Thomas Gilman hasn't won a match for the Iowa wrestling team yet.
But Gilman realizes how much being around the Hawkeyes' program benefits him as he prepares for one of his biggest tournaments.
The four-time state champion for Omaha Skutt will wrestle for the U.S. at the FILA Junior World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. Gilman will compete in the 55 kg (121-pound) bracket Sunday. The championships began Tuesday and run through Sunday.
“I'm growing as a wrestler and getting better every day,” said Gilman, who has trained in Iowa City most of the summer after redshirting as a freshman last year. “I've been working every day in the room. I've had my setbacks and frustrations, but at the end of the day, I've known I've put in the work. I feel good about going into the world championships.”
Those who have worked with Gilman won't be surprised if he returns with a gold medal.
“Right now, he is very focused,” said Brad Hildebrandt, Gilman's coach at Skutt. “I ran into (Iowa associate head coach) Terry Brands, and he said in the last month, he's really been locked in.
“Thomas not only is a gifted athlete, but he is one of the few that I've ever coached that has the ability to lock it down and just focus on the task in front of him. It's pretty amazing what he does mentally.”
Gilman already owned a long list of accomplishments before arriving in Iowa City.
Besides the state championships, he was a 2009 NHSCA national champion, a 2010 Cadet freestyle national champion and a 2011 FILA cadet national champion. He competed in Hungary at the 2011 Cadet World Championships.
This week's meet “is the same kind of thing, just a different level,” said Gilman, who qualified for the Junior World Championships by decisioning Ohio State recruit Nathan Tomasello at the team trials in June. “You just have to get more prepared — more ready because these guys are better. I feel I'm better than I was in 2011.”
He credits the improvement to his work with Iowa teammates and coaches.
Iowa's starter at 125 pounds last season was 2012 NCAA champion Matt McDonough. Brands won gold medals at the world championships in 1993 and 1995. And then there's 125-pounder Cory Clark, a four-time Iowa high school champion at Southeast Polk who sat out last season as a redshirt.
Gilman competed against them every day in practice.
“I've improved every aspect, but probably I've just grown as a wrestler,” he said. “Coming into college, I was immature, not necessarily in life, but in my wrestling. I've learned how to wrestle through adversity. I'm learned to roll with the punches.”
Hildebrandt has seen the progress.
“He was always great defensively, but his defense has gotten better,” the Skutt coach said. “But finishing his offensive attacks is where he's really made improvement.”
Clark and Gilman both excelled last year in open tournaments while wrestling unattached. Gilman went 23-5; Clark was 20-2 and won four tournaments
They'll battle for the 125-pound starting spot this winter.
Clark is “probably the best thing that's ever happened to me,” Gilman said. “He's a world-class guy. We go back and forth in the room, and neither of us are going to give up anything. That's going to make both of us a helluva lot better.”
Their weight class, Gilman said, “is probably a perfect example of what Iowa wrestling is about, battling for that starting spot. The guy that gets that spot might be one or two in the nation.”
One other current Hawkeye is competing at the Junior World Championships. Sammy Brooks, another redshirt freshman, will represent Team USA in the 84 kg bracket. He wrestles on Sunday as well.