In front of a massive crowd #4 Iowa wrestling opened up the season with a thrilling dual meet win over #1 Oklahoma State on the turf at Kinnick Stadium in the first-ever Grapple on the Gridiron event. From afar, it looked like a tremendous event. (If you were able to attend the event live, feel free to post your impressions in the comments below!) The weather cooperated to a fantastic degree -- the sun shined throughout the dual meet, temps stayed in the 50s, and winds were mild. The set-up in Kinnick for the dual looked great, although Iowa's traditional black singlets did seem to blend into the black mat at times. Iowa fans turned up in massive numbers -- a record-shattering 42,287 of them. The previous attendance record for a dual meet was just shy of 16,000 -- Iowa easily doubled that mark. Your move, Penn State.
And it was a hugely entertaining dual meet, too. Iowa and Oklahoma State each won five matches, there were bonus points in three matches, every match featured at least two takedowns (if memory serves), and there two wild near-comebacks (at 157 and 174). There was quite a bit of scoring and exciting action, which is what you want to deliver in front of a crowd that big -- many of them likely watching college wrestling for the first time. At the highest level, college wrestling can sometimes be a cagey, low-scoring, overly tactical affair, but that wasn't the case on Saturday. Iowa won the dual, but the entire sport of wrestling won with an event like this. Well done to Tom Brands and the Iowa staff for pushing for this event and kudos to the Iowa athletics department for pulling it off so well.
Spectacle aside, though, this was still an important dual meet for the Iowa team -- Oklahoma State represents the toughest opponent by far for Iowa on their dual meet schedule. This was also the debut for several new (or relatively new) faces for Iowa, including Logan Ryan (at 141), Edwin Cooper (at 157), Patrick Rhoads (at 165), and Sam Stoll (at 285). All four came up short today, although many of them were also matched up with Oklahoma State's best wrestlers.
Iowa opened up the dual with wins in three of the first four matches, but Oklahoma State rallied with wins in the next three matches to take a 13-10 lead with three matches to go. 174 looked like a key swing match for the dual before the dual, so having it swing toward Oklahoma State was troubling. Enter: Sammy Brooks. Brooks hit the mat for Iowa after Alex Meyer's deflating loss at 174 and immediately re-energized the crowd -- and Iowa's hopes of winning the dual. He took Jordan Rogers down with ease and went to work on the mat with his favorite tilt-a-whirl tricks to post big nearfall points and quickly racked up a 12-1 lead at the end of the first period. Just over a minute into the second period, Brooks ended the match and took a 17-2 tech fall victory, which put Iowa back in the lead in the dual, 15-13. Brooks gave a huge performance for Iowa when they needed it the most. Nathan Burak added a workmanlike 5-3 win at 197 to give Iowa an 18-13 lead heading into the final match, meaning that if Sam Stoll could just avoid a technical fall or pin, Iowa would win. And do that he could, dropping a 6-1 decision. Grapple on the Gridiron would have been a tremendous success whether Iowa won or lost the dual, but it certainly feels much sweeter with an Iowa victory.
#4 Iowa 18, #1 Oklahoma State 16
125: #4 Thomas Gilman MAJ DEC (9-1) #7 Eddie Klimara (IOWA 4-0)
133: #2 Cory Clark DEC (8-2) UN Gary Wayne Harding (IOWA 7-0)
141: #1 Dean Heil DEC (7-1) UN Logan Ryan (IOWA 7-3)
149: #3 Brandon Sorenson DEC (6-1) #8 Anthony Collica (IOWA 10-3)
157: #15 Chance Marsteller DEC (14-11) UN Edwin Cooper (IOWA 10-6)
165: #1 Alex Dieringer MAJ DEC (17-5) UN Patrick Rhoads (TIED 10-10)
174: #4 Kyle Crutchmer DEC (11-10) #6 Alex Meyer (OK ST 13-10)
184: #12 Sammy Brooks TECH FALL (17-2) UN Jordan Rogers (IOWA 15-13)
197: #4 Nathan Burak DEC (5-3) #15* Nolan Boyd (IOWA 18-13)
285: #5 Austin Marsden DEC (6-1) UN Sam Stoll (IOWA 18-16)
*Boyd is ranked 15th at 184 lbs, not 197 lbs.
