That was ugly. There's no other way to put it: North Carolina State showed up to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday night and outworked, outhustled, and outfought a flat and unimpressive Iowa team for two hours. The final score was 21-17 for the Wolfpack, but the dual didn't even really feel that close. North Carolina State kicked Iowa's ass and fully deserved to win.
In hindsight, my preview underestimated North Carolina State -- both their overall quality and their ability to win this dual. NC State has four wrestlers ranked #6 or better -- same as Iowa -- plus another two wrestlers ranked in the Top 20. That's a very solid core. They went 22-1 this year and beat Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Nebraska in duals. They were no fluke. And they matched up very well with Iowa in a dual setting. This was an odd dual in that there were very few toss-up matches (really just 184) and several matches with a heavy favorite. Iowa was heavily favored at 125, 133, 149, 174, and 197. NC State was heavily favored at 141, 157, 165, and 285.
In a dual like this, if there aren't any stunning upsets on either side (and there weren't), then it comes down to the toss-up match and bonus points. NC State beat Iowa on both counts. Pete Renda avenged an 8-7 loss at Midlands with a controlling 7-3 win in this dual, which swung the toss-up match in Iowa's favor. But NC State also won the bonus point battle. Iowa got major decisions from Thomas Gilman at 125 and Brandon Sorensen at 149, but Cory Clark was only able to get a decision win at 133 and Alex Meyer was nowhere close to bonus points in his win at 174. Meanwhile, NC State got a technical fall from Kevin Jack at 141, a major decision from Thomas Gantt at 157, and an injury default from Nick Gwiazdowski at heavyweight. The injury default skews things a bit, but even without that, NC State had a 3-2 edge on Iowa in bonus points. That said, the Brooks loss was the swing result that sunk Iowa. Flip that result around and Iowa wins this dual 20-18 and we're griping about an ugly win rather than bemoaning a depressing loss.
Losing to NC State in and of itself isn't terrible at all -- they're a very good team and their performance on Monday night was certainly very strong. They took it to Iowa at the weights where they had advantages, made Iowa work for points at the weights where Iowa was favored, and got the win in the most critical match of the night (184). The problem from an Iowa perspective is that this loss is all-too-familiar. It echoed past Iowa performances near the end of the regular season, like the loss to Missouri at the National Duals a year ago or the loss to Minnesota two years ago or the losses to Minnesota and Missouri three years ago or... well, you get the picture. Those losses ended up serving as (unfortunately) accurate precursors for Iowa's performances in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, more or less. (Iowa did manage a tie for the Big Ten Championship last year.) Is the same thing going to happen this year? We'll have to wait and see, but the omens are a bit foreboding at the moment.
|125||#2 Thomas Gilman||MAJ DEC (15-5)||UR Sean Fausz||IOWA 4-0|
|133||#3 Cory Clark||DEC (9-3)||UR Jamal Morris||IOWA 7-0|
|141||#3 Kevin Jack||TECH FALL (18-3)||UR Brody Grothus||IOWA 7-5|
|149||#2 Brandon Sorensen||MAJ DEC (13-4)||UR Beau Donahue||IOWA 11-5|
|157||#4 Thomas Gantt||MAJ DEC (13-5)||#18 Edwin Cooper, Jr.||IOWA 11-9|
|165||#6 Max Rohskopf||DEC (6-3)||UR Patrick Rhoads||NCST 12-11|
|174||#10 Alex Meyer||DEC (4-2)||UR Nicky Hall||IOWA 14-12|
|184||#16 Pete Renda||DEC (7-3)||#11 Sammy Brooks||NCST 15-14|
|197||#4 Nathan Burak||DEC (9-4)||#14 Michael Boykin||IOWA 17-15|
|285||#1 Nick Gwiazdowski||INJ DEF||#7 Sam Stoll||NCST 21-17|
125: Gilman was one of the only Iowa wrestlers who can hold his head high after that performance on Monday night; he attacked from the opening whistle, kept after his opponent for the entire match, and racked up takedown after takedown on his way to a major decision. A technical fall or a pin would have been nice, sure, but Gilman did his part to help Iowa win this dual. No complaints here.
133: Clark appeared to be on the same path as Gilman when he jumped out to a quick lead behind a few early takedowns, but things went sideways when he slowed the pace down and kept trying (unsuccessfully) to turn Morris and go for back points or a pin. He really needed to focus on wearing Morris down with takedowns (and securing at least a major decision) before getting so hellbent on turning him.
