Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2007 | People

Fire in Their Eyes

By Rob Howe
Inspired by an Olympic-class coaching staff, Hawkeye wrestlers return to top form.
Iowa Coach Tom Brands Wrestling coach Tom Brands and UI sophomore Dan Erekson celebrate Iowa's victory over Iowa State before one of the largest crowds in college wrestling history.

Wrestling fans expected fireworks when Iowa's new coach took the reins. Tom Brands didn't disappoint.

Displaying the passion that made him an Olympic athlete, Brands, 92BS, returned to the Iowa wrestling program in April and stressed that he wanted the Hawkeyes to dominate through an "aggressive style." During early December's showdown with Iowa State, Brands lived up to those words when he and assistant coach Dan Gable got into a heated exchange with Cyclones head coach Cael Sanderson and his assistant. Sanderson accused Gable of "flipping him the bird," a charge Gable denied.

The war of words set the tone for a thrilling matchup that saw the Hawkeyes dump their intrastate rival, 24-6, in front of 13,732 fans—the fifth-largest crowd for a dual wrestling meet at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and the 11th largest in school history.

Fresh from season-opening victories against the University of Northern Iowa (18-15) and Arizona State (39-3), the Hawkeyes pulled out all the stops against Iowa State. They won eight of the ten matches, including six by two points or less. Highlights included Mark Perry (ranked second in the nation at 165) scoring a takedown in sudden victory to beat fourth-ranked Travis Paulson, 6-4, and unranked sophomore Dan Erekson upsetting ninth-ranked Kurt Backes, 11-9, at 197. The excitement continued right up to the final match of the dual, when redshirt freshman Ryan Morningstar bested top-ranked Trent Paulson, 3-2, at 157 pounds.

A few days later at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the wrestlers continued their momentum, shutting out Coe 50-0 and defeating North Carolina State 38-9 in a meet that gave the Hawkeyes their 800th dual victory.

Brands was pleased with the start of the season, in which Iowa moved up to fifth in the national rankings, but he says there's still room for improvement.

"For the most part, we're sharp," he says. "I just think that we can do a better job being better wrestlers. Realistically, you're going to see weaknesses. But, I'm not interested in what's realistic. I want what's best for our program, and that is to see no weaknesses."