125: Gilman opened the dual and got Iowa off to an excellent start, posting a major decision win over Klimara. A takedown in the closing seconds of the first period gave Gilman a vital 2-0 lead heading into the second period and he steadily built his lead from there. This was a strong showing for Gilman against a top-10 opponent.
133: Clark followed Gilman and got out to an even better start, quickly taking Harding down and stacking him up and getting oh-so-close to a pin. The fact that Clark went from almost pinning Harding to ultimately not even getting bonus points out of the win was disappointing. Harding rode him hard in the second period and Clark wasn't able to get enough offense going in the third period. Clark was never in danger of losing this match, but he should be one of our most reliable bonus point producers, so hopefully he's able to that in the future.
141: Iowa's first loss of the day came at this weight, with Logan Ryan getting the nod against top-ranked Dean Heil. Heil got a few easy takedowns, but never came that close to getting bonus points. Ryan didn't show much on offense, but a better judge of him will come against wrestlers ranked lower than Heil.
149: Sorensen stopped Oklahoma State's momentum in its tracks with a methodical win over Collica, a top-10 opponent. An early takedown and some slick back points gave Sorenson an early 4-0 lead, which he rode to a win. It would have been nice to see him push a little harder for bonus points, but a comfortable win over a top-10 opponent is still a very solid way for Sorenson to start his season.
157: This one stung. This was a very winnable match and Cooper let it get away. There were rumblings before the dual that Marsteller was having trouble with the cut to 157 (he wrestled around 170 in high school), and on the evidence today those rumblings were absolutely true. Marsteller ran out of gas rapidly and had nothing left in the tank in the third period (nor much in the second period), but Cooper wasn't able to make him pay. Marsteller used some smart mat wrestling to rack up nearfall points on Cooper, which ultimately put Cooper in too deep a hole to climb out of. Cooper showed some good takedown skills and needed to do more of that in the third period -- he should have been working a takedown clinic -- takedown, release, takedown, release, takedown, release -- on the exhausted Marsteller in that period. This match really highlighted some of the new rules in play this year, too -- 4-point near falls can really help wrestlers rack up a lot of points in a hurry and Marsteller got dinged for stalling several times (most notably when backing off the mat, which is a new -- and extremely welcome -- change).
165: The name of the game in this match was damage limitation and Patrick Rhoads did just that for Iowa, "holding" Alex Dieringer to a 17-5 major decision. Dieringer got takedowns virtually at will in this match, but he wasn't able to get any back points nor ever seriously threaten for a pin, which was crucial for Iowa.
174: If 157 wasn't the match of the day in terms of excitement and action, then this was. Crutchmer jumped on Meyer early with a smart takedown off a headlock that he came oh-so-close to turning into a pin before settling for four near fall points and a 6-0 lead. Meyer battled back with a penalty point, escape, and takedown of his own to cut the lead to 6-4. He and Crutchmer traded points after that but some strong rides had Meyer in position to win 10-9 via riding time point, before a late takedown for Crutchmer flipped the script. In his signature wins last year, Meyer survived early mistakes to pull out late wins, but he came up short on that front today. He's a very good wrestler, but he needs to avoid those early mistakes.
184: We already covered Sammy's performance up above, so let's just say this: Sammy's the man. He was man of the match today and he looked like the Sammy that thrilled us early in the season last year. Let's hope we see a lot of that Sammy this year, because a) he's really fun to watch and b) he's really damn good.
197: Burak did what Burak does: a couple takedowns and airtight defense to keep his opponent from scoring on him. It wasn't the prettiest win -- I would have liked to see another takedown or two to get a more comfortable win -- but this was a pretty typical Burak win.
285: Stoll got thrown into the fire against the #5 heavyweight in the country in his debut for Iowa and he came out on the losing end, 6-1. After a scoreless first period, Marsden finished got an escape and a takedown to open up a lead on Stoll. Stoll never came all that close to scoring on Marsden and struggled mightily to get an escape from bottom, which was concerning. Stoll has some work to do, it seems.
There were certainly plenty of areas where Iowa can -- and will need to -- improve, but overall this was a very good start to the season for Iowa in an event that won't soon be forgotten. Go Iowa Awesome indeed.