We know going into the evening session that the semifinals were going to be tough sledding for Iowa -- there were just some very tough match-ups for the Hawkeyes: three matches against opponents who had beaten them earlier in the season, three more against opponents that had been beaten, but far from convincingly, and one more match against an opponent who had beaten his Iowa opponent a year ago. The odds of Iowa sweeping the semifinals were pretty slim; frankly, just posting a winning record in the semifinals would have been a pretty solid accomplishment. And Iowa managed to do just that, winning at 125, 141, 149, and 285. Those four wins allowed Iowa keep pace with Ohio State at the top of the team standings -- the Buckeyes enter the final day of action with a slim 1.5 point lead on the Hawkeyes. It's all to play for tomorrow.
1) Ohio St -- 102.5 points (4 finalists, 4 in conso semifinals, 1 in 7th place match)
2) Iowa -- 101 (4 finalists, 4 in conso semifinals)
3) Minnesota -- 86.5 (3 finalists, 4 in conso semifinals, 1 in 7th place match)
4) Michigan -- 80.5 (1 finalist, 6 in conso semifinals, 2 in 7th place match)
5) Illinois -- 79 (1 finalist, 6 in conso semifinals, 2 in 7th place match)
6) Penn St -- 78.5 (2 finalists, 5 in conso semifinals,
full standings here
125: #1 Thomas Gilman DEC (5-4) #5 Jordan Conaway (Penn St)
133: #1 Chris Dardanes (Minnesota) DEC (6-2 OT) #5 Cory Clark
141: #6 Josh Dziewa DEC (5-1) #2 Nick Dardanes (Minnesota)
149: #1 Brandon Sorensen DEC (2-0) #5 Alec Pantaleo (Michigan)
174: #2 Matt Brown (Penn St) DEC (2-0) #3 Mike Evans
197: #1 Kyle Snyder (Ohio St) DEC (3-2) #4 Nathan Burak
285: #4 Bobby Telford DEC (3-1 SV) #1 Connor Medbery (Wisconsin)
The semis started with an Iowa win, with Gilman notching another razor-thin victory (6-5 a month ago, 5-4 tonight) over Jordan Conaway. Gilman used an early takedown to jump out to a lead, but a takedown conceded in the final seconds of the second period looked very costly and tied the match at 3-3. Conaway went ahead on an escape in the third period before Gilman secured the win with a final takedown in the closing 30 seconds. It was gratifying to see Gilman go to his offense and find success when he needed it.
Cory Clark followed Gilman and nearly made Iowa 2/2 in the semifinals, but came up just short in a match that was closer than the final 6-2 score indicates. The match was tied 1-1 after regulation (and sudden Victory). Clark went up 2-1 in the first tiebreaker with an escape. Dardanes used a quick double leg to get a takedown and go up 3-2 at the end of the first tiebreaker. Clark gave Dardanes a quick escape in the second tiebreaker since he needed to chase a takedown of his own; while going for a takedown late he got taken down himself, hence the 6-2 final score. Clark was close to winning in regulation -- he amassed 53 seconds of riding time in the third period before finally giving up an escape to Dardanes that tied the match at 1-1. That said, while Clark did a fine job of riding Dardanes and defending in regulation, he didn't take enough shots or get to his own offense. Dardanes is a tough match-up, yes...
...but look at what happened at 141, where Josh Dziewa beat the other Dardanes (Nick). Dziewa won with his offense. He got a takedown in the first period and another in the third period and won 5-1. In-between takedowns he effectively stymied Dardanes' own attacks and wore Dardanes down. It was a wonderfully wrestled match and it wasn't the result of an overly conservative, risk-averse approach. Dziewa didn't fire off shots willy-nilly, but he wasn't afraid to take them, either, and he capitalized when he had the opportunity. But if you don't give yourself those opportunities, well... It's not often that we hold Dziewa up as an example of the way guys ought to wrestle, but if more Iowa guys had wrestled like the did tonight, the Hawkeyes might have more wrestlers in the finals. At the very least, they would have gone done fighting.
Iowa's next two semifinals -- 149 and 174 -- were twisted mirrors of one another. Sorensen won 2-0 at 149 with an escape and a riding time point after riding out an entire period; Evans lost 2-0 at 174 after conceding an escape and getting ridden out for an entire period. From a pragmatic standpoint, I'm glad that Sorensen can win matches like that, but matches like that are rough to watch. Sorensen has some of the best offense on the Iowa team, but too often he seems to get gunshy about cutting loose. Pantaleo isn't easy to score on, but Sorensen needs to force the action more.
