Gable: Iowa should win NCAAs but close matches showed vulnerability

Updated: March 16, 2021

Editor’s Note: Dan Gable, the legendary NCAA, World and Olympic championship wrestler and coach recently spoke to WIN editor Mike Finn about the upcoming 2021 NCAA Division I National Championships, March 18-20, in St. Louis.

Dan Gable

WIN: After leading Iowa to 15 team championships in your 20 years at Iowa, I am sure you would like to see the 2021 Hawkeyes, ranked No. 1, capture the school’s 24th all-time title and first since 2010. Iowa, which held a 58-margin over second place Penn State in WIN’s Tournament Power Index, appears to be a dominant team. Do you have any concerns about the Iowa team? Do the Hawkeyes have any weaknesses?

Gable: Weakness is not a word that I use. I would talk in terms of vulnerabilities or what they need to build on. I would call it fine tuning. One thing that should be noted is that Iowa’s wrestlers did not score a lot of bonus points at the Big Tens and the margin of victory was not large, even though there appears to be a large of margin (of potential NCAA team points) between Iowa and other teams.

(Note: Nine of Iowa’s 28 Big Ten wins were by bonus points.)

That (small margin of individual matches) keeps hope alive for other teams. Right now, it would be hard to beat Iowa because the Hawkeyes are consistent at every weight and Iowa is not an automatic champion at every weight.

Some other team could get hot and the level of coaching of those schools that want to be great is pretty high. There is going to be no conceding to Iowa from coaches, but it’s their issue to get their guys to a higher level.

WIN: What do you think of Penn State and Cael Sanderson’s use of so many young wrestlers?

Gable: I’m sure that Sanderson sees the abilities with those guys but there are also some uncertainties.

WIN: This will be a three-day event for many teams that did not wrestle on consecutive days until their conference tournaments. How will that affect teams at the NCAAs and what should coaches have done to train wrestlers for these NCAAs?

Gable: This year takes more coaching than any I’ve seen and many of the wrestlers have also had to become coaches. There are not a lot of changes that are made this time of year. Hopefully more of these coaches have created more independent wrestlers than ever because they had less control of their wrestlers that probably any other time.

WIN: Earlier, you talked about teams fine tuning their wrestlers. What do you mean by that?

Gable: Fine tuning means to get their wrestlers to a point where they are not rattled and showing their best wrestling by showing their own styles of wrestling. Even though wrestlers are facing those they have not seen, that is normally not an issue at this level of wrestling and you learn their vulnerabilities. The best wrestlers not only do what they do best but take advantage of others issue. There are also going to be some wrestlers that are uptight.

WIN: Are those who wrestler uptight the wrestlers who are trying protect something rather than move forward?

Gable: They want to stay in a match so they can win it at the end. The best wrestler is the one who does what he does best the entire match.

WIN: While much of the individual focus will be put on someone like Iowa’s Spencer Lee, what do you think of Minnesota heavyweight Gable Steveson, who dominated the Big Tens?

Gable: He had one heck of a match against (Michigan’s) Mason Parris in the Big Ten final, but he did get a little carried away in that match. The coaches of doing a pretty good job of taming him down. He’s like a wild stallion. I don’t mind his showboating but you don’t want to cross the fine line of sportsmanship. It was such a hyped-up match and he just reacted to winning. He did get a little bit overboard.

WIN: What is it about Steveson’s style that makes him so dominant?

Gable: He’s opening up. He has held up well, but he hasn’t had that much opposition. Good wrestlers have to struggle at times. The question is if something becomes more difficult for Gable, it will be interesting to see how he handles it.  He showed that his body and mind are ready to go.

WIN: Half of the qualifiers (from teams that are not in the Big Ten and Big 12) will have three weeks between conference meet and the national tournament. Will that have any impact?

Gable: I don’t think it matters because the year has been a good thing, bad thing for teams and how they’ve responded. If you think about the fact that Iowa had a month off before the Big Tens, I didn’t see any drop-off in their Big Ten performance, except that some of them may have been uptight.

WIN: The 184-pound weight class appears to be the most wide-open in that even Penn State’s No. 1-rated Aaron Brooks had to rally to beat Iowa’s Nelson Brands.

Gable: Brooks should be the guy to beat, but Brands showed that (Brooks) may not be the guy for two-third of their Big Ten match. But Brooks showed why he is ranked No. 1 by wrestling tough the entire match. And for someone like Spencer Lee, he has shown he doesn’t want to wrestle a seven-minute match and dominate the first period.

WIN: We know who the dominant wrestlers and teams are going to be. What has to happen to create surprises in St. Louis?

Gable: I think there are going to be more than one surprise this year because of the way things have played out this year. Both wrestlers and coaches have been put in different positions than from the past. Many things seem different and everyone is in the same boat. The more determined coaches reached out to their wrestlers this year beyond normal practices will play a big part in St. Louis.