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: Jay Borschel (2008-2010)
The lone NCAA champion at 174 pounds in the Tom Brands era was another member from that 2010 title team, Jay Borschel who was a two-time All-American for Iowa. Like several other wrestlers in this series, Borschel was among the group of wrestlers that initially began his career at Virginia Tech, but then transferred to Iowa when Brands became the Hawkeyes’ head coach. The move cost Borschel a shot at competing as a freshman, though the wrestler that competed in his stead finished third in the nation (and will be discussed later on at this weight).
Borschel then entered the lineup as a sophomore where he went on to finish third at his weight, with his only loss a 3-2 semifinals defeat at the hands of eventual champion Keith Gavin of Pittsburgh. As a junior Borschel missed the podium despite entering the tournament as the fourth seed, but he would come back to win the 2010 title as a senior.
Borschel’s biggest claim to fame was his miraculous comeback in the semifinals as a senior where he was trailing 9-3 midway through his match with Chris Heinrich of Virginia. He mounted a comeback to win the bout 10-9. Or maybe his biggest highlight was his finals match against Cornell’s Mack Lewnes who he defeated 6-2 to claim the top spot. Entering the finals not only was Lewnes carrying an undefeated record but he had not surrendered a takedown all season. Borschel opened the match with a takedown and never looked back.
Runner-Up: Mike Evans (2012-2015)
The second place nominee for 174 pounds is Mr. Consistency himself, Mike Evans. After stepping into the lineup as a freshman at 165 pounds, Evans just missed the podium by one match in his first attempt and then slid up the lineup to 174 pounds for his remaining three years. The consistent part comes in with how he finished those last years: three consecutive sixth place finishes.
Evans was one of the tougher wrestlers to deal with in the Iowa lineup and was most remembered for being locked in a four man Big Ten battle for the nation’s top spot between Penn State’s Matt Brown, Nebraska’s Robert Kokesh, and Minnesota’s Logan Storley. Perhaps more importantly Evans will be remembered for his mustache which made him a fan favorite.
Missed the cut: Ethen Lofthouse (2011-2014) / Eric Ludke (2004-2007)
There were two other names that factored into the decision for runner-up. Ultimately I decided to go with Evans in the second slot based on the number of finishes, and the fact that while he never finished higher than sixth, he was normally in the conversation for the title race based on his countless close battles with the aforementioned Big Ten trio.
But also in consideration was Eric Ludke who wrestled under Brands as a senior placed third in the country at 174 pounds, pulling a couple upsets along the way to win the consolation bracket. The other name was four year starter Ethen Lofthouse, who was a seventh place All-American as a sophomore at this weight. He bumped up to 184 as a junior and took fifth in the county. As a senior he failed to medal, but did manage to take second at the Big Ten Championships.
Next in line: Michael Kemerer (2017-Present)
Depending on a couple of breaks in the favor of Michael Kemerer he could hold a unique distinction among our ‘Best of Brands’ list. For one we already labeled him the runner-up behind Derek St. John at 157 pounds. As of right now he has two top four finishes at that weight, which may be just enough to hold off Kaleb Young, who could move up that weight’s list before his career is complete.
What makes Kemerer unique is the fact that he is expected to compete at 174 this coming year, which puts him in contention to make a name for himself at two separate weights. If the NCAA decides to grant him a medical hardship waiver, Kemerer may have two opportunities to earn podium finishes. If he were to bag a couple of All-America honors at 174, say two more top four finishes he would have a strong argument to be the runner-up at this weight as well.
The Best: Phil Keddy (2007-2010)
This weight was actually harder to determine than it would seem on paper. If we were only looking at All-American finishes it’s hard to argue against Phil Keddy, who is the only wrestler in the Brands era to earn three podium finishes at 184 pounds. What made it slightly more difficult was the fact that the runner-up wrestler at this weight, Sammy Brooks had two similar podium finishes to Keddy, but he was also a two-time Big Ten Champion.
But in the end I think Keddy, by benefit of being a four year starter, was able to garner up more accolades overall to earn him the top spot. Over his four year career Keddy amassed 102 wins (oddly enough this is the same total of wins Brooks won as well) and was a four-time Big Ten medalist. As a freshman he took seventh, but over his last three years he never placed lower than third, with his last two years finishing as the conference runner-up.
At nationals Keddy earned All-America status for the first time as a sophomore, taking sixth and he followed that up with a fourth and eighth place finish as a junior and senior respectively. His three podium finishes also coincided with the three team titles won by the Hawkeyes from 2008 to 2010. He was famously known for his lightening quick standup that if he was able to bottle and sell he would no doubt be a very rich man today.
Runner-up: Sammy Brooks (2014-2017)
That leaves Brooks unquestioningly as the runner-up for this weight class. As we already mentioned, Brooks was a two-time Big Ten champion and he earned All-America finishes as a junior and senior taking eighth and fourth. The only thing separating Keddy and Brooks in terms of podium finishes was Keddy’s sixth place finish he earned as a sophomore.
Coming out of Illinois powerhouse program Oak Park-River Forest, Brooks was a blue chip recruit for the Hawkeyes in the same class as Cory Clark and Thomas Gilman. As a freshman Brooks was stuck behind All-American Ethen Lofthouse, though he still received plenty of action as a starter competing in ten duals for the Hawkeyes.
As a sophomore Brooks got his first opportunity on the full-time starters gig and seized the opportunity. Perhaps one of the biggest hallmark moments for Brooks was his 17-2 technical fall over Oklahoma State’s Jordan Rodgers in the Iowa-Oklahoma State dual back in 2015. The Grapple on the Gridiron dual was held in Kinnick stadium and to this day is college wrestling’s record holder for a single dual attendance. Brooks’s win over Rodgers gave the Hawkeyes two bonus points, which ended up being the difference in the 18-16 team victory.
Other All-Americans in the Brands era at this weight were Ethen Lofthouse (fifth) and Grant Gambrall (third).