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February Fury has things boiling in these parts
Ogden column: College basketball teams are hunting for titles, NCAA berths, but it’s wrestling that takes center stage this weekend
It’s getting hot around here.
Forget about March Madness, this February Fury is something to behold in Eastern Iowa and across the state.
We have the Iowa and Iowa State women’s basketball teams — and the UNI men — in the thick of conference championship races. We have the Iowa State men’s basketball team on a two-game winning streak (heading into Wednesday’s game) and the Iowa men enjoying back-to-back wins over Big Ten blue bloods.
Both are on the right side of the NCAA tournament fence right now.
We have the Kirkwood women’s basketball team ranked No. 1 in NJCAA Division II and owning a 28-1 record. Coe advanced to the semifinals of the American Rivers Conference men’s basketball tournament and Cornell is the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Conference.
And, on Wednesday, it was revealed Cedar Rapids’ own Zach Johnson will captain the United States Ryder Cup team in 2023.
Things are heating up, for sure, especially in the “non ball” sport, aka wrestling. With the high school championships wrapping up last weekend, it’s time for the colleges to take center stage.
Wrestling’s regular season has concluded for the state’s NCAA Division I, II and III teams and while Iowa, Iowa State and UNI spend another week in their respective practice rooms fine-tuning for their conference championships and NCAA qualifiers, it’s go time for the “small colleges.”
Upper Iowa will compete in the NCAA II Super Region V Championships on Saturday in Moorhead, Minn. Coe, Cornell, Luther — and all the other A-R-C teams — will battle it out in the NCAA III Lower Midwest Championships on Friday and Saturday in Dubuque.
“It’s definitely a special time of the year,” Upper Iowa wrestling coach Heath Grimm said.
“It’s a great time of year,” Coe Coach John Oostendorp said. “It’s stressful as hell ... (but) it’s totally exciting.
“It’s a feeling your can’t describe.”
Grimm and Oostendorp are veteran coaches, but also were outstanding wrestlers in their younger days. Grimm is in his 22nd season at the Fayette university, Oostendorp in his 21st as a Kohawk.
But both remember what it was like as competitors getting ready for this time of year, the most important time on the wrestling schedule.
“It’s definitely an extremely focused time of year,” said Oostendorp, who won 108 matches as Iowa’s heavyweight in the early 1990s, earning a Big Ten title and a pair of All-America finishes.
He thinks it may be even more stressful as a coach because athletes can, to a point, control their own destinies. Coaches have to worry about a variety of things, from their 10 wrestlers to injuries to skin infections to, nowadays, positive COVID tests.
“As a coach, it’s probably more demanding,” he said.
Grimm said the approach is similar to his days as a two-time All-American at Luther College, also in the early 1990s.
“I want it as bad for these kids as I did for myself,” he said. “The desire to see the kids succeed at a national level is the ultimate ... and all-time high.”
Both coaches said the workouts this time of year switch from a team focus to an individual focus, working with each athlete to find that sweet spot of “fresh, strong and confident,” Oostendorp said.
“This stage of the game, it’s all about them,” Grimm said. “You want them to get ... everything hopefully they’ve earned.”
“It’s about getting your athletes to believe, believe in their potential,” Oostendorp said.
He also mentioned “controlling their emotions” several times.
“Putting your focus on performance, not the outcome,” he said.
Oostendorp has a team that could place in the Top 5 of the NCAA III Championships next month in Cedar Rapids — if all goes well this weekend in a tournament that deserve a lot more qualifiers that it gets.
Grimm has a team that is “wrestling very, very well” right now, coming off a big dual win over Wisconsin-Parkside.
“Our expectations and standards are always high and never waver,” he said. “... we want it all, always.”
And, that folks, is what this weekend, this time of year, is all about.
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