The 2014 NCAA Wrestling Tournament got underway Thursday morning to mixed results for Iowa. Cory Clark kicked off the festivities with a bang -- giving up a quick opening takedown before turning things around and storming to an 18-2 technical fall win over Edinboro's Kory Mines in Iowa's first match of the day. Unfortunately, it was mostly all downhill after that for Iowa -- the only difference when was the depth of the different potholes they stumbled over. At 133 Tony Ramos struggled with Shelton Mack, needing a late takedown in the third period to secure a 3-1 win. Mack was intent on running around the mat and hugging the edge, but Ramos still looked oddly tentative at times and struggled to commit to his offense. Josh Dziewa incurred the first Iowa loss of the day, dropping a third-straight match to Michigan's Steve Dutton; Dziewa went down 4-1 in the first period and never mounted any serious offense after that.
Brody Grothus got the Hawkeyes back on the winning track at 149 -- barely. He eked out a 4-3 win over Mike Morales thanks to a slender riding time advantage. Derek St. John cruised to a fairly standard 4-1 victory over Lehigh's Joey Napoli at 157, using an early takedown and some good work from the top position to secure a victory. After that is when things really started going sideways for Iowa; Nick Moore got sloppy early in his match with Bloomsburg's Josh Veltre and quickly found himself on the wrong end of a 5-point move and playing catch-up for the rest of the match. He chopped the lead down considerably by the third period, but then got caught by Veltre again, ultimately losing a disheartening 15-7 major decision. It was a brutally bad loss by a wrestler who had been among Iowa's best leading up to the tournament.
Mike Evans was able to lock up an 8-2 decision win at 174 to briefly put things right for Iowa, but Ethen Lofthouse became the third Hawkeye to lose in the first round when he dropped a 5-2 decision to Edinboro's Vic Avery. Lofthouse gave up a takedown late in the first period and again in the second period, which proved to be very costly. So much for Lofthouse's beautiful draw in the championship bracket... Nathan Burak and Bobby Telford restored a bit of black-and-gold order with a pair of ho-hum decision wins (8-2 and 6-2, respectively).
Things didn't necessarily look grim for Iowa after Session I... but they didn't look good, either. Dziewa's loss was no surprise, but Moore and Lofthouse were (and are) two wrestlers we were counting on to be All-Americans -- and pretty high up the podium, at that. They can still finish on the podium... but their path there just got a lot longer and lot more treacherous (and with zero margin of error) after those losses. But there was still a lot of wrestling left to go after Thursday afternoon -- how would things shake out in the evening?
SESSION I RESULTS
125: #8 Cory Clark TECH FALL (18-2) Kory Mines (Edinboro)
133: #3 Tony Ramos DEC (3-1) Shelton Mack (Pitt)
141: #13 Steve Dutton (Michigan) DEC (4-1) Josh Dziewa
149: #13 Brody Grothus DEC (4-3) Mike Morales (West Virginia)
157: #2 Derek St. John DEC (4-1) Joey Napoli (Lehigh)
176: Josh Veltre (Bloomsburg) MAJ DEC (15-7) #5 Nick Moore
174: #4 Mike Evans DEC (8-2) Bryce Hammond (CS-Bakersfield)
184: Vic Avery (Edinboro) DEC (5-3) #5 Ethen Lofthouse
197: #11 Nathan Burak DEC (8-2) Shane Woods (Wyoming).
285: #5 Bobby Telford DEC (6-2) Anthony Vizcarrando (West Virginia)
Session II got underway with results from Iowa almost as uneven as we'd seen earlier in the day. Cory Clark again gave up an early takedown before eventually battling back and building a 7-3 lead. A late reversal made things a little more nervous than they needed to be, but he was able to hold on for an 8-5 win over #9 Tyler Cox. More concerning was Tony Ramos' match at 133, where #14 seed Zane Richards managed to take him to sudden victory before a Ramos takedown in overtime secured the win. Ramos got off to a good start with a quick takedown, but struggled to finish his shots after that, which made for an uncomfortably close match. Ramos was also the victim of one of the worst calls of the tournament so far, when the referees missed a clear takedown for Ramos... and again failed to see it after a five-minute video review (allegedly because they didn't have the same camera angles that ESPN had). NCAA wrestling officials: the only referees that make NCAA basketball officials look competent.
The Iowa jitters continued with Brody Grothus getting tilted all over the mat by #4 Kendric Maple at 149; that result was hardly surprising, but it was still disappointing and kicked another Iowa wrestler out of the championship side of the bracket. The tide began to turn for Iowa after that match, though. Derek St. John -- of all the wrestlers on the Iowa line-up -- put on an absolute takedown clinic in his match against The Citadel's Aaron Walker, blazing to an 18-5 win and giving Iowa some much-needed bonus points. Mike Evans ground out a 7-3 decision win over Bloomsburg's Mike Dessino at 174, before Nathan Burak sent a jolt through the Iowa crowd by securing the match-winning takedown in the final seconds of his match against #6 Richard Perry of Bloomsburg. After being on the wrong end of some upsets earlier in the day, Iowa got an upset to go their way with Burak, which was a big boost for the team. Bobby Telford ended Iowa's night in the championship bracket with an easy 3-0 decision win over Maryland's Spencer Myers.
