In 2007 the University of Iowa handed over the keys to their blue blood program to one of their star alumni to rejuvenate the program which had taken a tumble from the days of Dan Gable. Tom Brands has now been at the helm for 13 seasons in Iowa City and during that time he has produced three NCAA team titles and helped lead a multitude of individual performances worthy of all-time status. As Tom enters season number 14 and is in search of the first team title in a decade we wanted to reflect back on the top wrestlers at each weight in the Tom Brands Era… The Best of Brands.
*Obligatory note we are only considering college accomplishments, during the NCAA season, for this list. All post-collegiate honors, or freestyle accolades do not apply.
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The Best: Montell Marion (2010-2012)
This weight had no debate on which wrestler holds the honor of ‘Best of Brands’ as it is hard to argue against the career of Montell Marion, who was a three year starter, three-time All-American for the Hawkeyes. His first year as a starter was as a sophomore season during the 2010 title season and Marion was one of the five NCAA finalists for the Hawks. His opponent in that NCAA finals would go on to historic career, becoming the first wrestler to win four NCAA titles at four different weight classes. Perhaps you’ve heard of Cornell’s Kyle Dake.
Marion followed up his tournament debut by taking fourth as a junior, and then made it back to the finals as a senior. He is the only Hawkeye to earn All-American honors at 141 pounds in the Brands era. That definitely puts Marion in unique company, thought it does make his selection as the best simple.
Runner-up: Alex Tsirtsis (2005-2009)
Here is where things get difficult. With only one wrestler earning All-American honors in the Brands era, that almost puts the rest of the wrestlers who have started at this weight in a similar category. The four candidates that standout Alex Tsirtsis (2005-2009), Dan LeClere (2008), Josh Dziewa (2012-2015), and Mark Ballweg (2013).
Of the four it’s safe to say Tsirtsis had the best career overall as the Indiana native finished seventh in the country in 2006, though that was prior to Brands’s return to Iowa City. In his two years as a starter under Brands he was a two-time NCAA qualifier and he placed third as a junior and fourth as a senior at the Big Ten tournament. Overall Tsirtsis probably deserves the honor as the runner-up wrestler for this weight.
After Tsirtsis the next wrestler would likely be Dziewa, who was a two year starter for the Hawkeyes his junior and senior seasons. While Dziewa never placed at the NCAA tournament he did earn two top five finishes at the Big Ten tournament, including a runner-up finish as a senior in 2015. By his final season Dziewa had established himself as a top wrestler at his weight nationally climbing as high as #6.
Another wrestler who was Big Ten runner-up was the starter that directly preceded Dziewa in Ballweg. With Marion graduating it left a big hole in the Iowa lineup and many were expecting the highly touted Dziewa to take over. Ballweg surprised many when he moved to 141 and won the spot. He finished the season one win shy of All-American status.
The last wrestler was LeClere, who came into college with a load of potential, but for a variety of reasons he was never able to actualize all of it. As a sophomore he earned the starting role over Tsirtsis, who then redshirted, and went on to place fifth in the Big Ten tournament his only year as a starter. He was nationally rated as one of the best in the country, entering nationals as the #8 seed in the country. The only thing holding LeClere back on this list is a body of work, because there was no doubting his potential.
The Best: Brent Metcalf (2008-2010)
Was there any doubt on who would occupy the top spot at 149 pounds? Who else could hold the honor other than Brent Metcalf who in his three year span at this weight managed to make three NCAA finals and win two titles? Not to mention that Metcalf still ranks in the top ten for career pins (#7), career winning percentage (#2), and consecutive matches won (#3), and he was a Dan Hodge Trophy winner.
His NCAA titles came as a sophomore and then again as a senior and his team won the title each season he was a starter.
To sum up what Metcalf made the most of losing his freshman year due to his transfer from Virginia Tech by becoming one of the most decorated Hawkeyes of all time. Following his outstanding college career he went on to become a force on the International level competing on four World teams representing the United States.
Runner-up: Brandon Sorensen (2015-2018)
While Metcalf may be the runaway favorite for the ‘Best of Brands”, it’s also true to say that Brandon Sorensen would be the clear cut favorite for the runner-up position at this weight. Throughout his career Brands has led four wrestlers to four-time All-American status, and three of those wrestlers were Tom Brands recruits (Mark Perry was a two-time AA under Jim Zalesky and then won two titles for Brands).
Sorensen was the third wrestler to reach the podium in four seasons as a Brands recruit joining the previously covered Cory Clark, who accomplished the feat in 2017. As a freshman Sorensen needed to win a lineup battle with Brody Grothus to assume the starting spot and after that point he never looked back finishing top five in each season.
The high moment of Sorensen’s career was his sophomore season when he made the NCAA finals in New York City, which was the highest finish in his career.