Iowa took part in the inaugural Grapple at the Garden event in New York City this weekend, an event that was the first-ever collegiate wrestling event to be held at legendary Madison Square Garden. The event seemed to be a great success for college wrestling-- attendance was solid and it generated good publicity for the sport in a major media market. For Iowa, the event was great exposure (which surely won't hurt when it comes to recruiting on the east coast) and a unique opportunity for Iowa wrestlers to compete in one of the most storied arenas in the world.
Unfortunately, from a competitive standpoint, this event -- and this roadtrip in general, if you include the dual meet with Buffalo on Monday -- left a little to be desired for Iowa. Hofstra, Bucknell, and Buffalo were all wildly overmatched opponents for Iowa (they had six ranked wrestlers combined) and the final scorelines -- 42-0, 34-9, and 39-3 -- reflected that reality. Iowa lost three matches all weekend. There were good teams at the Grapple at the Garden; even omitting future opponents like Ohio State, Oklahoma State, and Nebraska, it would have been nice -- and more challenging -- to see Iowa take on Cornell or Missouri. Hell, even Maryland and Rutgers would have posed more intriguing challenges for Iowa. The Grapple at the Garden was a good event and I hope it continues. I even hope Iowa continues to participate in it. I just hope that next time Iowa gets to face an opponent that's better than the likes of Cornell College or Chattanooga.
On the other hand, given the competition (or lack thereof) that Iowa faced this weekend, this looked like an excellent opportunity for them to work out the kinks and strut their stuff for a Big Apple crowd. The results on that front were mixed. They didn't have too much trouble getting bonus points -- Iowa scored bonus points in 22 of their 27 wins this weekend -- but most of those bonus point wins (16/22 to be precise) were major decisions. Major decisions are nice... but technical falls are better. And pins are best. That's setting the bar very high, but we don't really have a choice in the matter, either.
Everyone is chasing Penn State and the reason they're out in front of the pack -- possibly way out in front -- is because of their ability to amass staggering amounts of bonus points. They'e fantastic at getting back points and nearfalls and turning major decisions into technical falls and turning guys and getting pins. Until Iowa has more guys that can do that on a consistent basis, we're not going to catch them. Based on the results this weekend (which were similar to the results we've seen earlier this year), Iowa still has a ways to go in that department. Too many Iowa wrestlers struggled to turn guys and get back points or nail them to a mat and get a pin. Even our best wrestlers -- McD, Ramos, DSJ -- were too often having to settle for major decisions because they weren't able to get guys on their backs. Again, the results this weekend were very good -- Iowa won these duals by a combined score of 115-12. It's just that we're almost certainly going to need to see even better results if we want to add to that collection of championship banners in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
#5 IOWA 42, HOFSTRA 0
125: #1 Matt McDonough MAJ DEC (10-2) #19 Steve Bonanno (Iowa 4-0)
133: #3 Tony Ramos MAJ DEC (14-4) Jamie Franco (Iowa 8-0)
141: #11 Mark Ballweg DEC (3-2) #14 Luke Vaith (Iowa 11-0)
149: Mike Kelly MAJ DEC (14-2) Matt Spataro (Iowa 15-0)
157: #1 Derek St. John MAJ DEC (16-4) Cody Ruggirello (Iowa 19-0)
165: #19 Nick Moore MAJ DEC (12-4) Nick Terdick (Iowa 23-0)
174: #7 Mike Evans MAJ DEC (8-0) Jermaine John (Iowa 27-0)
184: #7 Ethen Lofthouse FALL (2:29) Taras Luzhnyy (Iowa 33-0)
197: Nathan Burak DEC (10-3) Tim Murphy (Iowa 36-0)
285: #5 Bobby Telford FALL (4:25) Paul Snyder (Iowa 42-0)
#5 IOWA 34, BUCKNELL 9
125: Matt Gurule DEC (6-5) Austin Miller (Iowa 3-0)
133: #3 Tony Ramos MAJ DEC (23-9) Paul Petrov (Iowa 7-0)
141: #11 Mark Ballweg MAJ DEC (12-3) Derrik Russell (Iowa 11-0)
149: Mike Kelly MAJ DEC (14-5) Adam Healey (Iowa 15-0)
157: #1 Derek St. John FALL (4:53) Vincent Favia (Iowa 21-0)
165: #16 Corey Lear DEC (5-2) #19 Nick Moore (Iowa 21-3)
174: #7 Mike Evans FALL (2:53) Stephen McPeek (Iowa 27-3)
