Wrestling: Upper Weights Shake Out For Hawkeyes

By K.J. Pilcher, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Grant Gambrall was lighter. Ethen Lofthouse was heavier. Mike Evans would wrestle at any weight.

The University of Iowa had a possible logjam of three nationally accomplished wrestlers vying for the same spot.

Without any major discussions or strategy sessions with one another or Hawkeyes head coach Tom Brands, the potential for bunched up talent was ironed out. At the team's wrestling media day Wednesday at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, it was confirmed that Evans would be at 165 pounds, Gambrall is dropping to 174 and Lofthouse will jump to 184 to start the 2012-13 season.

"Very little dialogue, and things just seem to work themselves out," Brands said about how the decisions were reached. "I don;t think anybody's trying to avoid anybody."

Gambrall, a 2011 All-American at 184 pounds who began last season at 197 before qualifying for the NCAA tournament at 184, had contemplated a change in previous seasons. He weighs in at 175-176 comfortably.

"Each year I've felt that I could go 174, but it was up in the air and I ended up deciding against it," Gambrall said. "This year, I just felt it was the right choice. I was weighing lower than I had in previous years."

Gambrall was idle for almost six months last year, suffering from issues related to an offseason concussion. His weight spiked, forcing him to wrestle above his natural class. Another 10-pound loss and Gambrall feels even better than his three seasons at 184. He expects a strength advantage at 174.

"I feel I can move a lot better than I did at 197, for sure, and probably better than I did at 184," said Gambrall, who placed third at the 2011 NCAA tournament and posted a 12-12 mark last year. "I'm just not carrying around extra weight that's unneeded."

Lofthouse said he benefitted from a summer of heavy lifting with coaches, including Brands. He said he considered his strength and weight before discussing the move with Brands. it boiled down to doing what is best for each wrestler. He is confident in the move. If he wasn't, the junior wouldn't entertain the idea.

"I know what to expect," Lofthouse said. "I know what to expect out of myself. I mean I know what it takes for me to get on top of the stand when it comes time."

Lofthouse was an All-American last season, placing seventh at 174 with a 28-9 record. The season didn't end with a a sense of satisfaction.

"Not good," Lofthouse said. "Whenever I think back, any kind of memories about last year I get sick.

"It definitely motivates you."

Evans, a Big Ten runner-up last year, went 26-8, but did not place at the national tournament. He is ranked as high as fourth in preseason polls at 165. Evans, who wrestled at 174 as a red-shirt freshman, decided a couple weeks ago to go back down.

"It didn't take much thought," Evans said. "It's all impulse really. It's not going to matter where I go I'm still going to wrestle. It's what I need to do. No matter where I move I'm going to be going for that national title.

"If 165 is better for the team, it's better for the team. If 174 is better for the team, I'll wrestle there. If 125 is better for the team then I'll wrestle there."

Evans doesn't shy away from the challenge at 165, which includes Cornell three-time NCAA champ Kyle Dake and Penn State's two-time finalist and defending 165-pound champ David Taylor. He had success last year, so he didn't need much convincing.

"We all know his capabilities there," Brands said. "I'm not going to say it's a no-brainer, but sometimes some of these things have a way to work themselves out. Sometimes there is a little dialogue which there was, more so with maybe Evans than any of the other guys."

Brands mentioned that the competition for those weights include former Iowa City West four-time state champ Nick Moore, Jeremy Fahler and freshmen Alex Meyer and Sam Brooks.

"We are not in stone in those weight classes," Brands said. "We have three good guys and some depth there as well."

The goal is for each of them to maximize their potential, which will produce the strongest lineup for the Hawkeyes. The verdict won't be decided until March.

"Time will tell," said Lofthouse, who is certified for 174. "We're all tough competitors. We're all expecting to win every match. Hopefully, it works out."

Ballweg ready to make mark

Mark Ballweg has experienced the excitement and the disappointment of being in the Hawkeyes lineup. The senior from Waverly-Shell Rock is attempting to reclaim some of that excitement as the 141-pound starter.

He was the starter at 141 as a starter and then moved up to 149 when two-time NCAA finalist Montell Marion took over the 141 spot. Ballweg struggled at 149 the last two years, and was not in the starting lineup the last half of the season.

Ballweg, who is 39-16 in his Hawkeye career, said the lower weight is a better fit and could lead to more wins.

"I think 141 is a good weight for me," said Ballweg, ranked 15th by InterMat. "It's where I'm competitive at, so it will be good."

Ballweg has persevered, battling sophomore Josh Dziewa and others in a weight class Coach Tom Brands says is one of the more competitive in the Iowa practice room. He kept his focus, despite suffering the sting of not capitalizing on his opportunities in the lineup, which he wants to correct this season.

"It hurts a lot," Ballweg said. "You can taste it and then you don't get it."

Brands said he doesn't have an idea for a favorite to win that weight, but he has been encouraged by what he has witnessed so far.

"Sometimes that makes you better," Brands said about Ballweg getting through rough time as a backup. "Is there growth there? I see some good things happening there. But we are not in competition and let's wait and see. He has an opportunity now, so grab it and don't look back."

New look to schedule

The University of Iowa schedule is different from recent seasons.

The University of Northern Iowa and the Midlands Championships are not on the December schedule, but the Hawkeyes will head to Madison Square Garden in New York City for the "Grapple in the Garden" on Dec. 16. Iowa will wrestle Bucknell and Hofstra in a dual event that will be the first amateur wrestling event in the famous sports venue.

Iowa Coach Tom Brands reiterated that the condensed schedule after the New Year caused by the NWCA National Duals has made it tough to fit in the 50th Midlands Championships. He doesn't take kindly to accusations the Hawkeyes are dodging competition.

"That's a bunch of hogwash," Brands said. "We've been to Midlands every year and like the Midlands tournament. It defines your career.

"It's one of the most prestigious open tournaments to win going back 50 years. We want to be a part of that in the future."

Brands did not rule out the possibility of some Hawkeyes making the trip to Evanston, Ill., for the tournament, but that would depend on tournament officials to offer specific invitations.

The team will hold wrestle-offs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Action begins Thursday at 5:30 p.m., Friday at 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. Saturday with doors opening at 7 a.m. The event is free to the public.
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