Hawkeyes were good, but needed to be great

Hawkeyes second straight third-place team finish and return six All-Americans

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The University of Iowa wrestling team was good, but not great.

The Hawkeyes needed more of the latter, and will need to work toward it in the off-season, if it wants to improve its latest finish.

Iowa earned its second straight third-place team finish with six All-Americans at the 2012 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo.

The Hawkeyes finished with 107 1/2 points, 10 back of runner-up Minnesota and 36 behind repeat champion Penn State. Unlike the 2009 national tournament it won, Iowa had a champion, more finalists and a higher point total. It was the third-highest point total by a third-place team in NCAA tournament history.

Iowa Coach Tom Brands was clear that the program won’t compromise its championship standards, which is what formed the Hawkeyes’ great tradition.

“The philosophy of the program is consistent. Nothing’s going to change,” Brands said. “Here’s the thing, you want to win both. You want to win an individual and a team title. We don’t have the firepower right now. We need to get that firepower, otherwise you’re leaving it short for the six All-Americans.”

The potential firepower still resides in the Iowa room. The Hawkeyes return more All-Americans who wrestled in this year’s tournament than any other team.

Matt McDonough (125) will return looking to become Iowa’s seventh three-time NCAA champion. Derek St. John was the 157-pound runner-up this year, and he will be back. Sophomores Tony Ramos (133) and Ethen Lofthouse (174) were third and seventh, respectively. Red-shirt freshman heavyweight Bobby Telford was fifth. Grant Gambrall, who did not place this year, was third at 184 in 2011.

They provide a strong nucleus but ascending to the top spot will take a total team effort.

“I don’t like being where we’re at,” Brands said. “It’s going to take a concerted effort for 40 guys in the wrestling room to determine which guys are going to be the 10 guys representing the weight classes, to be able to go out and battle with that kind of firepower.”

The Hawkeyes also return national qualifier Mike Evans (165), starter Mike Kelly at 149 and part-time varsity starter Tomas Lira (197).

Iowa will have to replace three-time All-American and 141-pounder Montell Marion, who earned his second runner-up Saturday night. Vinnie Wagner, who split time between 184 and 197, is done.

The Hawkeyes are in better position his year than after last year’s third-place finish, returning more All-Americans and welcoming a strong recruiting class, which will add depth to talented lower weights with Southeast Polk’s four-time state champion Cory Clark, Thomas Gillman of Omaha (Neb.) Skutt and Nate Skonieczky of Walsh Jesuit (Ohio), and some upperweight help in Sam Brooks of Oak Park, Ill.

“We have more experience now,” Ramos said. “We just got to get tough in tough situations.”

The 2013 championships will be held at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. It could benefit the Hawkeyes, but Brands won’t count on it and still expects a battle. Especially from favorite Penn State.

“I don’t know,” Brands said. “We’ll be at home. Here’s the thing, they’re going to come to wrestle and we’re going to come to wrestle.”

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