Iowa Hawkeyes

Mark Ironside: Iowa will be '100 percent' ready for wrestling postseason

Ogden column: Former Hawkeye not worried about lack of outside competition

Mark Ironside, walking off the mat after winning the 134-pound NCAA title in Cedar Falls in 1997, wrestled around 35 mat
Mark Ironside, walking off the mat after winning the 134-pound NCAA title in Cedar Falls in 1997, wrestled around 35 matches a year during his Iowa career. He’s not worried about the lack of outside competition for this year’s top-ranked team. (The Gazette)

This space could have been used differently today. Maybe some of you think it should have been filled with different words.

This could have been a story explaining how the top-ranked Iowa wrestling team wrapped up the regular season with a dominating win at Wisconsin, capping an unbeaten season and heading into the Big The Championships on a roll.

But, alas, this is a different story because, as we all know, these are different times.

We remain under the cloud of a global pandemic, something the Hawkeye wrestling team knows all too well. The last three slots on the 2021 schedule are a metaphor for this season — postponed, postponed, canceled.

Iowa was cleared to return to practice last week after “pausing” activities because of positive COVID-19 tests, but not soon enough to host Northwestern on Friday. The Hawks were given the go-ahead to take on the Badgers Sunday, but Wisconsin apparently wasn’t keen on wrestling a team coming off quarantine.

A dual at Penn State also was postponed because of COVID-19. The postponed duals still could get rescheduled, but it would have to be this week. The Big Ten Championships are March 6-7 in State College, Pa.

Time is running out.

Iowa’s regular season very well could be over, meaning the Hawkeyes wrestled a total of five duals. The 10 starters could head to Penn State in two weeks with 5-0 records. Or 4-1. Or 2-0.

Austin DeSanto and Jaydin Eirman are 5-0. Michael Kemmerer is 4-0, Jacob Warner and Tony Cassioppi are 4-1. Kaleb Young and Alex Marinelli 2-0.

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Spencer Lee is 4-0 and hasn’t wrestled out of the first period yet. His longest match lasted 2 minutes, 27 seconds.

Is that enough competition before heading into the postseason? Michigan and Penn State — ranked second and third in the country — have about the same amount to matches. Oklahoma State and Iowa State have about double that.

What is the perfect amount of matches to have before the “real” season begins?

“I don’t think there really is a set number,” said Mark Ironside, one of the best wrestlers in Iowa history who remains close to the program. “A lot of it depends on the individual ... there’s not a number you need.”

A four-time All-Amiercan and two-time NCAA champion, Ironside wrestled around 35 matches each of his four years, winning 127 of his 137 career matches. Barry Davis holds the program record with 162 wins (he lost just 10 matches, too) and wrestled 47 during the 1981-82 season.

The number of matches per season — at Iowa, at least — has been dropping for years. The last person to make Iowa’s career list — Doug Schwab at No. 10 with 130 wins — ended his career in 2001.

Ironside said too many matches are a bigger concern.

“I just wanted matches, the more the merrier for me,” he said. “I just love to wrestle.

“That can kind of wear on you and burn you out.”

While the number of matches may not be important, “competition is extremely important,” Ironside said.

“But competition can come in different facets.”

That, he said, is why he’s not concerned with the lack of competition.

“They are getting competition in the room; they are getting great competition in the room,” Ironside said.

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Lee, for instance, is getting better competition in the room than he would in any dual, taking on the likes of DeSanto or Eierman or former Hawkeye Daniels Dennis on a daily basis.

Ironside said he used to face Tom and/or Terry Brands in the room. So when he took the mat in a dual “it was like a vacation or a day off."

“Workout partners are so valuable,” he said.

The key is simulating that competition, making the wrestlers make weight, “compete” an hour after that and hold live matches in the room.

That, he said, is what “good, smart” coaches are doing right now and why Ironside is confident Iowa will be ready to go whenever it steps on the competition mat again.

“I know how they train,” Ironside said. “I know how they prepare. I know their mentality.

“They will be 100 percent ready.”

Comments: (319) 398-8416; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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