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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Twenty years after Dan Gable finished his last season as head coach at the University of Iowa, his influence on wrestling remains as strong as ever.
Gable’s coaching tree is well-known, influencing all levels of the sport. Youth, prep, JUCO and each division of the NCAA. The Big Ten Conference is the perfect example.
When teams took the mat for the 2017 Big Ten Championships on Saturday at Indiana University’s Assembly Hall, nearly half the field was coached by former Gable wrestlers.
In addition to Iowa Coach Tom Brands, other Gable “disciples” leading conference programs include Wisconsin’s Barry Davis, Ohio State’s Tom Ryan, Indiana’s Duane Goldman, Illinois’ Jim Heffernan and Purdue’s Tony Ersland.
“It says a lot,” Wisconsin Coach and former Cedar Rapids Prairie prep Barry Davis said. “Look at the Big Ten and how competitive it is. The talent in the Big Ten is unbelievable. It’s the best conference in the country. Look at the coaches, the family tree is from Iowa.”
Gable coached Iowa for 21 seasons from 1977-97, leading the Hawkeyes to 21 Big Ten titles and 15 NCAA championships. Brands has added to Iowa’s tradition with four conference crowns and three national titles.
Ohio State’s Tom Ryan shared the 2015 Big Ten team title with Brands and led the Buckeyes to the NCAA title that season.
“Our greatest teacher is example,” Ryan said. “He was that for so many people that are now in coaching. So many lessons passed down from the way he coached (and) led.”
Ryan and Brands were teammates for national title teams in the 1990s. Davis, Heffernan and Goldman were teammates for the 1982-83 and 1984-85 seasons. A shared admiration comes with being a Gable product of a Gable practice room. Davis, Heffernan, Goldman and Brands were all four-time All-Americans for Gable.
“I think there is mutual respect,” said Ryan, whose Buckeyes were second after the first session Saturday. “If you wrestled for him, there was a commitment level that was necessary, expected and demanded. If you were there and trained under him, for him, there was a level of love you had for the sport. When you see someone who was under him you know he cared.”
Their time is consumed with running their own programs and preparing their wrestlers for competition.
Sometimes they will recall old matches. For Davis, the conversations are more personal. He has chatted with Goldman and Heffernan, but they talked about things off the mat, like family and life.
“There’s always a connection,” Davis said. “I got here (Friday) and walked into Duane’s office and just started talking to him.”
When the whistle blows, they aren’t Hawkeyes anymore. They fight for the colors they currently wear and sometimes that means battling each other. For the most part, it stays on the mat.
“You’re just doing anything you can to get your athlete to win,” Davis said. “That’s all. You have heated moments. You go back and forth, but when it’s done it’s done.”
Ersland is the newest member of the head coaching fraternity. He is in his third season leading Purdue. He tries to implement the characteristics of the Hawkeye teams he was on from 1994-97.
“It was the environment he created,” Ersland said. “It was handed down to you as you came up through.
“I always thought the genius from him, which I appreciate now as a coach, was that when you came in you didn’t feel like you had to do it because he was standing over you and you had to do it. It was because of the culture.”
HAWKEYES WIN POSTSEASON DEBUT
Iowa senior Topher Carton and redshirt freshmen Michael Kemerer, Joey Gunther and Cash Wilcke all won their debuts of the Big Ten Championships on Saturday. Kemerer (157) was the only one to make the semifinals, handling Rutgers’ John Van Brill, 14-6, after a first-round bye.
Carton, a full-time starter for the first time in his five seasons with the program, scored a 12-4 major decision over Indiana’s Cole Weaver, scoring his opening takedown just three seconds into the 141-pound match.
Gunther edged Indiana’s Bryce Martin, 3-2, at 165. Like Carton, Wilcke (197) posted a major decision, beating Michigan State’s Wesley Maskill, 12-2.
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said competitors feel regret when things go unfinished. Only Kemerer has secured an NCAA, so the others have work to do to advance.
“You can always find good, too,” Brands said. “When you’re in the fight for your postseason life, there has to be a lot of good that you’re making go your way instead of trying to find the nugget of positive.”
Penn State’s second-ranked Nick Suriano made a brief appearance at the Big Ten Championships on Saturday.
He limped to center mat, put on his ankle bands and awaited the referee’s whistle. When it blew, the official immediately blew it again to stop the match before a second had ticked off the clock.
Suriano injury defaulted out of the tournament, despite being the top contender to Iowa’s Thomas Gilman. The Nittany Lions’ freshman injured his ankle in the NWCA National Duals Series against Oklahoma State.
The conference received seven automatic berths. By weighing in and injury defaulting, the Big Ten maintained those seven automatic spots and Suriano remained eligible for a wild-card berth. Suriano entered the tournament 16-2, falling to Gilman by a point in the dual and defaulting in the NWCA dual.
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