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For Iowa, building a dynasty has been engrained in its blood for 50 years. It began in the mid-1970s, when the Hawkeyes won their first of what would become 23 titles in the span of 43 championship seasons.
Seated in the heart of the Midwest in one of the most competitive Division I conferences in the sport, the Hawkeye brand is one centered around winning. From the minute Iowa was unofficially tabbed a dynasty with a stretch of nine straight championships under former head coach and wrestling icon Dan Gable, the Hawks set a new precedent of dominance.
In 1975 and 1976 under Gary Kurdelmeier, Iowa was put on the map with its first two championships in history and paved the way for a program that would soon see a regime change. Enter Gable. Five years removed from his historic 1972 Olympic run that saw him win the gold without surrendering a single point to his opponents, the former Iowa State Cyclone and Iowa native took the reins of a program that was on its way to history.
After finishing third in 1977, Gable and co. began a historic run that would solidify the team in history. An NCAA all-sport record-tying nine straight championships from 1978-86 built up Iowa on the national stage as one of the best programs in history. Gable would go on to lead the Hawkeyes to six more championships from 1991 to when he retired in 1997.
Looking back on those nine straight championships in 2020, the focus has shifted from viewing Iowa as a dynasty to the ins and outs of building that kind of dominance. Gable, although he didn’t face a 10-year drought like Iowa is currently in, had a front-row seat to not only building a dynasty, but building it back up.
“Sometimes as a coach, you don’t think as correctly as you need to until something happens that is unexpected or just not what you’re really after,” Gable told FloWrestling back in December. “So, when we had that loss [in 1987], I tried to kind of outline what was needed and why we had that loss. There were a couple of things, and one of them was the fact that we needed more dedication, more hard work, more just the toughness of the sport.”
A lot of gaining what the program needed was recruiting dominant wrestlers who would become the faces of the program and set the platform for those to come.
Both Brands brothers brought that dominance back to the program and reeled in the control not from a coaching perspective, but from a leading perspective.
You see the same themes now, 30 years later in a program that hasn’t won a title since 2010. A lot of what Tom Brands built to begin his tenure as head coach with three straight titles from 2008-10 was adding new dominance and talent through those that transferred in.
Now, it’s a mix. Most of the Hawkeye talent is homegrown, recruited from across the country to build the dominance back up. Sprinkle in a couple of transfers — most notably three-time All-American Jaydin Eierman from Missouri for this upcoming season and Austin DeSanto two years ago — and you have yourself a title-winning lineup.
“[The biggest thing is] looking at the guys individually and what they need, not only the total team but just specifically the guys, especially the guys that are up there in age, what’s holding them back and what’s going to make the difference,” Gable said.
Although the 2020-21 season is one people have their eyes on, especially after NCAAs were canceled before Iowa got the chance to return to the top, the 2021-22 season is going to be a defining point for Iowa. With the majority of its lineup graduating after this upcoming season, keeping that dynasty mentality and building on what was the best lineup in collegiate wrestling in 2019-20 and will likely be when things get going in the winter is important.
With the foundation that Lee and Kemerer and all of Iowa’s fan-favorite wrestlers have built, it’s time for Iowa to prove whether it can return to its history of being not only a force, but the force to be reckoned with.
Anna attended the University of Iowa, where she covered multiple sports from volleyball to football to wrestling. She went to Pittsburgh in March 2019 for the NCAA DI Wrestling Championships and did live coverage of the entire event and Spencer Lee’s second-straight NCAA title. Follow her on Twitter.