184: #7 Ethen Lofthouse MAJ DEC (14-3) Robert Marchese (Iowa 31-3)
197: Tyler Lister FALL (3:34) Nathan Burak (Iowa 31-9)
285: #5 Bobby Telford DEC (5-1) Joe Stolfi (Iowa 34-9)
#5 IOWA 39, BUFFALO 3
141: #11 Mark Ballweg MAJ DEC (12-3) Andrew Schutt (Iowa 4-0)
149: Mike Kelly MAJ DEC (21-13) Blake Ruolo (Iowa 8-0)
157: #1 Derek St. John MAJ DEC (21-7) Wally Maziarz (Iowa 12-0)
165: #15 Mark Lewandowski DEC (8-3) #19 Nick Moore (Iowa 12-3)
174: #7 Mike Evans MAJ DEC (14-1) #17 John-Martin Cannon (Iowa 16-3)
184: #7 Ethen Lofthouse MAJ DEC (12-4) Tony Lock (Iowa 20-3)
197: Nathan Burak MAJ DEC (12-4) Angelo Malvestuto (Iowa 24-3)
285: #5 Bobby Telford FALL (1:36) Justin Heiserman (Iowa 30-3)
125: Matt Gurule DEC (15-10) Max Soria (Iowa 33-3)
133: #3 Tony Ramos FALL (4:27) Erik Galloway (Iowa 39-3)
125: McD wrestled just once this weekend, a 10-2 major decision over Hofstra's Bonanno. It was a little disappointing that he wasn't able to get any nearfall points against Bonnano, but the announcers indicated tonight that McD was a little under the weather this weekend, which is also why he only wrestled one of the three matches. I think we can cut him a little slack. Gurule picked up a pair of wins in McD's absence and what he lacked in dominance, he made up for in drama, winning a tight, 6-5 decision against Bucknell and a wild, back-and-forth 15-10 decision against Buffalo. Gurule almost certainly isn't the real second-string 125er for Iowa, but with Cory Clark and Thomas Gilman taking redshirts this year, he's the only other 125er available. He acquitted himself fine this weekend, but hopefully McD uses the holidays to get rested up for the rest of the season.
133: Three matches against overmatched opponents, three bonus point wins for Tony. He put on a pair of takedown clinics yesterday; after getting caught and giving up a big move tonight, he rebounded to throttle Galloway and ultimately pin him. He struggled to get back points against Hofstra and Bucknell, but otherwise Ramos is wrestling at a very, very high level right now.
141: Ballweg wrestled in one of the few ranked wrestler vs. ranked wrestler matches this weekend, versus Hofstra's Luke Vaith on Sunday. He won by the skin of his teeth, 3-2, narrowly avoiding giving up points at the end of the match. Vaith is a solid opponent, so it's a good win, but it would be nice to see Ballweg having a bit more control at the end of a match. He picked up a pair of 12-3 major decision wins in his other matches this weekend, which was good although the same "more back points, more pins" refrain that applies to the Iowa team applies to him as well. Ballweg was one of Iowa's most prolific pinners in 2010, so it's a little surprising that he's only had one pin this year.
149: As entertaining as Gurule's matches sounded this week, no one trumped Mike Kelly in the excitement department -- he racked up a whopping 49 points in his three matches, all major decision wins. It was disappointing that he put himself in a bad spot by giving up an early 4-point move and a few other takedowns against Ruolo, but he rebounded to put on an absolute clinic the rest of the way and even managed to push his margin to a major decision with a nearfall at the end. It's exciting to see Kelly displaying so much offense and getting several takedowns per match. That was a big problem for him last year and while he still needs to do it against better competition, he's looking much better than a year ago. Brody Grothus hasn't had many shots to stake a claim to this weight since he injured his leg in Iowa's season-opening road trip to Chattanooga, but Kelly also hasn't given Grothus many opportunities with his performances.
157: Of course, DSJ wasn't exactly shy about racking up match points, either -- he had 37 in his two major decision matches and several in his pinfall victory over Favia, too. The quibble would be that he wasn't able to get more back points in his two major decision wins (they were pretty much just takedown clinics) and for a wrestler of St. John's caliber, you'd like to see a few more tech falls and pins. It's a harsh standard, sure, but for Iowa to keep up with the Taylors and Ruths of the world, they need their best wrestlers to be getting even more points than they are.
