After a pretty good Friday for the Iowa Hawkeyes -- they went 4-1 in the quarterfinals and 3-1 in the semifinals to put three wrestlers in Saturday's championship finals -- Saturday was an abject disaster. Iowa went 1-6 in seven matches on Saturday, with the only win coming from Nathan Burak's 3-1 sudden victory win in the consolation semifinals at 197 lbs. Burak then lost his 3rd place match, while Alex Meyer and Sammy Brooks also lost their 7th place matches in the consolation round.
That was only a prelude to more disappointment to come Saturday evening. Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark, and Brandon Sorensen made the finals for Iowa at 125, 133, and 149 (respectively), but all three fell short in their quest for individual titles. Gilman lost 6-3 to Penn State's Nico Megaludis, Clark lost 7-6 to Cornell's Nahshon Garrett, and Sorensen lost 10-1 to Penn State's Zain Retherford. Worse, Iowa scored no offensive points in those three matches -- all of Iowa's points came via escapes or stall warnings. They only recorded two takedowns in the morning consolation bracket as well (one from Burak in his win and one from Brooks in a losing effort). It was, in all respects, a distressingly impotent performance from the Hawkeyes.
Saturday's woeful showing left Iowa in fifth place in the team race, behind runaway champions Penn state as well as Oklahoma State, Ohio State, and Virginia Tech. The fifth place finish was Iowa's worst finish at the NCAA Tournament since 2007, Tom Brands' first year in charge of the Hawkeyes. As Andy Hamilton noted for Hawk Central, It's the first time under Brands that Iowa hasn't been part of the the tournament awards ceremony:
For the first time in the Tom Brands era, Iowa exited the NCAA Championships without any representation in the tournament awards ceremony.
No individual titlists. No team national championship. No photo and trophy for second, third or fourth as a squad, either.
It wasn't all bad news for Iowa -- they had six All-Americans (tied with Penn State, Oklahoma State, and Virginia Tech for the most this year) and they placed three wrestlers in the finals, more than any team except Penn State (five). But the final result is what matters and that was sorely lacking.
* Both Virginia Tech and Iowa were deducted a team point; Virginia Tech was deduced a point for unsportsmanlike conduct, while Iowa was deducted a point for two mat control warnings.
Penn State left everyone in the dust with their win this year and Brands, to his credit, didn't sugarcoat things:
To Brands, though, the more relevant issue was the 42-point gulf between his program and the one Cael Sanderson operates.
"We are a long ways, and that doesn't mean this guy is giving up," Brands said when asked about the current gap between Penn State and Iowa. "But when you look at how they wrestle, when you look at the points they score - and I'm not talking about only match points. I'm talking about bonus points, team points, how they add up - we're a long ways away. It's not light years. But we have to do some things that close the gap on that."
The bonus points difference was stark. Penn State lapped the field in bonus points, posting a whopping 23 bonus points this year. That's like having another national champion-caliber wrestler. Among the top ten finishers, only Illinois (3.5) had fewer bonus points than Iowa (10). Thomas Gilman had over half of Iowa's bonus points (5.5). Iowa wrestlers simply aren't scoring enough points right now. Of course, it would help if they started scoring any offensive points -- as noted earlier, Iowa's three wrestlers combined for zero takedowns in the finals. Only Gilman was even all that close to getting a takedown. Megaludis, Garrett, and Retherford are certainly good wrestlers, but the fact that Iowa wrestlers couldn't come particularly close to scoring a takedown on any of them is very discouraging.
This program needs to change some things because the way things are going now simply isn't working. Brands needs to take a look at the program from top to bottom and figure out what's working, what's not, and what can be changed. Kirk Ferentz did the same thing with the Iowa football program after the frustrating 2014 season and came back with one of the finest seasons in his tenure and a program that seemed refreshed, albeit still fundamentally the same. Similarly, Iowa wrestling may not need major replacement surgery just yet, but it certainly needs to be refreshed. Brands has earned the opportunity to do that -- now it's time to see if he can take advantage of that opportunity.
