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Take Three: Iowa Wrestling Finishes 3rd at NWCA National Duals

As I noted yesterday, no matter how the last two rounds of the National Duals event shook out, Iowa was guaranteed to see an opponent they'd already faced in both the semifinals and finals (or consolation finals) and there was no guarantee that the rematches would play out the same way as the initial confrontation. Sure enough, Iowa faced Minnesota in the semifinal round and a 19-17 dual meet win three weeks ago became a 16-15 loss yesterday. What accounted for that swing? Iowa's showing at the middle weights. Just like last time, Iowa picked up decision wins from their best wrestlers at 125, 133, and 141 (Minnesota is not an advantageous match-up for Iowa, since they can counter Iowa's three best wrestlers with three very good wrestlers of their own). Just like last time, Iowa lost a major decision at 149 (Jayson Ness may spell his name poorly, but he has Mike Kelly's number). Just like last time, Minnesota controlled the upper weights, winning at 184, 197, and HWT (although their major decision win at 184 was just a decision this time). Unlike last time, though, Iowa was able to reverse the result at 174, turning a loss last time into a win this time. Unfortunately, the other changes went against Iowa: a major decision win at 157 shrunk to a decision win this time and a pin at 165 turned into a decision loss this time around. That was a very costly reversal of fortune that enabled Minnesota to nip Iowa and head to the finals (where they beat a depleted Oklahoma State team).

It was disappointing to lose to Minnesota (it snapped Brands' six-meet winning streak against the Gophers), as it always is to lose to them (in any sport), but it wasn't surprising. They have a strong team, especially in dual meets, with strong balance across all weights, few holes, and the ability to effectively counter Iowa's best weights with very good options of their own. Iowa was fortunate to defeat them three weeks ago, but the cookie crumbled a little differently this time. So it goes. It's a shame, though, because Iowa would have had a good chance to beat the same depleted Oklahoma State squad that Minnesota vanquished in the finals. Instead, they got another crack at Illinois and took out their Gopher-losing frustrations on them with a pretty comprehensive 28-6 drubbing. Iowa lost at just two weights, 149 and 197, picked up a pin from Derek St. John, and largely cruised elsewhere.

#3 Minnesota (13-3) 16, #4 Iowa (13-4) 15
125: #1 Matt McDonough DEC (6-4) #2 Zach Sanders (Iowa 3-0)
133: #3 Tony Ramos DEC (6-1 OT) #8 Chris Dardanes (Iowa 6-0)
141: #5 Montell Marion DEC (6-4 SV) #8 Nick Dardanes (Iowa 9-0)
149: #10 Dylan Ness MAJ DEC (11-2) UN Mike Kelly (Iowa 9-4)
157: UN Derek St. John DEC (6-3) UN Danny Zilverberg (Iowa 12-4)
165: #14 Cody Yohn DEC (5-3 SV) #6 Mike Evans (Iowa 12-7)
174: #8 Ethen Lofthouse DEC (4-3) #5 Logan Storley (Iowa 15-7)
184: #7 Kevin Steinhaus DEC (3-1) UN UN Grant Gambrall (Iowa 15-10)
197: #7 Sonny Yohn DEC (7-4) UN Vinnie Wagner (Iowa 15-13)
HWT: #4 Tony Nelson DEC (2-0) #14 Bobby Telford (Minny 16-15)

#4 Iowa (14-4) 28, #5 Illinois (16-4) 6
125: #1 Matt McDonough DEC (6-3) #6 Jesse Delgado (Iowa 3-0)
133: #3 Tony Ramos DEC (5-2) #4 B.J. Futrell (Iowa 6-0)
141: #5 Montell Marion DEC (6-2) UN Daryl Thomas (Iowa 9-0)
149: #19 Eric Terrazas DEC (3-2) UN Mike Kelly (Iowa 9-3)
157: UN Derek St. John FALL (3:14) UN Jackson Morse (Iowa 15-3)
165: #6 Mike Evans DEC (5-1) #12 Conrad Polz (Iowa 18-3)
174: #8 Ethen Lofthouse DEC (4-2) #9 Jordan Blanton (Iowa 21-3)
184: UN Grant Gambrall DEC (10-2) UN Tony Dellago (Iowa 25-3)
197: #18 Mario Gonzalez DEC (11-6) UN Vinnie Wagner (Iowa 25-6)
HWT: #14 Bobby Telford DEC (5-0) UN Pat Walker (Iowa 28-6)

