Heath Grimm has guided the Upper Iowa wrestling program to nine top-11 national finishes since taking over as the program's head wrestling coach in 2000. The Peacocks have finished as high as runner-up at the NCAAs under Grimm and won back-to-back NCAA team trophies in 2010 and 2011. Grimm has compiled a career dual meet record of 205-78-3. The Peacocks are currently ranked in the top 15 in the NCAA Division II wrestling rankings.
MatBoss recently caught up with Grimm and talked to him about national rankings, Division II wrestling, his daughter Emma, competing against Lincoln McIlravy and what it's going to take to finish the season with a team trophy.
Your program entered the season ranked in the top 10. How do you look at national rankings?
Grimm: We don't talk about rankings too much in the wrestling room or in the office. Obviously, that's more for the public. That's more for our alumni. That's more for the administrators. That's for these other programs on campus to kind of look at and rally around and get excited about. Year in and year out we've kind of been the been the leader athletically here and I think everyone gets excited when they see that our team is consistently a top-10 team in the country and we got some guys ranked in their weight classes.
You competed in a unique event in La Crosse that included three duals taking place simultaneously across Division I, Division II and Division III. What was the genesis of that event? And what did you think of the way it turned out? Is that something you could see happening again in the future.
Grimm: Dave Malecek and I are high school teammates. We are both from Osage, Iowa. We talked about this a few years back. We were going to do a Wisconsin vs. Iowa event. It was going to be DI, DII and DIII. We had Barry Davis on board. Then the coaching change happened at Wisconsin. Chris Bono was just getting his feet on the ground over there. He made some changes to the schedule and said, 'Let's not do this. Let's do it at different time.' And we respected that. Then Dave and Bono finally talked. Bono said, 'Let's do it. Dave wanted to honor the fact that I was part of it initially and we're the non-Wisconsin, DII team up there repping, so that was cool.
You have been at the Division III and Division II level. You're the only Division II school in Iowa with wrestling. What makes Division II wrestling different than other divisions?
Grimm: I just think here in Iowa it's just getting that exposure to the depth of quality that's there. I was a DIII All-American. I take a lot of pride in that. We were DIII. We took second in the country as a team. I have a lot of respect for DIII. But the truth of the matter is it's undeniable that there's just more depth, more quality in DII. There's more depth of quality at DII than there is in DIII. DIII has got some high-end guys that can definitely compete with DII. There are DIII teams that can compete in DII. But there are more of them in DII. Who do you want to say in DIII? In DIII everyone rallies around Augsburg, Wartburg … programs like that. You have a handful of consistent top teams in DIII. You have 15 of those and DII. Then it jumps another level to DI.
Your daughter Emma was a nationally ranked high school wrestler. She's now wrestling at North Central College. What's it been like as a father to watch her progress in the sport?
Grimm: It's been cool. I didn't let her wrestle when she was young because I had this misconception that everybody out there would think since Grimm didn't have boys that he's making his girls wrestle. That held me back. That was old school, small-minded, worried about people would think of me. So I held her out of it. She was always around it, loved it and was soaking it in mentally. And then that day that she came home from high school her sophomore year, and said, 'Dad, they're going to have girls sanctioned competitions in the state Iowa. I'm going out for wrestling.' Didn't ask me. I was like, 'All right. Girls vs. girls. She dropped her book bag and we dropped whatever we were doing and started working out right there in the living room that night. Super proud of her for everything she's accomplished.
You competed against Lincoln McIlravy in college. He went on to become a three-time NCAA champion and Olympic medalist. What made Lincoln such a great competitor?
Grimm: Oh wow! I mean, if my match is a microcosm of his career, it was that he could smother people. His ability to just smother opponents and to keep the pressure on was amazing. He broke a lot of wrestlers he competed against, whether it was physical or mental. That was a really crazy experience wrestling him. I loved it. I thought I had wrestling figured out. I just got done beating a really good kid in the semis and was going into the finals of this open tournament up in River Falls. I see a guy with a mullet wearing a turtleneck and holding his girlfriend's hand. I'm going, 'Who is this punk? Who is this guy? I had no idea who he was at the time. Eventually we learned that he won five state titles. But that's high school. This is college. I just remember going out there and putting my hands on him and he drops to his butt and he's trying to hit that boot scoot. I just kept throwing my left leg in and getting behind both arms. I'd look at the official, and the official would give me two points, even though I felt uncomfortable. I scored like two or three takedowns that way and was ahead 6-5 going into the third period. That's when I was smothered. He started pushing me and snapping me. It felt like he was punching me. I thought I was a tough dude. I remember at one point I looked over at my coaches and said, 'He's frickin punching me. They said, 'Well punch him back. I was like, 'I can't. I can't get my hands off the mat. I'm gone. I'm wasted and he beat me like 13-8.
Your last team trophy came in 2018. What is it going to take for Upper Iowa to get a team trophy this season? Can this team be in the mix?
Grimm: For sure. We obviously need guys that can run for national titles. And we have some guys that are high-end like that. So you have to punch some guys into the finals. You need to get enough guys on the podium. The challenge that we come across is getting out of that regional. We finished second at the regional behind St. Cloud. They'll take like eight guys. We'll have the second highest number of qualifiers and it'll be like four, five, maybe six. You want those seventh and eighth wrestlers. Because one of those guys will find their way on the podium. That's kind of how it rolls. But we have to be healthy. We have to be wrestling our best. I think that's kind of become our reputation a bit … come tourney time, the Peacocks are always wrestling their best. We train hard but we train smart. We want to be ready to wrestle our best at the end of the year.