#4 Thomas Gilman (4-1, finished 2nd)
|RD 1||#4 Thomas Gilman||TECH FALL (24-8)||UN Brent Fleetwood (Central Michigan)|
|RD 2||#4 Thomas Gilman||MAJ DEC (12-4)||#13 Tim Lambert (Nebraska)|
|QFINAL||#4 Thomas Gilman||MAJ DEC (16-5)||#5 Ryan Millhof (Oklahoma)|
|SFINAL||#4 Thomas Gilman||FALL (7:37)||#1 Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State)|
|FINAL||#3 Nico Megaludis (Penn State)||DEC (6-3)||#4 Thomas Gilman|
POINTS: 21.5 (12 placement + 4 advancement + 5.5 bonus)
Gilman was the standout performer for Iowa at the NCAA Tournament, hands down. He recorded the most bonus points of any Iowa wrestler -- more than everyone else combined, in fact. He notched the signature win of the tournament for Iowa, knocking off defending Big Ten and NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello in dramatic fashion in the semifinals. He was probably the closest of Iowa's three finalists to winning his match, too, even if the final score of Clark's match was narrower. Megaludis scored both of his shots off of action initiated by Gilman; had Gilman been able to finish those shots, perhaps the final result would have been different. (Ifs and buts, I know...) I wish Gilman had been a bit more aggressive in the finals, but that's a bit of a quibble.
#2 Cory Clark (4-1, finished 2nd)
|RD 1||#2 Cory Clark||MAJ DEC (8-0)||UN Jade Rauser (Utah Valley)|
|RD 2||#2 Cory Clark||DEC (6-2)||#15 Josh Alber (UNI)|
|QFINAL||#2 Cory Clark||DEC (4-0)||#7 Eric Montoya (Nebraska)|
|SFINAL||#2 Cory Clark||DEC (4-3)||#3 Zane Richards (Illinois)|
|FINAL||#1 Nahshon Garrett (Cornell)||DEC (7-6)||#2 Cory Clark|
POINTS: 17 (12 placement + 4 advancement + 1 bonus)
Clark was probably the second-best performer for Iowa, making his second-straight NCAA finals appearance at 133 lbs. Unfortunately, he was once again the bridesmaid in that match. Unlike Gilman, Clark struggled to post bonus points at the NCAA Tournament and that's probably the one thing separating him from the top wrestlers in the country -- he's very good and gets excellent results more often than not and that's wonderful, but if he can take that next step and post more points, it would be huge for Iowa.
#2 Brandon Sorensen (4-1, finished 2nd)
|RD 1||#2 Brandon Sorensen||MAJ DEC (9-1)||UN Nick Barber (Eastern Michigan)|
|RD 2||#2 Brandon Sorensen||DEC (3-1)||UN Victor Lopez (Bucknell)|
|QFINAL||#2 Brandon Sorensen||DEC (4-2 SV)||#7 Jake Sueflohn (Nebraska)|
|SFINAL||#2 Brandon Sorensen||DEC (4-2)||#11 Anthony Collica (Oklahoma State)|
|FINAL||#1 Zain Retherford (Penn State)||MAJ DEC (10-1)||#2 Brandon Sorensen|
POINTS: 17 (12 placement + 4 advancement + 1 bonus)
Like Clark, Sorensen also navigated his bracket successfully and made the finals, where he again came up short against Retherford. The match was even more lopsided than the Big Ten Tournament final and Retherford has clearly increased the gap between the two -- Sorensen needs to see if he can find some answers this summer. And, like Clark, he needs to work at scoring more points against weaker opponents. He barely got a major decision in his first match and then had very nervy decision wins after that. He has a good shot -- when he takes it. He needs to have the confidence to let it loose more often.