141: So about that Brody Grothus experiment at 141... /tugs collar awkwardly I admit, I had hopes it would work -- I thought his length would prove problematic for opponents at 141 and the flashes of good Brody that we'd seen at 149 two years ago would be more consistent at his new weight. Nope. Tom Brands seems committed to using Grothus at this weight for the rest of the year -- and, in fairness, I don't know if Topher Carton's results at 141 were that much better, although at least with Carton you could argue that he would be getting experience that may be beneficial in the future -- so we can only hope that this showing was as bad as it can get and that Grothus can bounce back with something better in his last few outings as a Hawkeye. Because this was a complete debacle -- Jack got to his legs with ease, took him down at will, and manhandled him on the mat. This was a truly terrible showing for Grothus, full stop.
149: Sorensen got things righted for Iowa with a major decision win, which was one of the few Iowa bright spots on the night. He had to labor a bit to get that major decision, but he did get it locked up and on a night when so many other Iowa wrestlers were much more disappointing, Sorensen's performance here doesn't deserve too much scorn.
157: Cooper entered this match on a 7-match winning streak and the big question was whether he had closed the gap on Gantt after a 17-6 major decision loss to him at Midlands. The answer is... sort of. Cooper was much more competitive for two periods and if not for some screwy timekeeping and officiating may have been down just 8-6 in the third period, which may have opened things up for a different finish. But the third period was a bad one for Coop as he seemed to run out of gas and let Gantt get to his legs far too easily. Overall Coop was better than he was in his first go-round with Gantt, but the end result wasn't any better, so it's tough to credit him too much.
165: Rohskopf isn't a high-scoring wrestler and that was on full display here; unfortunately, Patrick Rhoads wasn't able to take advantage of that and pull the upset. Of course, it's hard to pull off an upset when you're unwilling to take a shot, which described Rhoads for most of the first two periods. Rohskopf is a dangerous counter-wrestler, but ultimately you need to have faith in your own offense to get a win in a match like this. Rhoads didn't and so he lost.
174: Alex Meyer has a great record (21-2 now), but there might not be anyone in college wrestling with a bigger disparity between his record and the quality of his performances on the mat. Meyer won 4-2... without even scoring a single takedown. Without even attempting a single really good shot. Meyer's ability to ride is impressive, but you need more than that to win in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. Unfortunately, Meyer hasn't shown much else this year.
184: Renda got his revenge from Midlands here, dropping Brooks with a comfortable 7-3 win. Brooks did seem to tweak his foot/ankle early in the match and that may have impacted his performance here, but he didn't look all that good before the injury, either. Renda got to his legs too easily and was frequently able to turn his shots into takedowns. Brooks struggled to get much of anything going from neutral and the result was a sad, frustrating loss that swung the dual in NC State's favor. If Brooks is really as good as we want to think he is, he needs to win matches like this on a more consistent basis. As frustrating as this loss was, though, I fervently hope that the foot/ankle injury he suffered isn't too serious -- Iowa needs a healthy Brooks to have a shot at doing anything at the Big Ten or NCAA Tournament.
197: Burak won 8-2 over Boykin back at Midlands, so this match was pretty steady as she goes. The only thing you can really fault Burak for is not getting bonus points and a) he's not (and never has been) a big bonus point scorer and b) Boykin is a solid opponent. There were many other problems bigger than Burak on Monday night.
285: Going into this match a Gwiz win seemed like a foregone conclusion -- he's the two-time defending NCAA champion and he's won over 80 matches in a row for a reason -- but we just wanted to see if Stoll had improved enough to keep things close -- or closer, at least. The early returns were somewhat promising -- Stoll gave up a takedown but got an escape before Gwiz was able to put on much of a ride or turn him and he also fought off a few more takedown attempts -- but everything went out the window when Stoll seemed to injure a knee on a takedown attempt. I don't know how the match would have turned out (although a major decision for Gwiz seemed like a real possibility again -- he was heading for another takedown and a 4-1 lead on the move that injured Stoll), but the injury is the biggest headline from this match. There hasn't been any word about the potential severity of the injury, but much like Brooks, Iowa absolutely needs a healthy Stoll at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments to have a chance to make a title push. Let's hope he makes a speedy recovery between now and the Big Ten Tournament, which gets underway a week from Saturday.
That event offers Iowa an opportunity to wipe away the bad taste from this dual, but it's going to require night-and-day different performances from almost everyone in a black and gold singlet to bring home a Big Ten title. This dual was a bad loss; let's hope it wasn't also a bad omen for the rest of the season.