As far as breaking down the individual performances, let's do it like this...

Guys Who Had Good Weekends

* Matt McDonough; Another weekend, another 2-0 showing. No bonus points, but McD avenged his December loss to Delgado (his only loss this season, meaning that of his four collegiate losses, he's been able to avenge two of them -- he never get second cracks at Indiana's Angel Escobedo or Arizona State's Anthony Robles) in the consolation finals against Illinois and again proved his superiority over longtime rival Zach Sanders of Minnesota in the semifinals. If nothing else, this was excellent practice for Big Tens, since odds are good McD will have to go through one (or both) of them to win a second-straight Big Ten title. Sanders can take heart in the fact this loss was closer than any of their matches since their first meeting two years ago, though; McD and Sanders will probably tangle at least once more this season (and very possibly twice) and there will be a lot more on the line in their next meeting(s).

* Tony Ramos; Ramos also had a 2-0 showing against two top-10 wrestlers, which is good. The bad is that he didn't necessarily look great in doing so, especially in the semifinal match with Dardanes. I never imagined we'd be criticizing Ramos for not being aggressive enough on offense, but he seemed very loathe to take a shot in that match. Like McD, there's a good chance that Ramos sees one or both of Futrell and Dardanes again at the upcoming Big Ten Tournament.

* Montell Marion; Marion also had a 2-0 showing but beat just one top-10 wrestler (the other Dardanes brother at Minnesota). It took him until SV to put Dardanes away (and he needed a last-second escape in the third period to even get it that far), but Marion has still been wrestling well the last few weeks. The commentators have noted him cheering on several teammates during their matches, too -- it's good to see him embracing more of a leadership role on this team. We may always wish that he would just open it up a bit more on offense, but at the moment Marion is doing just fine. (Sidenote: man, the Dardanes brothers are going to be a bitch and a half to contend with for the next three years. It's a good thing Iowa has talent at the lower weights and is also recruiting well there.)

* Derek St. John; It would appear the reports of DSJ being put on the shelf for the rest of the season have been greatly exaggerated. Whether or not that's ultimately a good thing is TBD. From a health standpoint, I just hope he avoids doing any further damage to his knee that might have long-term repercussions. From a competitive standpoint, it's not yet clear to me that DSJ on 1.5 good legs is better than Nick Moore on two good legs. He scored two wins here, which is nice (especially the pinfall win over Morse, although that sounded like more of an opportunistic pinfall than anything else), but he didn't beat opponents of great quality; Morse and Zilverberg have a combined record that hovers around .500 this year. Beyond the opening rounds of the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, DSJ is unlikely to see opponents that mediocre the rest of the year. On the bright side, his ability to funk out of opponents' shots has always been one of his greatest strengths and he looked better doing that this week than he did a week ago. At this point, Brands seems to be putting all his chips on DSJ at this weight; hopefully that gamble pays off.

* Ethen Lofthouse; You can make a pretty strong case for Lofthouse being Iowa's Wrestler of the Weekend, if not their Wrestler of the entire National Duals. He went 4-0 in the Duals, grabbing lopsided bonus point wins a week ago and a pair of gritty wins over top-10 opposition this week. The win over Blanton wasnt exactly unexpected (he already had two wins over Blanton from earlier this year) but it was good to see him reverse the loss to Storley from the dual a few weeks ago into a win here. Neither performance this weekend was flawless -- Ironside was certainly frustrated at his relative lack of offense in the Blanton match -- but winning close matches over tough opponents away from the friendly confines of CHA is something Lofthouse needed to prove that he could do -- and now he has. If he can stay at this level, the ceiling for his performance at Big Tens and NCAAs seems a little bit higher than it did a few weeks ago.