#13 Edwin Cooper, Jr. (1-2, DNP)
|RD 1||#13 Edwin Cooper, Jr.||DEC (8-3)||UN Tyler Berger (Nebraska)|
|RD 2||#4 Ian Miller (Kent State)||FALL (1:11)||#13 Edwin Cooper, Jr.|
|CONSO||#14 Austin Matthews (Edinboro)||FALL (4:51)||#13 Edwin Cooper, Jr.|
POINTS: 1 (0 placement + 1 advancement + 0 bonus)
Cooper did well in his first match, decisively beating Nebraska's Berger -- but it's incredibly frustrating that Cooper lost his next two matches and had his tournament over on Friday morning while Berger battled back to the Round of 12. Cooper had a difficult matchup in his second match against Miller and came up short. But the hope was that he could do some damage in the consolation bracket (much like a different Iowa wrestler did)... and that did not happen. Virginia Tech battled to a 4th place team finish this year with zero finalists, but several wrestlers who picked themselves up and kept fighting in the consolation rounds. Cooper ended up having a solid regular season and a pretty decent Big Ten Tournament, but his showing at the NCAA Tournament wasn't a good note to end his season (and Iowa career) on.
UN Patrick Rhoads (0-2, DNP)
|RD 1||#13 Jim Wilson (Stanford)||DEC (12-7)||UN Patrick Rhoads|
|CONSO||UN Casey Fuller (Edinboro)||DEC (6-3)||UN Patrick Rhoads|
POINTS: 0 (0 placement + 0 advancement + 0 bonus)
Rhoads' inclusion in the NCAA Tournament was a little surprising, but he wasn't able to take advantage of that opportunity, dropping his first match against Wilson (a solid, but not unbeatable opponent) and his second match, in the consolation bracket. We didn't have high expectations for Rhoads, so it's hard to say his performance was all that disappointing, but Iowa needed some pleasant surprises to happen if they were going to challenge for the title and Rhoads could have been one of those.
#13 Alex Meyer (4-3, finished 8th)
|RD 1||UN Gordon Wolf (Lehigh)||DEC (10-9)||#13 Alex Meyer|
|CONSO||#13 Alex Meyer||DEC (6-2)||#4 Ethan Ramos, North Carolina|
|CONSO||#13 Alex Meyer||DEC (10-9)||#14 Nick Kee (Appalachian State)|
|CONSO||#13 Alex Meyer||MAJ DEC (15-4)||#6 Bryce Hammond (CSU Bakersfield)|
|CONSO||#13 Alex Meyer||DEC (7-2)||#9 Chandler Rogers (Oklahoma State)|
|CONSO||#8 Zach Epperly (Virginia Tech)||MAJ DEC (10-2)||#13 Alex Meyer|
|7TH PL||#7 Cody Walters (Ohio)||DEC (4-3)||#13 Alex Meyer|
POINTS: 6 (3 placement + 2 advancement + 1 bonus)
On the other hand, Alex Meyer's performance at the NCAA Tournament does qualify as a pleasant surprise. It certainly didn't start off that way, with a maddening 10-9 loss to unseeded Gordon Wolf in a match that featured approximately ten billion reversals. But Meyer showed impressive tenacity and spirit in the consolation bracket, winning his next four matches (and beating the #4, #6, #9, and #14 ranked wrestlers along the way). It wasn't always pretty (he had a 10-9 nailbiter over Nick Kee that was a bit like his match with Wolf, only this one had a happy ending), but he showed more confidence in his offense from neutral and used his strength on top to ride the hell out of guys. That Meyer is closer to the Meyer we were hoping to see all season and while it was nice that he did show up, albeit briefly, it sure would be nice to see him more frequently next year. Unfortunately, Meyer's spirited run in the consolation bracket came crashing to an end after he clinched a spot on the podium -- he got dominated by Epperly and then lost in the final seconds against Walters. Still, I didn't have a lot of confidence in Meyer making the podium before the tournametn and I had virtually no confidence in him doing so after he lost his first match, so kudos to him for proving me wrong.
