(Before we get going, a big thank-you to our new partners at the Daily Iowan for allowing us to use some of their photos in our stories. Please hit them up for lots of good free, daily coverage of the goings-on at the University of Iowa.)
The Iowa wrestling team wrapped up their regular season dual meet schedule last weekend, blasting Edinboro 31-6 on Saturday night. You could be forgiven for thinking that this dual was just a replay of the Nebraska dual meet from a week earlier. Both teams came to CHA clad in red-and-white singlets (which was sad, since it meant Edinboro wasn't sporting their Giant Scottish Head singlets), both teams brought a handful of studs, and both teams ended the meet on the wrong side of a lopsided beatdown. Hell, both teams even saw their best wrestlers get beaten by their Iowa counterparts (Robert Kokesh for Nebraska, A.J. Schopp for Edinboro).
None of that came as much of a surprise, of course -- I picked an Iowa rout in We Must Break You last week and that's precisely what happened. (I picked Iowa to win 35-3; they actually won 31-6, proving that I am just a fraud when it comes to making predictions.) Edinboro had some solid wrestlers -- four guys ranked in InterMat's top-20, including two in the top-5 at their respective weights -- but they weren't remotely deep enough from 125 to 285 to mount a serious challenge against Iowa. Iowa won 8 of 10 matches in the dual and grabbed bonus points in 6 of those 8 wins. That's a recipe for an easy, easy win.
Fans were also encouraged to wear red, white, and blue to show their support for the Save Olympic Wrestling movement. Herky at least got into the spirit:
(photo via Darren Miller, Hawkeye Sports)
Before we get to the meet results, a word about Hawkeye All-Access / the Big Ten Digital Network. I'm grateful that it exists because it enables far more wrestling meets to be broadcast than was possible even five years ago. That's the good news. The bad news is that on a technical level, the service is a constant source of frustration. It's always a hassle to get it running and the quality of the video stream can be hilariously variable. This week the stream didn't even turn on until early in the 133 match; good thing no one wanted to watch Matt McDonough's last match at Carver-Hawkeye Arena or anything. Oh wait... And that's without even touching on some of the technical issues, like the lack of announcers for this dual (several of the usual suspects were over in Des Moines to watch the Iowa state wrestling championships, but still: they couldn't find anyone in Iowa City to provide a little commentary?) or the utter lack of on-screen information (scores? Ha! time? Pfft!). Aren't events like this the perfect opportunity for Media Production students to get some experience? Use them, for god's sake. Anyway.
125: I picked McD to close out his CHA career with a fall and he wasn't quite able to do that, although he did cruise to a 14-3 major decision. I wasn't able to see this match thanks to All-Access' annoying technical issues, but it sounded like much the same McD as we've seen of late: a bit better, but still not on par with the McD we've seen the last few years.
133: Ramos has been phenomenal this season, arguably taking over the "best wrestler on the team" mantle from Matt McDonough a year sooner than any of us expected. His 19-0 record, including 17 bonus point wins (and a team-best 9 pins), was certainly very impressive. But the one knock against Tony this season was that he hadn't faced the stiffest competition. Tony entered this dual 3-0 against ranked opponents, the fewest matches against ranked opponents of any of Iowa's regular starters. None of that was his fault -- that's just the way the schedule (and a few untimely injuries to opponents) happened to break this year -- but it did leave us wondering just a little about how good he really was.
I think he's answering those questions pretty emphatically at this point. Last week he pinned #10 Daryl Thomas of Illinois. This week he dominated #3 A.J. Schopp of Edinboro, roaring to a 9-0 major decision win. That result ended his three-match pinning streak, but it was a close call -- Ramos had Schopp in a cradle for much of the third period, but just couldn't quite get him turned. I thought Tony benefited a little from a quick call near the end of the first period, but ultimately this dominant win was well-deserved -- he was better than Schopp in all positions here. Perhaps most encouraging was the fact that Ramos was able to get an escape fairly easily when Schopp was on top, despite the fact that Shopp has very good riding skills. In any case, Tony looks tremendous right now: bring on anyone. (Tony was also named Big Ten Wrestler of the Week for his efforts in this match.)
