The notion that Iowa's school record 69-meet winning streak would come to an end in Stillwater on Sunday was not a particularly novel one. (I called a loss on Friday.) Oklahoma State was higher ranked than Iowa in virtually all of the polls and had higher-ranked wrestlers at a majority of weights -- and that's even without mentioning that Oklahoma State has been Iowa's most consistent (and persistent) rival over the last thirty years... and that far better Iowa teams than this one have come up short against Oklahoma State. So a loss to the Cowboys certainly wouldn't have come as a surprise.
And yet... Iowa didn't lose. They just didn't win, either. Instead, they embraced that most unpalatable of all sports outcomes: the tie. So the 69-match winning streak is done -- but it's been replaced with a 70-match unbeatean streak. All things considered, that's preferable to a 1-match losing streak.
IOWA 15, OKLAHOMA STATE 15
125: #3 Matt McDonough DEC (7-3) #8 Jon Morrison (Iowa, 3-0)
133: #1 Jordan Oliver DEC (11-4) #11 Tyler Clark (Tied, 3-3)
141: #19 Mark Ballweg DEC (8-3) #13 Josh Kindig (Iowa, 6-3)
149: #9 Jamal Parks DEC (8-4) Matt Ballweg (Tied, 6-6)
157: #15 Derek St. John DEC (7-5) #16 Neil Erisman (Iowa, 9-6)
165: #13 Dallas Bailey DEC (6-2) #15 Aaron Janssen (Tied, 9-9)
174: #16 Ethen Lofthouse DEC (4-3) #10 Mike Benefiel (Iowa, 12-9)
184: #14 Chris Perry DEC (2-0) #16 Grant Gambrall (Tied, 12-12)
197: #3 Clayton Foster DEC (5-3) #15 Luke Lofthouse (Okie State, 15-12)
HWT: Blake Rasing DEC (3-1, OT) Blake Rosholt (Tied, 15-15)
A few thoughts:
- 141: Iowa was a rankings underdog in seven of the ten matches in the dual, so for them to have any hope of winning (or, in this case, getting a tie) they were going to have to pull off a few upsets. Ballweg the Younger was one of the Hawkeyes that managed to do just that with a solid win over a very good wrestler in Kindig. He's hit a few snags this year, but on the whole he's been a pleasant surprise at 141; if Montell Marion isn't able to compete at 141 this year (for whatever reason), Ballweg has proven that he can be a solid replacement (though the upside isn't quite as high, obviously).
- 157: DSJ has been one of the most enigmatic wrestlers on the team this year, equally capable of pulling off an impressive win over a good opponent as he is losing badly to an unheralded opponent. There may be good reasons for that inconsistency (injury, illness, inexperience), but it's been maddening to see. This win had more drama than dominance (DSJ secured it with a takedown with seven seconds left in the third period), but Erisman isn't a slouch and simply a getting a win over a decent opponent is good progress for DSJ after the last few weeks.
- 174: Lofthouse the Younger was someone many fans had high hopes for entering the year, but some early struggles (and particularly a few manhandlings he suffered against ISU's Jon Reader) dashed much of that hope. Now we know that Reader is simply a beast this year and while Lofthouse isn't going to make anyone forget Borschel (miss you, JayBo), he's still a promising young talent that is getting better and stringing wins together. He was one of the few Iowa wrestlers to look even remotely good at Midlands and he picked up a win over a guy ranked in the top ten this week. He at least appears to be on the right track at the moment.
- 165: Anyone who saw Janssen and Jake Kerr do this tango a year ago at 157 probably could have guessed that 165 would be a rocky ride this year. Janssen's loss here wasn't a huge surprise (Bailey's had wins over more impressive foes than Janssen this year and he already beat Janssen earlier this year), but the two are evenly matched that it didn't seem unreasonable to hope that Janssen's experience advantage (fifth-year senior versus freshman) would help him get a win in the rematch. Instead he gave up five points almost immediately, which is just about the worst possible spot to be in against a team that prizes defense (and, yes, stalling) as much as the Cowboys. The 165 job should still be Janssen's, but Iowa needs him to win a few more of these matches.