#2 Sammy Brooks (3-3, finished 8th)
|RD 1||#2 Sammy Brooks||TECH FALL (23-8)||UN John Lampe (Chattanooga)|
|RD 2||#2 Sammy Brooks||DEC (10-8)||UN Jordan Ellingwood (Central Michigan)|
|QFINAL||#7 TJ Dudley (Nebraska)||DEC (9-6)||#2 Sammy Brooks|
|CONSO||#2 Sammy Brooks||DEC (13-7)||#4 Domenic Abounader (Michigan)|
|CONSO||#9 Mathew Miller (Navy)||FALL (2:35)||#2 Sammy Brooks|
|7TH PL||#10 Nate Brown (Lehigh)||DEC (9-3)||#2 Sammy Brooks|
POINTS: 7 (3 placement + 2.5 advancement + 1.5 bonus)
If Alex Meyer was the biggest pleasant surprise for Iowa at the NCAA Tournament, Sammy Brooks was probably the biggest disappointment. Our mullet-sporting hero went from being a Big Ten Champion and the #2 seed to crashing all the way to an 8th place finish. 184 was an incredibly deep and challenging weight, but it still seemed as though Brooks was capable of much more than an 8th place finish. Losing to Dudley a few weeks after beating him for a Big Ten title was frustrating and the way Brooks was taken down with ease (and taken to his back with relative ease) by Dudley, Miller, and Brown was disconcerting. Brooks also struggled to get his own offense going and, like everyone on Iowa not named Gilman, didn't have much luck scoring bonus points, minus a tech fall in his first match. Brooks improved on his results from a season ago and that's nice, but it feels like he's capable of so much more than this, which makes a finish like this so discouraging.
#4 Nathan Burak (4-2, finished 4th)
|RD 1||#4 Nathan Burak||DEC (4-2 SV2)||UN Trent Noon (Northern Colorado)|
|RD 2||#4 Nathan Burak||DEC (8-2)||#13 Jacob A Smith (West Virginia)|
|QFINAL||#4 Nathan Burak||DEC (5-2)||#5 Conner Hartmann (Duke)|
|SFINAL||#1 Morgan McIntosh (Penn State)||DEC (4-2)||#4 Nathan Burak|
|CONSO||#4 Nathan Burak||DEC (3-1 SV)||UN Pat Downey (Iowa State)|
|3RD PL||#3 Brett Pfarr (Minnesota)||DEC (2-1)||#4 Nathan Burak|
POINTS: 12.5 (9 placement + 3.5 advancement + 0 bonus)
Burak put a big scare in Iowa fans by going into the second sudden victory overtime of his opening match against unseeded Trent Noon before finally getting the winning takedown. He rebounded with a pair of fairly solid -- and much less dramatic -- wins after that before falling against his long-time nemesis, McIntosh, in the semifinals. Yet again, Burak couldn't get a takedown against McIntosh and (not surprisingly) yet again he lost against McIntosh. Burak picked up one win in the consolation bracket before facing a more recent nemesis, Minnesota's Brett Pfarr, where he came up short -- again, because he wasn't able to get a takedown. Burak in some ways is a bit emblematic of the Iowa program as a whole: good, but not good enough to be great and somewhat lacking in explosive scoring potential. Burak's tenure at Iowa is over and, on the whole, his time here was solid -- he was a three-time All-American and a very steady performer for Iowa.
#11 Sam Stoll (0-2, DNP)
|RD 1||UN Boyce Cornwell (Gardner Webb)||INJ DEF||#11 Sam Stoll|
|CONSO||#6 Denzel Dejournette (Appalachian State)||MED FFT||#11 Sam Stoll|
POINTS: 0 (0 placement + 0 advancement + 0 bonus)
Stoll's tournament was basically over before it began. We weren't sure what we could expect out of him after he suffered a knee injury in a dual meet against NC State a month ago and it turns out the answer was unfortunately "not much." Stoll re-injured the kne in his first match and had to injury default out of that match before medically forfeiting out of his first match in the consolation bracket and ending his tournament. It's just rotten luck -- Stoll had developed nicely throughout the season and seemed poised to fight his way into All-America contention before he got injured. Sadly, all that went up in smoke after he got injured. Hopefully he can make a full recovery and be ready to go for Iowa next November.
H/T to Black Shoe Diaries' jtothemfp for hooking me up with the picture for this post (and for many more NCAA Tournament shots that you'll be seeing in upcoming wrestling posts). Thanks!