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IOWA CITY - The season has been far from normal and the last month has included a few more uncommon twists for Iowa wrestling.
After a month of Big Ten Conference competition, the Hawkeyes endured a program-wide shutdown due to positive COVID-19 test results and a cancellation of their regular-season finale after their return to in-person activities.
These aren't the situations you drill in practice or face in live wrestling in the practice room, but they have been a factor in the last year. Top-ranked Iowa resorted to a simple mantra to get through the challenges of the last year: Control what you can control.
Communication between staff, medical personnel and wrestlers was crucial.
'We still have to be diligent,” said Hawkeyes Coach Tom Brands, whose team will defend its Big Ten Championships team title this weekend at Penn State in State College, Pa. 'You still have to be focused and you still have to have a good attitude and work ethic.
'They've done that and they've done that in a consistent manner. When you have that, and it becomes prevalent in your locker room, you can't help but have good things happen where a crisis all of a sudden jumps out at you and you handle it pretty doggone well.”
Iowa's last competition was a sweep of No. 18 Purdue and No. 11 Ohio State on Feb. 7 at West Lafayette, Ind. The following day, Iowa announced that it would pause all team-related activities at the direction of the school's medical team due to positive coronavirus tests within the program.
Reminiscent of after last season's cancellation of the NCAA Championships, wrestlers were forced to train on their own without the use of team facilities. The wrestlers did what was necessary during the time apart to have a chance for a postseason.
'Everyone holds each other accountable but most of us did our own thing,” two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee said. 'I'm not saying we avoided each other but we did the best we could by protocol to stay isolated.
'We lost (NCAAs) last year, so I don't think any of us wanted to do anything that could possibly affect this year. We knew what we had to do and we did what we had to do to get back to competition.”
The timing of the interruption coincided with a cold spell that saw temperatures remain below zero for consecutive days. Training had to continue and the elements were a perfect test of toughness.
'I wore like four layers and I was sweating but my hands and feet were freezing,” two-time All-American and two-time Big Ten champion Alex Marinelli said. 'I still got in a couple miles and blew my lungs out and stuff.
When you're doing that, you think I don't know how many other sports would take that extra mile and go run in negative-degree weather. I just don't know who would do that, honestly, but we do because we want to be national champs. We don't want to skip a beat.”
The true gauge of their working during the trying month will come at the Big Ten tournament. The Hawkeyes, who went 5-0 in duals and shared the regular-season title with Penn State, will look for their 37th Big Ten team title.
'Our guys are ready to go,” Brands said. 'They love to compete. They love being around their teammates and their buddies. It's a joy when they're around each other.
'We're ready as we can be. The results will show how ready me saying we are. We have to be ready to hit the mat when that first whistle blows, and when I say be ready to hit the mat we have to be ready to hit the mat in a ready, ready way where we're ready ready.”
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