141: There wasn't much about this dual to be disappointed in, but Ballweg's match was definitely one of them. Ballweg's match with #5 Mitchell Port was a golden opportunity for Ballweg to improve his ranking (and his NCAA seed) and prove that he could beat a top guy at this weight. Unfortunately, he was handled fairly easily in a 5-0 loss to Port, his second loss against a top-5 opponent at 141 this year. Hopefully Ballweg studies this match and figures out what he did wrong (I think the biggest problems he had were not seeking a takedown in the first period more aggressively and letting himself get ridden so hard by Port) and is able to make some adjustments if they meet again. As far as his seed goes, he's going to have limited opportunities to improve it now, unless he runs into Hunter Stieber at National Duals or the Big Ten Tournament.
149: Brody Grothus might lead the nation in "wild scrambles that almost end up scoring points -- but don't" situations. Too often it seems like he gets fixated on trying to hit a big move and rack up a bunch of points at once; if he can figure out how to let go of the big move and settle for the smaller moves, he'll become a much better wrestler. Pins and nearfalls are great, but you also need to be able to get a simple takedown at times. In any event, let's end this on a positive note: Grothus didn't give up a major. That was nice.
157: Another easy win for St. John. If there's anything he can improve on (and there isn't much), it's getting bonus points. He's only picked up bonus points in 11 of his 20 wins this year -- you'd like to see a bit more than that from a #1-ranked guy. Still, that's just a quibble -- DSJ remains very difficult to score on and he pushed the pace and picked up several takedowns here on his way to a major decision win.
165: Honestly, Nick Moore had made notable strides in the "getting bonus points " department -- entering this match he had picked up bonus points in three of his past five wins, including a pair of pins. So it was discouraging to see him jump out to a 4-1 lead in the first period and then essentially shut things down for the rest of the match and end up with a 5-3 decision win. He's done that in other matches this season and it was frustrating to see that approach return here. He took very few shots of note in the final two periods and was frankly lucky not to be dinged for stalling.
174: While Ramos was the headline story of this dual for his thoroughly impressive win over a tough wrestler, one of my biggest takeaways from this event was Mike Evans. Holy hell, is he wrestling well right now. He absolutely dismantled Jennings in this match. He's wrestling with a ferocity -- and just a flat-out savagery -- that I haven't seen out of many Iowa wrestlers. When he gets a guy on the mat, he wants to wrench arms, twist torsos, and hunt out pins. And it's absolutely awesome to watch. In this match, after building a 15-2 lead with those wicked riding skills, Evans was dinged for a penalty for a dangerous hold with only a few seconds left in the match. In order to get a tech fall, he'd need to get a takedown in the final 4-5 seconds... which is precisely what he did, exploding for a huge double-leg takedown right off the whistle. After securing the win, he reacted like he'd just won the NCAA Tournament semifinals -- he's that locked in right now. Outside of maybe Tony Ramos, there's no one on the Iowa team wrestling as well as Evans right now and it's going to be very exciting to see what he can do in March.
184: Tom Brands is not much of sentimentalist, so by that token it wasn't surprising to see senior Grant Gambrall riding the pine in his final match at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Still, given the back-and-forth nature of this spot over the last few weeks, I assumed there was a decent shot that Gambrall could get the nod here -- nope. Anyway, the real story at this weight is the fact that, yet again, Ethen Lofthouse failed to definitively claim this weight as his own. His opponent, Vince Pickett, entered the match with a decent 19-12 record, but he was still the sort of opponent that Lofthouse should be able to beat comfortably; instead, he had to grind out an 11-7 win. It's possible that Brands has made up his mind at this weight, but it's also entirely possible that things are still in flux here. If that's the case, don't be surprised if we see both guys during National Duals this coming weekend.