- 184: Once upon a time this year, Gambrall was ranked in the top-five at this weight. No, seriously. That ranking seemed a bit high at the time (he hadn't really beaten, well, anyone), but it seems positively laughable now. Chris Perry is no slouch, but Gambrall really needs to do better. He has to be able to get an escape and not let himself get ridden for an entire period. And he has to be able to finish shots against better opponents. At the beginning of the year, it seemed like he was one of Iowa's three best wrestlers (along with McD and DSJ) and while that now seems very doubtful, he really needs to be better than he's been the past few weeks. 184 is a weight that's fairly wide open -- but that won't matter if Gambrall keeps struggling.
- 125: No, McD didn't lose. And, no, his opponent wasn't a pushover. And, no, it might not be entirely fair, but expectations are higher for McD than anyone else on this team. He's the defending national champion, he's the best wrestler on the team, he's the team leader. He's the guy who needs to set the pace for the team and the guy who always needs to be pushing for bonus points (especially in a dual as evenly matched as this one). Again, it's not as if he was bad in this dual... more that he wasn't as excellent as we know he can be. With the margin between Iowa and the other top teams as narrow as it is this year, we need as many points as possible out of McD.
- 133: The big question going into this meet was who would get the nod at 133: Tyler Clark, who has an edge in experience and defense, or Tony Ramos, who has an edge in aggressiveness and point-scoring ability. Brands opted for the more conservative choice in Clark, but frankly it's hard to say there was any "right" decision here. Oliver is the top-ranked wrestler at 133 and may be the best wrestler in the nation at this point; he's just an absolute machine. Ramos has better offense and might have been able to score more points on Oliver (although that's no guarantee, just like it's no guarantee that his more relentless style would have been able to tire out Oliver), but he also probably would have given up more points (he managed to dig himself big holes before coming back to make things interesting in a few of his Midlands losses). Clark's ability to ride Oliver as well as he did may have been the difference in keeping the match from being a major decision. That said, Clark's lack of offense is frustrating and Ramos seems like the wrestler with the much higher ceiling, so it would seem to make more sense to favor him going forward.
- 149: Sure, Parks wasn't the most dominant top ten wrestler going into this match (all but three of his wins have been by decision), but Iowa has been so dire at 149 for most of this year, we needed anyone who could keep things relatively close -- and Ballweg the Elder managed just that. Given Chiri's tendency to give up big moves, it seems far more likely that he would have been on the receiving end of a bonus point loss, which would have definitively spelled the end of Iowa's winning streak.
- 197: Lofthouse the Elder simply isn't in the same class as the top guys at 197. He never has been and (sadly) he probably never will be. We could do the same old song and dance about how he was close on a few takedowns and if he could have just finished those, then the ol' Leg could have had a big upset... but no. It's the same old story we've always seen with Lofthouse and, frankly, the odds of him being able to pull off an upset on a guy as strong as Foster were never that good.
- HWT: The only real disappointment here is that Jordan Johnson still hasn't gotten a shot at this weight. In the immortal words of Dennis Green, Rasing "is who he thought he was" -- a humongously big guy who struggles to do much with his size and who has an almost pathological inability to attack. There's a roughly 90% chance that all of his matches will end 3-1; the only question is whether or not he'll be getting the takedown to secure victory or giving it up. Sure, a bonus point win here could have secured the win for Iowa (and guaranteed the continuation of the winning streak), but, c'mon, who could honestly expect a fourth-year junior with an at least fifty-pound weight advantage to be able to pin a freshman who could probably make the cut to 197 without any ill effects?
So the winning streak is dead; long live the unbeaten streak. Sure, "70 matches in a row unbeaten" doesn't quite have the same ring to it and it's sad that the winning streak is over, especially with them so close to Oklahoma State's all-time record (although road meets at Penn State and Minnesota were going to make it awful difficult for Iowa to get to the all-time record anyway). But we know Iowa can compete in a hostile environment against a strong team loaded with solid wrestlers -- that's more than we could say after Midlands. They still have a long way to go before I'd feel too confident about their ability to defend their title, but they're making improvement (at a few weights, anyway). That's something.
Up next: a rebuilding Ohio State squad (2-5) invades CHA on Saturday at 3pm CST (live on BTN).