: at Luther Open; 18: Iowa City Duals vs. Iowa Central, Cornell College; 27: at Purdue.
December—2: at South Dakota State; 10: vs. Iowa State; 29-30: Midlands Championships.
January—6: at Michigan; 8: at Michigan State; 15: at Oklahoma State; 20: vs. Penn State; 27: vs. Ohio State.
February—3: vs. Wisconsin; 5: at Minnesota; 10: at Indiana; 12: vs. Nebraska.
March—4-5: Big Ten Championships; 16-18: NCAA Championships.