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Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands talks about Cash Wilcke, Keegan Shaw and the Hawkeyes' upcoming dual against Nebraska during his weekly meeting with the media. Cody Goodwin, cgoodwin2@dmreg.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Back in November, before the 2018-19 wrestling season began, Iowa coach Tom Brands was asked about Cash Wilcke.

Naturally, he responded by talking about wolves.

Really.

“His athleticism will come out more,” Brands said then. “He looks different, but he doesn't look sucked-out different. He's leaner, meaner, hungry like a wolf. Not a fat cat on the back of a couch on a sunny day in the window basking, being lazy, eating and feeding. All those things.

“He's on the prowl, he's on the hunt. He's like a wolf. Long, lean legs, go off and chase bunny rabbits, or all kinds of things that are fun to eat, but they can’t get away from you because you're faster, stronger, leaner and meaner. That's how I would describe Wilcke.”

There’s a Duran Duran crack in there somewhere, but it’s also clear that Brands holds high expectations for Wilcke.

The Hawkeyes (10-0, 5-0 Big Ten), ranked third nationally by Trackwrestling, open the season’s penultimate month by wrestling at No. 7 Nebraska (9-3, 3-2) on Sunday. Iowa is aiming for a 10th consecutive win over the Cornhuskers, but Sunday’s dual features many intriguing matchups.

Using Trackwrestling, Sunday’s Super Bowl appetizer — the dual’s at noon, on BTN2Go/Flowrestling — could feature seven bouts between ranked wrestlers, including two (at 157 and 165 pounds) between wrestlers currently ranked in the top 10.

Wilcke is set to face Nebraska’s Taylor Venz, who’s currently 15-3 and ranked fourth nationally by Track. It is a chance for Wilcke to boost his stock — he currently boasts a 13-3 record and is ranked 15th.

“I know it’s going to be a good match,” Wilcke said. “It’s going to be a dogfight. I’m looking forward to it.”

For the past two seasons, Wilcke’s been up at 197 pounds, where he went a combined 40-21 and twice reached the bloodround of the NCAA Championships. He slimmed down in the offseason, and as Brands watched him in the room, expectations began to to grow.

“I always feel like I’m in danger,” says Jacob Warner, Iowa’s redshirt freshman 197-pounder who practices with Wilcke. “I’m constantly trying to get my hands on him and move in, because he’s going to burn you. He’s fast, he’s athletic, he’s strong, he’s everything.

“I think Cash is the best 184-pounder in the country. I really do believe that.”

Watch an interview with Iowa's Cash Wilcke below:

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Iowa junior Cash Wilcke recaps his performances this season and discusses what he needs to improve on in February before the postseason. Cody Goodwin, cgoodwin2@dmreg.com

► MORE WRESTLING COVERAGE FROM THE DES MOINES REGISTER

The results, so far, have been solid. In 16 matches this season, Wilcke is averaging 7.1 points per match, an uptick from the 5.6 he averaged a year ago. That mark doesn’t include his two pins this year, including one in 80 seconds over Northwestern’s Brendan Devine last Sunday.

“He’s more active,” Brands said. “Now, we have to finish.”

This, of course, carries multiple meanings. A year ago, Wicked started 13-0, then finished 8-8. The Hawkeyes have just five duals remaining before the postseason. In that span, Wilcke will likely wrestle three opponents ranked in the top 20.

But even more, Brands is talking about Wilcke finishing individual matches. In all three of his losses, he had opportunities to win and, well, he failed to finish.

Against Iowa State’s Sam Colbray, Wilcke led 6-5 with 15 seconds left. He took a shot, but Colbray spun out and scrambled his way to a takedown and a 7-6 victory.

In the finals of the Midlands Championships in December, Wilcke lost to Northern Iowa’s Drew Foster 3-2. Throughout the match, Wilcke got in deep on three shots, but couldn’t finish any.

Then, last Friday, in a 4-1 loss to fifth-ranked Emery Parker of Illinois, Wilcke again failed to score on multiple shots.

“If we finish, they’re all different,” Brands said. “They’re all different. I know that he is about that. So it’s not like something you’re looking to see different, it’s more, we have to keep getting better when we get to the leg.

“When you get an opportunity, put the work into it and make it go your way.”

Sunday's dual will provide Wilcke with another opportunity. He’s currently 1-3 against wrestlers currently ranked by Trackwrestling. He’s aware of his miscues, too, that he’s just a few finished shots away from a perfect record and a higher spot in the national poll.

“Now is the time to start putting it all together,” Wilcke said this week. “Just going there every day, working on it, getting better with my finishes. It’s just something I have to work on. I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited to work on those things.”

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

No. 3 Iowa (10-0, 5-0) vs. No. 7 Nebraska (9-3, 3-2)

WHEN: Noon, Sunday 

WHERE: Devaney Center, Lincoln, Nebraska

WATCH: BTN2Go/Flowrestling

LISTEN: KXIC-AM 800

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