IOWA CITY — Tom Brands never backed away from a competitor on the mat.
Iowa’s head wrestling coach can be ferocious matside while coaching the Hawkeyes, too. Not much intimidates Brands.
Except, maybe, “Chewie.”
Five years ago Brands was sitting in the living room of Julie and Dwight Sorensen in rural Cedar Falls delivering his recruiting pitch to them and their son, Brandon.
There, he met a formidable foe in Chewie, the Sorensens’ blue and gold macaw, who was giving Brands the “stink eye.”
“I remember they had some funny animals in their house,” Brands recalled Tuesday as he spoke of Sorensen, Iowa’s three-time All-American 149-pound wrestler who will be wrestling his final two home duals this weekend when the Hawkeyes host Minnesota (Friday, 8 p.m.) and Northwestern (Sunday, 10 a.m.).
“One of them was a parrot,” Brands continued. “And his parrot was a mean son of a gun. It was one of those things if he doesn’t like you he is going to peck the living dog out of you so I stayed away from the parrot. I think that humanized me a little bit with the family.”
Sorensen, who could become Iowa’s 20th four-time All-American in March at the NCAA Division I National Championships in Cleveland, laughed when he heard what Brands had to say about Chewie.
“Blue and gold macaw and it is a pretty big one,” Sorensen smiled. “Chewie because it chews everything up. If he likes you, he likes you, but if not, it can be a mean bird.
Sorensen was a coveted recruit in Iowa in 2013.
He was a four-time state champion for Denver-Tripoli high school who graduated tied for the all-time lead in career wins (208), although that mark has since has been passed by Max Thomsen of Union, Bryce West of Solon (210) and current Hawkeye teammate Carter Happel (2009).
Sorensen picked Iowa over a host of suitors and he has delivered every step of the way for the Hawkeyes over the past four season, compiling a 116-13 record with fourth-, second- and third-place finishes at the last three NCAA Championships.
Sorensen is one of three seniors on Iowa’s roster and the only senior regular in the lineup. His 116 career wins are 67 more than any active Hawkeye, and he is a three-time Midlands champion who is also part of the Midlands 20-in-4 Club (20 wins in 4 years).
“He speaks very softly and carries a big stick,” Brands said. “That is probably how he has represented our program the best. He is a true Hawkeye. Over five years he has given everything.”
Sorensen’s steady approach to wrestling and life is rubbing off on many of Iowa’s younger wrestlers.
“He’s the same guy every single day in practice, every single time he steps out onto the mat in a match,” said Kemerer, a sophomore who finished third in the nation last year at 157 and is a frequent workout partner for Sorensen. “That consistency is something and it is a lot easier said than done. He prepares the right way.
“I have learned from him. I have a lot of respect for that consistency, that consistent dominance.”
Sorensen said his focus is not on the fact he will be wrestling inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the last two times this weekend. He said his energy is completely focused on beating Minnesota’s Ben Brancale Friday night in their 149-pound match.
That being said, some retrospection was eventually gleaned from Sorensen.
“It goes by quick. I guess it has been five years. It goes by quick and you have to take everything in,” he said. “(Running out of the tunnel at Carver-Hawkeye Arena), it is awesome, gives you chills running down your back. I remember that first time coming in as a redshirt freshman and feeling that energy.”
Asked if he has accomplished everything he had hoped when he arrived, Sorensen’s answer was quick and to the point.
“No. Not at all. There are things I want to get down,” Sorensen said. “Right now I want to win the national title, and I have one shot to do that so that is where all my energy is going — to be on top of that podium on March 17.”