That said, Sorensen's gameplan looks like a work of art compared to whatever the hell Mike Evans was trying to do against Matt Brown. If you watched Brown vs Evans at the Iowa-Penn State dual last month, well, you saw this match, too. It was basically a carbon copy: 0-0 first period, Brown escape in the 2nd period, Brown ride out in the third with Evans seemingly only looking for a reversal. I would say that Evans should take neutral if he sees Brown again, but I'm not sure that would matter. Evans took basically no good shots in this match as it was; I'm not sure that would have changed much with an extra two minutes; Brown probably would have just won 1-0 instead of 2-0. That said, if Brown and Evans do run into each other again at the NCAA Tournament, I hope to hell Evans has some other gameplan in mind for that match, because holy hell this gameplan sucks.
Iowa split their final two semifinals, with Burak losing 3-2 to #1 Snyder and Telford winning 3-1 in sudden victory against #1 Medbery. Burak kept things very close against the dangerous Snyder, but a first period takedown proved to be decisive. Burak got in very deep on a leg in the second period and actually dumped Snyder to the mat, but somehow wasn't able to get control before Snyder wriggled away. Meanwhile, Telford and Medbery wrestled a typical heavyweight match: lots of pushing and shoving, a 0-0 first period, one escape apiece in the second and third periods, and finally a takedown in sudden victory. To be fair, there was a bit more action than that description suggests -- both Teford and Medbery had some near misses on takedown attempts before Telford's match-winner. In the end, Telford's win salvaged a winning record for Iowa in the semifinals and kept them within touching distance of Ohio State in the team race.
157: #8 Anthony Perrotti (Rutgers) FALL (0:55) #7 Mike Kelly
165: #9 Austin Wilson (Nebraska) DEC (2-1) #7 Nick Moore
184: #1 Sammy Brooks MAJ DEC (16-5) #10 Patrick Kissel (Purdue)
184: #1 Sammy Brooks DEC (4-1) #5 Kenny Courts (Ohio St)
The consolation round got off to a bad start for Iowa with Kelly and Moore both losing matches that eliminated them from contention for the automatic qualifying spots for the NCAA Tournament at their respective weights. Kelly got taken down quickly by Perrotti and put on his back... and that was that. Moore, meanwhile, got ridden for almost the entire second period (he escaped with 4 seconds left), conceded an escape in the third, and was unable to get any takedowns in the third period to tie or win the match. The losses mean both men can only make the NCAA Tournament via at-large selection.
Sammy Brooks rebounded from his shocking loss to #8 Matt McCutcheon in the quarterfinals to post a pair of wins in the consolation bracket. He dominated #10 Patrick Kissel from start to finish, notching several takedowns and getting nearfall points. The only disappointment was that he had to settle for a major decision and not a technical fall or pin. His win over #5 Kenny Courts was a much cagier affair -- it was 1-1 (effectively 2-1 with riding time) until a takedown for Brooks at the whistle sealed it -- but it was huge for the team race, as it knocked Courts down to the 7th place match and kept Brooks alive in the hunt for 3rd place.
EXTRA MATCHES FOR AT-LARGE CONSIDERATION
157: #7 Mike Kelly MAJ DEC (8-0) #14 Travis Curley (Michigan State)
165: #7 Nick Moore FALL (???) #9 Nick Wanzek (Minnesota)
While Kelly and Moore were eliminated from contention for the automatic qualifying spots for the NCAA Tournament with their losses in the consolation bracket, their tournaments were not technically over. Both men wrestled again after the conclusion of the consolation matches in matches designed to help determine which Big Ten wrestlers should be at the head of the pack when the NCAA determines who gets the at-large selections at each weight. Kelly and Moore both won their matches (and with bonus points, no less -- sadly, those points do not count towards Iowa's team score), which should bolster their cases for at-large consideration.
