Iowa wrestling takeaways: Joey Gunther, Vince Turk recap wrestle-offs, Brands talks Big Ten pre-seeds

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Back in November, ahead of the 2017-18 wrestling season, Iowa coach Tom Brands announced that he would be bringing back wrestle-offs in order to determine his lineup for the early portion of the schedule. The event had taken a four-year hiatus. 

Fast forward four months, and Brands needed another set of wrestle-offs in order to finalize his postseason lineup. But instead of 10 matches, there were just two, held last Friday.

Iowa head coach Tom Brands, right, watches Mitch Bowman wrestles Northwestern's Mitch Sliga at 184 pounds at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018. Bowman won by major decision, 9-1.

At 141 pounds, Vince Turk defeated Carter Happel, 6-1.

“Just went out there and did my job,” Turk said. “I got to my attacks and got to my scores. I put a good ride on. Now I’m past that and getting ready for Big Tens.”

At 174, Joey Gunther edged out Kaleb Young 3-2 in an overtime tiebreaker.

“It was a close match,” Gunther said Tuesday. “It all came down to the rideout, and I stayed on top longer than he did. I rode him out the 30 seconds, then got out pretty quick, and that’s what it came down to. Just staying tough on top.”

The decision for a second wrestle-off came because, according to Brands, “there was really no clear indicator that the guys that were in contention were grabbing that spot and putting it in a place where there was just a clear-cut decision for the coaching staff.”

Indeed, a battle at 141 had been ongoing since December. Turk started in Iowa’s first five duals, but Happel started the next three and added a sixth-place finish at the Midlands Championships. Turk re-entered the race in January and ultimately started Iowa’s final three duals.

The competition at 174 didn’t truly begin until late January, when Young got the nod against Ohio State. He started again against Michigan the next week before he and Gunther traded starts to round out the season. 

“Normally, I’d rather have it cut-and-dry enough where, as a coaching staff, we can pick the best guy,” Brands said. “There was really no clear indicator that the guys that were in contention were grabbing that spot and putting it in a place where there was just a clear-cut decision for the coaching staff.

“A lot of fans might wonder, ‘Well, how do you do this throughout the year? The guy has to be a nervous wreck.’ Talking about our athletes. Well, what about the coaches? That situation puts coaches in a straight-jacket, let me tell you.”

Brands also expressed confidence that preparing for last Friday’s wrestle-off only prepared both Gunther and Turk for the upcoming Big Ten Championships, set for this Saturday and Sunday at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.

Once there, Turk, who is unseeded, will need to finish at least eighth to reach the NCAA Tournament. Gunther, who’s seeded seventh, will have to wrestle to his seed in order to punch his ticket to the big dance. Both are excited for the challenge.

“I mean, it’s not different,” Turk said. “You keep that same mentality. You’re just battling for that spot each week. If anything, it might help you a little more so you keep that motivation and that drive.

“I just need to keep attacking. Same thing. Going into these matches, I have to be stingy in there, get my points, hold on to my points, not give up any points, and get the win.”

Brands talks pre-seeds

The Big Ten Conference announced the pre-seeds for the 2018 league tournament. Eight Iowa wrestlers were given pre-seeds, something like a poll voted on by the Big Ten coaches.

In weight order: Spencer Lee is the 2 at 125; Brandon Sorensen is the 2 at 149; Michael Kemerer is T1 with Penn State’s Jason Nolf; Alex Marinelli is the 2 at 165; Gunther is the 7 at 174; Mitch Bowman is the 8 at 184; Cash Wilcke is the 3 at 197; and Sam Stoll is the 4 at 285 (Paul Glynn and Turk were both unseeded at 133 and 141, respectively).

None of this came as a big surprise to Brands, though he did expand on the tie between Kemerer and Nolf at 157 pounds.

“The points were even, so it was seven-to-seven in the original as you were seeding all the way down, and 157 was eight seeds,” he said. “Then they did a re-vote because they were tied, it looked like they stuck to party lines.

“Where I’m at, it doesn’t matter, and where Kemerer’s at, it doesn’t matter. But it’ll be hashed out in a town hall meeting format and we’ll re-vote and figure it out.”

Kemerer, a sophomore, is 20-0 this season. He’s also 14-2 against the rest of the field that’s expected to compete at 157 pounds this weekend. His two losses are to Nolf, a defending NCAA champion who’s been out since January with a knee injury. 

Five first-timers at B1G Tournament

Half of Iowa’s lineup will be making its Big Ten tournament debuts this weekend.

Lee, Glynn, Turk, Marinelli and Bowman have all watched the conference championships, but never participated. That will change on Saturday morning.

“I think everybody has their first experience with postseason competition at this level,” Brands said. “The one thing that you can hang your hat on, if you’re one of those guys, is you’ve been getting ready for big events in this sport for a long, long time.

“I don’t really put a lot in experience because your first time in the lineup, or as a freshman, you’re going to have that first-time experience regardless … the Big Tens is a qualifying tournament. It’s a big tournament. It’s an important tournament.”

Sorensen, the team’s elder statesman, will be making his fourth Big Ten Tournament appearance. He reached the finals in both 2015 and 2016, and placed third last year. Kemerer, Gunther, Wilcke and Stoll will all be making their second appearances.

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