197: On paper, the guy Burak wrestled was nothing remarkable (he had a 12-14 record entering the match), so by that token it wasn't that remarkable to see Burak get a major decision over him. On the other hand, turn the clock back to November and December for a moment -- not only was Burak not getting major decisions against opponents like this, he wasn't even winning the match on several occasions. Suffice to say, Burak has made tremendous strides -- he's not only beating the guys he "should" beat, but he's steamrolling them, too. That's very exciting to see and it's certainly going to be fascinating to watch Burak develop at Iowa. In this match, he was able to score several takedowns and (like multiple Iowa wrestlers on the day) score some nearfall points as well.
285: I can't believe that InterMat -- or anyone -- had James ranked based on his horrendous performance here. I don't know if it was just a particularly bad day at the office for James or what, but he looked terrible in this match. Obviously, I think Bobby Telford is a good wrestler and I was happy to see him be aggressive and dominate an opponent, but James offered very little in this match. He was penalized two points in the match for stalling; frankly, the ref could have easily doubled that total and it would have been justifiable. Well done to Bobby for not just letting up after the first period, though, as he's done in some past matches -- he kept up the pressure for three periods, which enabled him to get a major decision.
* In other news, future Hawkeye wrestlers Jake Marlin and Brandon Sorenson wrapped up their high school careers with a bang, winning state championships at the Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament on Saturday evening. Marlin finished with a record of 204-6, while Sorenson finished with a record of 208-3. Marlin set a new state record for most pinfall victories in a career with 147, breaking a tie with current Iowa football player, Austin Blythe. Sorenson set a record of his own: those 208 career wins is a new high-water mark in Iowa. (Although he already has company on that summit, because Andrew Foutch joined him there at this tournament, too.) Well done to both Marlin and Sorenson -- they both look like fantastic additions to the Iowa wrestling room.
Marlin figures to start at Iowa at 141 (his state titles came at 130, 135, and 138 x2), while Sorenson figures to start at 149 (his prep titles came at 119, 130, 132, and 145). Those are both weights where Iowa will be seeking some help in the not-too-distant future: Mark Ballweg graduates this year, leaving the future of 141 (seemingly) in Josh Dziewa, while 149 has been an open wound at Iowa for years. My gut says that they'd still need to be absolutely exceptional as true freshmen next year to crack the line-up and that it's far more likely that they'll redshirt for a season. But come 2014-15, I won't be a bit surprised if both guys are in the line-up.
* Next up is the NWCA National Duals. The event actually began last weekend with a quartet of four-team regionals. The winners of those regionals will travel to Minneapolis, MN for the final three rounds (quarterfinals, semifinals, finals) of the event this coming weekend. The winners of the four regionals were Cornell, Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Virginia Tech. All but Virginia Tech were also the hosts of their respective regionals (Oregon State was the host of the regional that Virginia Tech won). You can find the full results here.
All 8 of the teams in the quarterfinals are in the top-10 of the most recent NWCA/USA Today Division I Coaches Poll:
1) Oklahoma State (15-0)
2) Iowa (19-1)
3) Penn State (12-1)
4) Minnesota (12-2)
5) Ohio State (11-3)
6) Missouri (13-2)
7) Virginia Tech (16-2)
8) Illinois (7-5)
9) Oregon State (11-4)
10) Cornell (14-3)
If those rankings don't change (and it's hard to see why there would be any significant movement in the top-10) and if they use those rankings as to determine the seeds and pairings for the remainder of the tournament, we could see something that looks like this:
1) Oklahoma State
4) Ohio State
6) Virginia Tech
From an Iowa perspective, those match-ups are not too thrilling. It looks like Iowa would open with a rematch against Illinois, to be followed by a likely rematch with Minnesota in the semis, all capped off by another likely rematch with Oklahoma State (Iowa's primary rival) in the finals. Okiahoma State, if you'll recall, was the only team to beat Iowa in a dual setting this year. But there's no point in getting too worked up about the match-ups until we know what they are for sure.