FINALS (W/ IOWA WRESTLERS)
125: #1 Thomas Gilman vs #3 Nathan Tomasello (Ohio St)
141: #6 Josh Dziewa vs #1 Logan Stieber (Ohio St)
149: #1 Brandon Sorensen vs #2 Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern)
285: #4 Bobby Telford vs #3 Mike McMullan (Northwestern)
Iowa has four wrestlers in the finals and all of them are looking at regular season rematches. Gilman beat Tomasello 2-1 on an escape in the tiebreaker portion of overtime at the dual meet earlier this year. Dziewa got crushed via 15-0 technical fall against Stieber in that same dual. Sorensen recorded a stunning 3-2 win in the second tiebreaker portion of overtime over Tsirtsis at a dual meet earlier in the season. Telford lost 3-1 to McMullan in the second overtime at that same dual, but also beat McMullan 4-2 in the Midlands Championships final at 285. These are definitely challenging match-ups for Iowa, but the good news is that we've seen Iowa win three of them before, so victories tomorrow are definitely possible. (Dziewa is coming off his best win of the year tonight, but he probably needs to be allowed to bring an elephant gun onto the mat if he's going to beat Stieber tomorrow.) Given the tightness of the Iowa-Ohio State team race, the first two title matches loom very large and given Dziewa's very slim odds at 141, a Gilman win at 125 is absolutely vital for Iowa.
FINALS (W/O IOWA WRESTLERS)
133: #1 Chris Dardanes (Minnesota) vs #2 Ryan Taylor (Wisconsin)
157: #1 Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) vs #2 Dylan Ness (Minnesota)
165: #1 Bo Jordan (Ohio St) vs #2 Isaac Jordan (Wisconsin)
174: #1 Robert Kokesh (Nebraska) vs #2 Matt Brown (Penn St)
184: #4 Brett Pfarr (Minnesota) vs #2 Dom Abounader (Michigan)
197: #1 Kyle Snyder (Ohio St) vs #2 Morgan McIntosh (Penn St)
133 and 157 should have little impact on the team title hunt (I think Minnesota is just too far back), but they could be very entertaining matches. Dardanes and Taylor have been the two best 133ers in the Big Ten this year and Taylor especially has been on a hot streak lately and isn't afraid to attack and score points. Martinez and Ness could put on a very fun show at 157, given their respective offensive firepower. 174 and 184 should also have very little impact on the team title race, although if you want to be safe, it couldn't hurt to root against Minnesota -- not that there's ever anything wrong with rooting against Minnesota anyway. (There's no Minnesota wrestler in the 174 final, so feel free to pick your poison between Nebraska and Penn State.) The other two title matches, 165 and 197, will be crucial to the team title race and it should go without saying, but... root against the Buckeyes. Wisconsin and Penn State are very much the lesser of two evils tomorrow.
133: #5 Cory Clark vs #6 Zane Richards (Illinois)
174: #3 Mike Evans vs #5 Zach Brunson (Illinois)
184: #1 Sammy Brooks vs #3 Ricky Robertson (Wisconsin)
197: #4 Nathan Burak vs #6 Max Huntley (Michigan)
Meanwhile, Iowa needs to help their own case by doing work in the consolation round and getting 3rd place at as many weights as possible. Wins in the above-listed matches will put Iowa wrestlers into the third-place matches; losses will drop them into the fifth-place matches instead. Clark has split two matches with Richards this year (winning 4-2 in the Midlands Championships final and losing 6-5 at the dual meet a few weeks later), Evans owns a 2-1 win over Brunson (also in the Midlands Championships final) and Burak had a 4-0 (sudden victory) win over Huntley from a dual meet a few weeks ago. Brooks and Robertson haven't wrestled this year. Iowa has to win as many matches as they can in the consolation bracket tomorrow.
By my math, Iowa can pick up another 18 points from those guys if they're all able to finish in 3rd place (each guy can get four additional placement points and 0.5 additional advancement points with two wins), though any bonus points they could secure would obviously make that total bigger. In a race as tight as this one, those points could obviously be critical. It also underscores how damaging Brooks' upset loss in the quarterfinals was for Iowa. If he made the finals, Iowa would have an additional 7 team points now. Brooks has six placement points now because he can finish no worse than sixth place (which is worth six points). If he was in the finals, he'd have 12 placement points now because he could finish no worse than second place (which is worth 12 points). He'd also have an additional advancement point since advancement through the championship bracket is worth 1 point per win (versus 0.5 points per win in the consolation bracket). Not to mention the fact that Brooks would have had a good chance to win a potential championship match, which would have been worth an additional four placement points. We won't know until tomorrow how costly those missing Brooks points really were... but right now they look very costly indeed.