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Iowa's Mitch Bowman discusses dropping to 174 pounds and the challenges that came with it. Cody Goodwin, cgoodwin2@dmreg.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — The new Mitch Bowman is a little thinner in the face and a lot more excited when he talks. The Midlands Championships are this coming weekend, and the Iowa senior will compete at 174 pounds. He’s put in a lot of work to cut down to his new weight.

It was not always easy.

“I haven’t been able to go to Bluebird as much,” Bowman says, referencing the popular Iowa City breakfast diner that’s something of a staple within the Iowa wrestling program. “I usually get the Popeye Omelet, but it’s pretty heavy, especially with the hash browns.

“You make small sacrifices.”

Bowman laughs as he tells this story, but the tone shifts as he speaks about the opportunity in front of him — and it’s a big one.

The Midlands, set for Dec. 29-30 at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, is routinely regarded as one of the college wrestling’s toughest midseason tournaments. The Hawkeyes, ranked second nationally in Trackwrestling’s Division I team poll, will compete against the likes of No. 8 Arizona State, No. 11 Princeton, No. 13 Northwestern, among others.

But it also offers Bowman a chance to show how he stacks up against some of the nation’s best 174-pounders. Among those expected to be in the field are Arizona State’s No. 2-ranked Zahid Valencia, the defending NCAA champion, as well as Northern Iowa’s Taylor Lujan (No. 8), Purdue’s Dylan Lydy (No. 11), Northwestern’s Johnny Sebastian (No. 12), as well as many more.

“You have to be ready to go,” said Spencer Lee, Iowa’s starter and defending NCAA Champion at 125 pounds. “This is one of the toughest tournaments in college wrestling. I lost there last year, so I know it’ll be a good tournament.”

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Since joining the Iowa wrestling program ahead of the 2014-15 season, Bowman has been something of a journeyman. The North Scott product has wrestled four different weights over the last five years. His first couple of seasons were spent as a backup to guys like Alex Meyer and Sammy Brooks.

Bowman finally broke into the starting lineup last season. He went 14-13 at 184 pounds and won twice at the NCAA Championships, contributing to Iowa’s third-place team finish. He did all of that while weathering questions about the possibility of Pat Downey joining the program.

“We love Bowman,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “He’ll do whatever you ask. If there wasn’t room on the bus, he would take off walking for (Hoffman Estates) right now. He’ll do whatever you ask.”

This season began with Bowman sliding back into that reserve role. He lost to Cash Wilcke during Iowa’s wrestle-offs last month, and spent the first half of the season backing up both Wilcke and Jacob Warner. He filled in as needed — he’s currently 2-0 at 197 pounds this year, and that includes a 7-5 win over Purdue’s Christian Brunner, who’s ranked No. 14 nationally and qualified for the U23 World Team this past summer.

Meanwhile, both Michael Kemerer and Myles Wilson went down with injuries, vacating the starting spot at 174 pounds. Bowman actually wrestled there in 2015-16, and certified there again this season. After defeating Brunner in November, he began his descent toward his new weight, complete with guidance from Brands, a team nutritionist and experience.

“Wrestlers are really good at facing adversity, and there was a little bit of adversity, but we didn’t change the goal,” Bowman said. “This is what it takes to make the team its best right now.

“The goal is still to win an NCAA title at the end of the year. It doesn’t matter what the weight is. This is another opportunity, and I have to make the most of it.”

After telling the aforementioned Bluebird story, Bowman did hint that this weight cut took some discipline.

“Just being more strict in diet,” he said, adding that the heaviest he’s officially weighed in at this season was 186. “There’s no secret to losing to weight. You have to work out more and have a calorie deficit. You have to work hard and make sure your portions are the right size.”

What about Christmas dinner?

“No going back for seconds. No whipped cream on your pie. No cookies.”

He smiles.

“Maybe one.”

It will be hard to fully replicate Kemerer’s firepower. In his first two seasons, he's 60-6 overall with 40 bonus-point victories. He was a two-time All-American at 157 pounds before bumping up to 174 ahead of this season. He opened the season ranked sixth nationally by Track, but a knee injury sidelined him for the year.

Bowman boasts a 30-21 career record, but the Midlands will perhaps provide the perfect proving ground. A strong outing will bolster Iowa’s team projections, but it will also show that he can hang with some of the nation’s best at his new weight.

“I’m super excited,” he said. “The Midlands is a huge tournament. Coming down to a new weight, I’m excited to see what I can do. Hopefully I can win it and put the whole weight class on notice.

“That’s my goal right now, to show that I can contend.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

Midlands Championships

WHEN: Dec. 29-30, Saturday-Sunday
WHERE: Sears Centre Arena, in Hoffman Estates, Illinois
WATCH: Flowrestling/BTN Plus
LISTEN: 800 AM KXIC

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