Iowa entered Sunday's final sessions with what was little more than a mathematical chance of overhauling Penn State and winning the Big Ten Championship. They did not catch Penn State and they finished in 2nd place, the same place they had ended things after Session I and Session II yesterday. That outcome was certainly frustrating, and we'll talk more about Iowa's overall performance and the gap between them and Penn State in another post in a little bit. For now, let's just recap the action on the final day and celebrate the fact that there was a silver lining to the dark cloud of finishing second: Cory Clark and Sammy Brooks won Big Ten Championships at 133 and 184 lbs, respectively, giving the hometown fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena something to cheer about.
Clark earned a nervy 2-1 win over #1 Zane Richards at 133 lbs, avenging his loss to Richards at the dual meet earlier this season. The win also improved Clark's record against Richards to 3-2. Weirdly enough, both of Clark's losses to Richards have come in Iowa-Illinois dual meets, while all three wins have come in tournaments. He's beaten Richards 4-2 in the finals of the 2014 Midlands Tournament, 8-2 in the 2015 Big Ten Tournament consolation bracket, and now 2-1 in the 2016 Big Ten Tournament finals.
This was the lowest-scoring match yet between Richards and Clark and the first that featured no takedowns. They wrestled a cagey first period that ended 0-0 after a lot of hand-fighting and little in the way of legitimate shots. Clark got an escape in the second period to go up 1-0, but Richards got a quick escape in the third period to tie the match at 1-1. Like the first period, the second and third periods featured a lot of hand-fighting but not a lot of action. Sudden victory was much the same. The match went to tiebreaks, with Clark going down first. He got his escape and then put on a hard ride in the other tiebreak period to keep Richards down, finishing things off with a powerful mat return in the final seconds. Illinois used a challenge to contest the fact that the refs hadn't penalized Clark for a locked hands call, but after review the call stood -- no locked hands. Clark won and there was much rejoicing -- not least because the win ended a painfully long drought for Iowa in Big Ten championship bouts.
Clark's victory snaps an eight-match losing skid for the Hawkeyes in Big Ten title bouts.— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) March 6, 2016
If you're wondering if that can really be true... it is.
Iowa went 0-4 in Big Ten title bouts last year.
285: Mike McMullan (Northwestern) DEC (4-3) Bobby Telford
149: Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern) DEC (2-1) Brandon Sorensen
141: Logan Stieber (Ohio State) TECH FALL (16-1) Josh Dziewa
125: Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State) DEC (3-2) Thomas Gilman
Two years ago, Iowa went 1-4, with Tony Ramos winning a title at 133 lbs... but losing four Big Ten titles after that triumph.
184: Ed Ruth (Penn State) MAJ DEC (10-2) Ethen Lofthouse
174: Robert Kokesh (Nebraska) DEC (6-4) Mike Evans
165: David Taylor (Penn State) MAJ DEC (14-5) Nick Moore
157: James Green (Nebraska) DEC (7-4) Derek St. John
133: Tony Ramos DEC (2-1) Tyler Graff (Wisconsin)
Oof. That was a rough stretch. Let's not do that again anytime soon. Brandon Sorensen wrestled in Iowa's second match of the finals... and it went poorly. Very poorly. This was a much-hyped showdown between two wrestlers with undefeated records entering the match, but Sorensen appeared to have very few answers for #1 Zain Retherford. Sorensen used some skillful defense to avoid several Retherford shots in the early going, but fell victim to a particularly slick shot by Retherford late in the period. Worse, Sorensen wasn't able to get an escape and was ridden out by Retherford. Retherford went down in the second period and got a quick escape to push his lead to 3-0. Sorensen opted to go down in the third period... which is a very bad idea against a wrestler like Retherford, who is an absolute hammer on top. He rode Sorensen hard for the entire period, ending the match with a 4-0 win. Retherford and Sorensen are both sophomores so if they stay at 149 odds are good they'll meet up a few more times in the future; Sorensen is going to need to work hard to come up with some new tricks for those encounters because he was never close to scoring on Retherford in this match.
Four matches later, Sammy Brooks wrestled in Iowa's third finals match-up of the day -- and picked up their second win. Like Clark, Brooks was seeking to overturn a dual meet loss to his opponent. In that match, Dudley stunned Brooks with a quick takedown, locked up a cradle, and got a pin in just 1:40. It was a stunning defeat for Brooks. He wrestled a smarter match on Sunday -- and came away victorious. Neither man could get an edge through most of the first period, until Brooks used a quick shot on the edge to lock up a takedown with just four seconds to go into the period. That gave Brooks a vital 2-0 lead going into the second period. Dudley got a quick escape in the second to cut the lead to 2-1, but Brooks countered with another takedown to go up 4-1. Dudley got another quick escape to make it 4-2 and then took advantage of a positioning error by Brooks to get behind him and secure a takedown of his own to tie the match at 4-4. Brooks got an escape to regain the lead, 5-4. He used another escape at the start of the third period to go up 6-4. The third period featured some good scrambles and a few deep shots by Dudley that Brooks managed to wiggle free from (including one in the closing seconds), but in the end Brooks came out on top -- and brought home another much-needed Big Ten championship for Iowa.