165: Most Iowa wrestlers had a pretty good weekend in these three meets. Nick Moore did not. He had the most to prove this weekend -- he was the only Iowa wrestler facing two ranked opponents -- and he was also the biggest disappointment. He had two matches against wrestlers ranked just ahead of him, #15 Mark Lewandowski and #16 Corey Lear, and he lost both of them. (To be fair, Lear may be much better than his ranking; he also knocked off Oklahoma State's #3-ranked Tyler Caldwell this weekend.) In both matches, Moore struggled to get takedowns and ended up conceding takedowns on several of his shots. That was a problem for him at 157 last year, too; the hope was that moving up to his natural weight would help him, but it may be more of a technique issue than a weight issue. There's still time for Moore to turn things around this season, but based on current results he looks pretty far from being an All-America contender, which is not good for Iowa's national title hopes.
174: On the other hand, the Mike Evans-at-174 experiment seems to be going swimmingly. I had thought that Grant Gambrall might get another shot in one of the three matches this weekend, given that Tom Brands hadn't definitively named Evans his starter at this weight. But actions probably speak louder than words here: Evans started three matches, Gambrall started zero. Grant Gambrall may have been Blake Rasing'd after all. In any event, Evans got the start this weekend and he didn't do anything to lose that starting gig. He had three wins, two major decisions and a pin, and he again showed his brilliance on the mat, picking up nearfall points (or a pin) in all three matches. Maybe Evans can teach the other Iowa wrestlers a thing or two about getting back points. The only disappointment was that Evans wasn't able to stretch those major decisions into technical falls, especially the match with Cannon; he led 9-0 seconds into the second period, but he wasn't able to get enough takedowns over the remaining four minutes to get that tech fall. If Evans can start getting those takedowns more consistently, he'll go from "very good" to "great."
184: Ethen Lofthouse got a fall (which is very good) and he got a pair of major decisions (which is also good); like the rest of the Iowa team, the only real complaint is that he wasn't able to get more back points. Again, Lofthouse did just fine -- he got bonus points, he didn't struggle against weak opposition -- he just needs to push things a step further if Iowa is really going to contend with teams like Penn State.
197: Was this a turning point weekend for Nathan Burak? Let's hope so. I was a little surprised that he got all three matches at 197 this weekend and that Tomas Lira didn't sniff the mat-- clearly, Burak has a long leash with Brands and he thinks that letting him work through his issues on the mat is the best course of action. For a while, I was thinking that Burak's season at 197 was paralleling Mike Kelly's season at 149 last year quite a bit: both rose to prominence at an early season tournament (Midlands for Kelly, Lindenwood for Burak) where their most notable result was a close loss to a much more experienced opponent (former Purdue wrestler Jake Patascil for Kelly, Missouri wrestler Brent Haynes for Burak), and both struggled when they were put in the starting lineup. Kelly never really got things sorted out last year (he went 2-12 at 149, post-Midlands); the jury's still out on Burak.
But this weekend sounded more like the Burak that impressed at the Lindenwood Open than the guy that's struggled and looked tentative in his starts since then. He finally picked up his first win as an Iowa starter against Hofstra, winning 10-3 over Tim Murphy. He followed that with a pinfall loss to Tyler Lister, which was unfortunate -- but sometimes guys get caught, especially younger guys. He rebounded tonight with an impressive 12-4 major decision win. He again fell behind early, but he roared back with several takedowns and some back points. Again, it's just one match -- two matches over the course of the weekend -- but these results are a lot more positive than we've seen out of 197 so far. There's still a long, long way to go, but this weekend was the first time since Lindenwood that there's been a light at the end of the tunnel for this season at 197.
285: No one scored more team points this weekend than Bobby Telford -- he had two pins sandwiched around a 5-1 decision win, good for 15 team points. On a weekend where Iowa struggled to get back points and pins, Telford was one of the few Iowa wrestlers who was able to turn his opponents and get pins. We still need to see how Bobby will fare against the elite heavyweights this year, but so far he's doing a solid job of taking care of business and getting maximum bonus points against lesser competition.
But playtime is over for Iowa now. They're off for the next three weeks (although a handful of Iowa wrestlers will be competing unattached at the Midlands Tournament at the end of December; I'll post some results from that when they're available), before returning to action in a home meet with #4 Ohio State on January 4. Iowa has cruised through the patsy portion of their schedule, but shit is about to get real. Just two of Iowa's first ten dual meet opponents were ranked in the Top 25 of the NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll; nine of their next ten opponents are ranked in the Top 25 of that poll, including five top ten teams. Several of the opponents Iowa will face in those dual meets will be the same guys that they'll see again at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments as they vie for championships there. Business is about to pick up, as they say; let's hope Brands & Co. spend the next few weeks making sure Iowa is ready to hit the ground running in 2013.