Ahead of senior day, Iowa coach Tom Brands reflects on Brandon Sorensen’s career

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — When Tom Brands thinks of Brandon Sorensen, he recalls when Sorensen and Dan Dennis often wrestled inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. Watching a young Sorensen trying to prove himself against an eventual Olympian made for some entertaining afternoons.

“His approach was just to keep my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open, and I’ll be where I need to be,” Brands said. “He’s a super competitor. He speaks very softly and carries a big stick, and that’s probably how he’s represented our program the best.”

Iowa's Brandon Sorensen wrestles Michigan State's Jwan Britton at 149 pounds at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018.

Those battles helped Sorensen evolve from the No. 62 overall recruit in the 2013 class into a shot a becoming Iowa’s 20th four-time All-American. The Hawkeyes host both Minnesota and Northwestern this weekend on Friday and Sunday, respectively. The latter is senior day, and Sorensen, Phillip Laux and Logan McQuillen will all be honored.

Sorensen, of course, is the most successful of that trio. He’s on pace to be in Iowa’s top 10 in career wins and has three straight top-four finishes at the NCAA Championships. The senior is currently ranked second nationally at 149 pounds by Trackwrestling, and all that’s left to polish off his sterling Iowa wrestling career is a national title, something he’s long had his eyes on.

“I have one shot left to do that,” Sorensen said, “so that’s where all of my energy is going toward: March 17.”

That goal has long been on Sorensen’s mind, and Brands was drawn to that drive when he first drove up to meet him during his senior year at Denver High School. The family was surprised at Brands’ persistence and chuckled when he ducked the family pets.

“They had some funny animals in their house,” Brands recalls. “I remember one of them was a parrot. This parrot was a mean son-of-a-gun. It was one of those things where, if this parrot didn’t like you, he was going to peck the living dog out of you. So I stayed away from the parrot.

“I think that humanized me a little bit with the family, where this Brands guy wasn’t going to take on this parrot. I think I’m smarter than most people give me credit for, maybe. When we left there, we knew … we realized that we spoke the same language.”

Sorensen joined the program as part of a four-member recruiting class that included Aaron Bradley, from Nazareth, Penn.; Broc Berge, of Kasson-Mantorville, Minn.; and Jake Marlin, of Creston. Josh Lowe, a recruiting analyst for Intermat, wrote that Sorensen would “provide depth … for the middle weights.”

But Sorensen had bigger ideas. Just 10 months after winning his fourth state title at Denver-Tripoli, he ran through a bracket that featured multiple NCAA qualifiers and All-Americans and placed third at the 2013 Midlands Championships. Brands was impressed.

The next season, Sorensen again took third at the Midlands, helping him seize the starting spot at 149 pounds for Iowa. He went on to win 40 matches that year and took fourth at the 2015 NCAA Championships. He was Iowa’s first All-American at 149 since Brent Metcalf won it in 2010.

“And he's only gotten better,” Brands said. “He’s opened it up more. I don’t think he’s worried about what the opponent is trying to do to strategize and keep it close. I can imagine what some of these coaches say that all Brandon Sorensen has is a right-handed single, and that’s a big mistake.

“He’s very diverse in what he can do out there. He has a motor. He’s disciplined.”

Iowa's Brandon Sorensen wrestles Michigan's Ben Lamantia at 149 pounds during the Hawkeyes regular-season meet against Michigan at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, January 27, 2018. Sorensen would pin Lamantia in the 2nd period of the match whereas Iowa would ultimately lose to the Wolverines 17-19 in team points. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)

The battles between Sorensen and Dennis continued throughout his career, and he soon practiced regularly with Metcalf, too. Wrestling two guys with a combined 177 career wins four appearances in the NCAA finals led to similar results — entering this weekend, Sorensen is 116-13 overall with 64 bonus-point victories, including a 16-0 mark this year with five pins.

“He is always in super good position,” teammate Michael Kemerer said. “He’s strong. He’s been a great partner for me. He’s really tough to get out of position. Hard rider. You have to be good in all three areas, because he’s good in all three areas. He prepares the right way.

“I’ve learned a lot from the years of wrestling with him and talking to him and just watching him.”

MORE: Kemerer's big-picture approach is all about championships

Sorensen lost just six matches during that first season and has lost only seven in the three years since. Four of those losses have been to Penn State’s Zain Retherford, the two-time defending national champion at 149 pounds. Two years ago, he beat Sorensen in the finals. Last season, Retherford pinned him in the semifinals.

If Sorensen’s primary goal is to stand on top of the podium in March, Retherford is the guy he’ll have to go through to do it. He’ll get his first chance in two weeks, when Iowa travels to Happy Valley to wrestle Penn State. He’ll get another shot at the Big Ten Championships in East Lansing, Mich., and then another in Cleveland at the national tournament.

Until then, Sorensen plans to mow down everybody else in his way. This weekend, that’s Minnesota’s Steve Bleise, who’s ranked 16th by Track, and Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin, who’s ranked third. He treats them all the same.

“It matters,” Sorensen said. “All of them matter. It’s another competitor that’s in my way that, you know, I need to take out in order to be on top, and …”

He pauses. 

“Here’s the thing,” Sorensen continues. “It’s easier to move forward with success. Let’s keep in that direction.”

Maybe him and Brands speak the same language after all.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

Iowa wrestling this weekend

At Carver-Hawkeye Arena

Iowa (9-2, 4-2) vs. Minnesota (5-5, 2-3)
8 p.m.

Iowa vs. Northwestern (8-2, 3-2)
10 a.m.