Brooks' performance in the match was excellent -- but his performance in the post-match interview with Shane Sparks may have been even better:
Respect the #PowerOfTheMullet, y'all.
Nathan Burak wrestled in Iowa's final match of the day, facing Morgan McIntosh in the 197 lb finals. Burak entered the match at 0-4 against McIntosh with zero takedowns against the Penn State match. After today Burak is 0-5 against McIntosh -- and he still hasn't record a takedown against him. Bit of a problem, that. McIntosh got a takedown partway through the first period to go up 2-0, though Burak got an escape to cut the deficit to 2-1. Burak and McIntosh traded escapes in the second and third periods and while Burak effectively warded off any other takedown attempts from McIntosh, he wasn't able to penetrate McIntosh's defense and record a takedown of his own. He wasn't able to get particularly close, in fact, which was discouraging. Sixth time's the charm at the NCAA Tournament in a few weeks? Let's hope.
133: #2 Cory Clark DEC (2-1 OT) #1 Zane Richards (Illinois)
149: #1 Zain Retherford (Penn St) DEC (4-0) #2 Brandon Sorensen
184: #3 Sammy Brooks DEC (6-4) #4 T.J. Dudley (Nebraska)
197: #1 Morgan McIntosh (Penn St) DEC (3-2) #3 Nathan Burak
As noted earlier Iowa finished in 2nd place with 127 points, several points behind Penn State in 1st place, but just a point ahead of Ohio State and just 10 points ahead of Nebraska.
Penn State, Iowa, and Ohio State all finished with more points this year than Iowa and Ohio State, last year's co-champions, did (120 points). Iowa needed every point they could muster to fend off Ohio State and fortunately they got several key wins in the consolation bracket on Sunday.
125: #2 Thomas Gilman FALL (3:43) #5 Elijah Oliver (Indiana)
157: #5 Edwin Cooper, Jr. DEC (2-0) #3 Richie Lewis (Rutgers)
174: #5 Nate Jackson (Indiana) DEC (11-7) #2 Alex Meyer
Gilman's loss to Nico Megaludis on Saturday night in the 125 lb semifinals is still bitterly disappointing, but his response in the consolation bracket on Sunday was about as good as you could have asked for. He jumped out to a quick lead on Indiana's Oliver in his first match of the day, then finished him off with a pin early in the second period. Edwin Cooper also responded to his semifinal loss with a win in his first match in the consolation bracket, picking up a tight 2-0 win over Rutgers' Richie Lewis. Iowa wrestlers didn't make it 3/3 in matches after semifinal losses, though, because Alex Meyer dug himself an early deficit against Indiana's Jackson and couldn't ever quite dig himself out.
165: 7th Place Match: #8 Patrick Rhoads DEC (4-2 SV) #7 Geno Morelli (Penn St)
285: 7th Place Match: UN Brock Horwath (Wisconsin) WINS VIA MED FFT #3 Sam Stoll
Rhoads wrestled a solid match against Penn State's Morelli and picked up a dramatic win with a takedown in sudden victory to finish in 7th place at 165 lbs. Iowa's other 7th place match didn't take place -- Sam Stoll took a medical forfeit. It was a move that made sense: finishing 7th wouldn't have given Stoll an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament and there was no need to put further stress on his injured knee.
125: 3rd Place Match: #2 Thomas Gilman MAJ DEC (12-4) #4 Tim Lambert (Nebraska)
157: 3rd Place Match: #6 Brian Murphy (Michigan) DEC (2-1 OT) #5 Edwin Cooper, Jr.
174: 5th Place Match: #2 Alex Meyer DEC (4-1) #6 Micah Barnes (Nebraska)
Iowa also went 2-1 in their third- and fifth- place bouts to wrap up consolation bracket action. Gilman got things going with a major decision win over Nebraska's Lambert, an extra point that proved very important given Iowa's narrow margin over Ohio State in the final team standings. Again, Gilman came out very focused in the consolation bracket and took care of business in impressive fashion. Well done. Cooper came up short against Michigan's Murphy in Iowa's other 3rd-place match. He used a good ride in the second period to rack up over 1:30 of riding time, but wasn't able to get an escape soon enough in the third period to preserve that riding time point. The match ultimately went to tiebreaks, where Murphy got an escape and Cooper didn't. Neither man did much from the neutral position throughout the match.
Congrats again to Cory Clark and Sammy Brooks for bringing home individual Big Ten titles on Sunday.