While getting six wrestlers into the quarterfinals was an excellent achievement for Iowa (if slightly below what we were hoping to see, given Moore and Lofthouse's early exits from the championship bracket), Iowa couldn't rely on quarterfinalists alone to cut the gap between themselves and Penn State -- they needed their wrestlers who had tumbled into the consolation bracket to stay alive there and do some damage. Mission accomplished tonight. Josh Dziewa blasted Buffalo's Steve Flannery with a 23-7 technical fall to get things going for Iowa in the wrestlebacks. Nick Moore followed that with an impressive 12-4 major decision over #12 Jackson Morse and Ethen Lofthouse added his own 10-2 major decision over Zack Hernandez. There's still a long way to go -- and a lot of matches to wrestle -- for those guys (and Brody Grothus, who will be joining them in the consolation bracket tomorrow), but they responded to their first round losses well on Thursday night. That's all we can ask for at the moment.
SESSION II RESULTS
125: #8 Cory Clark DEC (8-5) #9 Tyler Cox (Wyoming)
133: #3 Tony Ramos DEC (6-4 SV) #14 Zane Richards (Illinois)
149: #4 Kendric Maple (Oklahoma) MAJ DEC (13-5) #13 Brody Grothus
157: #2 Derek St. John MAJ DEC (18-5) Aaron Walker (Citadel)
174: #4 Mike Evans DEC (7-3) Mike Dessino (Bloomsburg)
197: #11 Nathan Burak DEC (4-3) #6 Richard Perry (Bloomsburg)
285: #5 Bobby Telford DEC (3-0) #12 Spencer Myers (Maryland)
141: Josh Dziewa TECH FALL (23-7) Nick Flannery (Buffalo)
165: #5 Nick Moore MAJ DEC (12-4) #12 Jackson Morse (Illinois)
184: #5 Ethen Lofthouse MAJ DEC (10-2) Zack Hernandez (Colombia)
1) Penn State -- 26.5 points (5 in quarterfinals, 5 in consolation bracket)
2) Minnesota -- 21.5 points (6 in quarterfinals, 3 in consolation bracket)
2) Oklahoma State -- 21.5 points (5 in quarterfinals, 3 in consolation bracket)
4) Iowa -- 20.5 points (6 in quarterfinals, 4 in consolation bracket)
4) Oklahoma -- 20.5 points (4 in quarterfinals, 4 in consolation bracket)
Despite only having five quarterfinalists (one fewer than Minnesota and Iowa), Penn State still finds themselves with a healthy 5-point lead, thanks to -- what else? -- bonus points. They've already recorded 3 major decisions, 2 technical falls, and 3 falls so far. That's only an additional 12 points. Iowa, by comparison, has 3 major decisions and 2 technical falls -- an additional 6 points.
SESSION III MATCHES
125: #8 Cory Clark vs. #1 Jesse Delgado (Illinois)
133: #3 Tony Ramos vs. #6 Mason Beckman (Lehigh)
157: #2 Derek St. John vs. #7 Brian Realbuto (Cornell)
174: #4 Mike Evans vs. #5 Matt Brown (Penn State)
197: #11 Nathan Burak vs. #14 Chris Penny (Virginia Tech)
285: #5 Bobby Telford vs. #4 Adam Coon (Michigan)
The quarterfinals are, obviously, a critical round for Iowa. Three Iowa wrestlers (Clark, Evans, and Telford) find themselves facing opponents who beat them earlier this year (although Evans has also recorded a win over Brown this year). Ramos has an opponent he beat earlier this year, although it was a tight match and he hasn't looked terribly sharp so far at the NCAA Tournament. Nathan Burak draws the #14 seed with a spot to the semifinals on the line -- but that same #14 seed did just knock off #3 Morgan McIntosh, so he's obviously wrestling at a very high level. Realbuto entered the NCAA Tournament on a mini-skid, but he's made the quarterfinals and we all know how often DSJ finds himself in close matches. Suffice to say, none of these matches look like gimmes from an Iowa perspective. Let's hope Iowa keeps the mojo that they found in Session II going tomorrow morning.
141: Josh Dziewa vs. #14 Edgar Bright (Pitt)
149: #13 Brody Grothus vs. Ryan Lubeck (Wisconsin)
165: #5 Nick Moore vs. #6 Corey Mock (Chattanooga)
184: #5 Ethen Lofthouse vs. #11 Lorenzo Thomas (Penn)
Just win, baby.