Senior Day: Reflections on Iowa Wrestling’s Senior Class

We’ll have our regular preview of Sunday’s Iowa-Michigan dual along tomorrow, but since that dual is also Senior Day and the last appearance in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for several seniors, we’re going to take a moment to recognize their contributions to the Iowa wrestling program, with the help of @hawktalkscorner. This class consists of three solid varsity starters and three hard working wrestling on and off the mat. Joe DuCharme, Tomas Lira, Ethen Lofthouse, Tony Ramos, Derek St. John, and Nick Trizzino are a combined 90-10 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Tony Ramos has played a big part in that record, going 33-0 so far in his career at CHA.   A win on Sunday and Tony Ramos will join the likes of Barry Davis, Tom Brands and Brent Metcalf as wrestlers who went undefeated inside Carver.

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 Tony Ramos

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(PHOTO: Tessa Hursh, Daily Iowan)

Tony Ramos came to Iowa from Glenbard North High School in Illinois.  Ramos was a three-time state champion at Glenbard North, winning his final title at 125 pounds.  Ramos was a top-ten overall high school recruit when he committed to Iowa, and Iowa fans were abuzz about getting a strong 125 pounder to compliment the future stud 133 pounder that Iowa had also signed, Nate Moore. It wasn’t until Tony got to campus that Iowa began to realize the true problem that they had on their hands.

Ramos competed his first season for the Hawkeyes at 133.  Like most wrestlers at Iowa under Tom Brands, Ramos redshirted as a true freshman.  Ramos, like several other Iowa wrestlers in years past, also found himself wrestling up a weight class from where he would likely compete after once his non-redshirt career began. Then everything changed: a homegrown Iowan named Matt McDonough emerged as an NCAA Champion as a freshman at 125 lbs. Now Ramos wouldn’t be able to compete at his more natural wrestling weight of 125 — he’d have to move up a weight class and try to enter the lineup at 133.

The 133 spot was no picnic, either.  There wasn’t a returning NCAA Champion there, but there was a returning NCAA qualifier. Tyler Clark, who had transferred to Iowa from rival Iowa State, was entering his first eligible season as a Hawkeye after sitting out a season, per transfer rules.  Under Cael Sanderson at Iowa State, Clark had posted a 43-20 record in two seasons and qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2008 and 2009. The third and final contender for the starting job at 133 was two-time Iowa high school state champion Nate Moore. During the competition for the starting job, Moore became very ill with a staph infection, which opened the door for Ramos to make the spot a two-horse race.  It was quickly apparent that Brands favored the way Ramos attacked his opponents and his relentless style allowed him to start the dual meets against Iowa State, UNI, and Michigan State to start the season.  After Ramos finished 6th at Midlands, losing to teammate Tyler Clark in the 5th place match, some fans worried that perhaps Brands would turn to Clark for the rest of the season.

The first real test of this decision came in Iowa’s dual meet against Oklahoma State.  Oklahoma State had the #1 ranked wrestler at 133 lbs, Jordan Oliver.  Brands opted to go with Clark instead of Ramos for the dual in the hopes that Clark’s defense could prevent Oliver from getting big bonus points (like a pin). Oliver won, but only by an 11-4 margin.  But that was the last varsity action Clark saw that year. Ramos finished the season 25-6, placed third at the Big Ten Tournament, and finished in the round of 12 (one win shy of All America status) at the NCAA Championships.

The next season we saw an even more motivated Tony Ramos, driven by his failure to place at the NCAA Tournament the previous year.  Without the additional drama of fighting for a starting spot, it was a fairly easy season for the sophomore.  He finished the year 33-4, with his first loss of the season coming to Virginia Tech’s Devin Carter in the finals of the Midlands Championships.  Ramos didn’t lose again until nearly a month later, falling to eventual NCAA Champion Logan Stieber at the Iowa-Ohio State dual. In fact, after his loss to Carter at Midlands, Stieber was the only other wrestler to defeat Tony all season.  Tony finished second at the Big Ten Tournament (losing to Stieber in the Big Ten Tournament finals) and finished third at the NCAA Tournament (losing again to Stieber in the semifinals) and earning his first All America honors.   And after only recording two pins the previous season, Ramos upped the ante, recording eight as a sophomore and improving his record to 15-0 inside Carver Hawkeye Arena after two seasons.  His most notable win at Carver came in the Iowa-Oklahoma State dual, where he beat defending NCAA Champion Jordan Oliver, 4-3, in the tie breaker periods.

The worst part about Ramos not being able to beat Steiber in any of their three matches was that the Ohio State wrestler was only a freshman, meaning he wasn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Ramos started his junior year off with a 26-match winning streak that he took all the way into the conference tournament.  He went 23-0 in duals (9-0 at Carver), but it still wasn’t enough as he lost again to Stieber at the Big Ten Tournament .  In the finals, he lost his chance at his first conference title on a takedown by Stieber in sudden victory. Still, the defeat did show Tony that he had the ability to beat Stieber — he had come a long way after losing 7-0 in their fist meeting a year earlier.  Tony steadily whittled down the margin of defeat  against Stieber (7-0, 5-2, 4-2, 3-1 SV). It seemed as though fate was finally going to break through and
 maybe, just maybe, if they met again in the NCAA Tournament Finals, then Tony could at last get his revenge and finally beat Steiber.  Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and Ramos lost again (7-4, although Tony also came thisclose to pinning Stieber and beating him in the most dramatic fashion possible) and finished second at the NCAAs again behind Stieber.

Tony got a “break” this year as a senior when Stieber decided that he could no longer cut down to 133 and bumped up to wrestle at 141 lbs.  Ramos entered the year as the #1 ranked wrestler and the title favorite in the Big Ten and in the NCAA. But there have been some unexpected speed bumps in the road for Ramos so far this year: a loss to AJ Schopp (3-2) in the dual meet at Edinboro, whom Ramos had majored in a meeting the previous season, and an unfortunate pinfall loss to UNI wrestler Joe Colon in the Midlands finals.  Some fans began to wonder if Tony would be able to get over the hump.  But since losing to Colon, Ramos has won 11 straight matches (including a win over then-#1 Jon Morrison), with seven wins featuring bonus points. Most Hawkeye fans still believe that Tony has what it takes to win a National Title and you can count me as one of them.

I want to end this reflection on Ramos by saying that this match on Sunday holds special meaning to both Tony and the Hawkeye fans. It’s very rare for a wrestler to come into this program and be a four-year starter. It’s even more rare that a wrestler can win his first 33 matches inside Carver. This Sunday Tony has a chance at perfection, a 34-0 career record at home. Take away for a moment that Tony has already won over 100 matches in his career, and that he needs just two more to rank 25th all time in wins at Iowa. His perfect record at Carver means a lot to fans who don’t get to travel to away meets; they know every time they go to a home meet that Tony is going to give them a show. Tony will forever be remembered for his win total, his pin total, and “The Staredown”, but I will always remember what Tony did by refusing to lose on his home mat.  Tony has given so much to Iowa fans over the last four years, so I hope everyone that can will show up and be in the stands to give him the respect he has earned wearing the Black and Gold.

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