* Grant Gambrall; Unlike everyone else in this category, Gambrall only went 1-1 this weekend, but we're grading on a curve when it comes to Gambrall. I thought Gambrall looked noticeably better at 184 than he had at 197. He lost to Steinhaus, but he was actually initiating action (Steinhaus' one takedown came on a shot from Gambrall, in fact) and looked more active and threatening than he did at 197. He was then able to take that moral victory against Steinhaus and turn it into a real victory against Dallago -- and an impressive victory at that, pouring on the takedowns (and points) for a major decision. If he wrestles like that the rest of the season, he has a definite chance to surprise some people at Big Tens and NCAAs.

Guys Who Did Not Have Good Weekends

* Mike Kelly; Much like Vinnie Wagner at 184/197, Kelly's effort can rarely be faulted. Unfortunately, effort alone rarely gets you wins at this level. Like Wagner, Kelly rarely gets blown out (although Ness certainly seems to have his number at this point) and he has a good motor, but he struggles with defending shots at times and completing his own shots. His 0-2 weekend wasn't much of a surprise, but that's mainly because 149 has been about as much of a black hole this year as it was last year and expectations for him (or anyone) here are at rock bottom. I hope he can win enough matches at Big Tens to grab one of the B1G's automatic qualifier spots for the NCAA Tournament, but I'm certainly not holding my breath.

* Mike Evans; A few weeks ago, the world appeared to be Mike Evans' oyster. He was coming off back-to-back pins over ranked opponents and looking quite fearsome. Now he's coming off a string of unimpressive performances, including a loss to one of the guys he pinned just a few weeks ago. So wha' happened? And which is the real Mike Evans? The answer (as is so often the case) is probably somewhere in-between. Evans' lack of offense on his feet has been a problem all year and it was a noticeable problem in his last few matches (especially the loss to Yohn in the semis yesterday). Until he gets that area improved, his ceiling for success is always going to be lower than it otherwise could/should be. Hopefully he uses the loss to Yohn as motivation over the next few weeks because we need to see an Evans closer to the one we saw in early February at Big Tens and NCAAs.

* Vinnie Wagner; If effort and heart were all it took to win, Wagner would be a national champion, hands down. Unfortunately, skill also matters and Vinnie isn't quite as strong in that area. Size also matters, especially with Vinnie now wrestling up a weight at 197. It would be truly satisfying for Vinnie to put together a mini-run and make the NCAA Tournament -- he's sacrificed a lot during his time at Iowa and given as much as we could hope for -- but like 149, I don't really expect it to happen. There's a strong chance that Iowa will only qualify 8 weights for the NCAA Tournament this year.

* Bobby Telford; Telford was another of Iowa's 1-1 wrestlers and his one loss was one of the most costly of the weekend for Iowa, since it clinched Iowa's dual meet defeat against Minnesota. More troubling was the fact that it contained more evidence of the unimpressive Telford we've seen since the end of the Midlands tournament in late December: he looked tentative, slow, and lacking in explosion. He was never really close to getting a takedown on Nelson in the Minnesota match... and he was also never really close to even escaping from Nelson in that match, which is even more troubling. I'm not sure what's ailing Telford, whether it's mental (a lack of confidence) or physical (a nagging injury or just a general lack of strength versus the behemoths at this weight), but whatever is troubling him is conspiring to give us some very dull and lethargic matches at HWT -- and far too many losses. I still believe in Bobby's ability to qualify for the NCAA Tournament... but I'm not terribly confident in his ability to do much when he's there right now.

NEXT: The Big Ten Tournament in West Lafayette, IN on March 3-4.