clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:


Iowa has wrestled Minnesota more than any other program -- and lately the rivalry has been better than ever.

In wrestling, like football and like basketball, Iowa has several rivals.  Iowa has never been like Michigan State, who treasures its hate with Michigan above all else, or Ohio State, who also treasures its hate with Michigan above all else.  (Maybe Michigan is just real asshole-y.)  Iowa has never been like Navy, who prioritizes its showdowns with Army above all else.  Iowa has no equivalent to Duke and North Carolina in basketball or (in days gone by) UConn and Tennessee in women's basketball.  Iowa has rivalries with lots of schools, for lots of different reasons, for lots of trophies.  (We really like competing for trophies.)

In wrestling, Iowa has an in-state rival, Iowa State.  It's a rivalry that's fallen on hard times since the complete implosion of the Cyclone program in the wake of Cael Sanderson's departure for Penn State, but it's a rivalry rich with history (Iowa State has the third-most team titles of all-time (8) and were the first team from Iowa to win a national championship -- in fact, they won six titles before Iowa won its first, in 1975) and local bragging rights (bragging rights which Iowa has owned for the better part of a decade at this point, with no end in sight).  Iowa has a historic and ideological rival, Oklahoma State.  Oklahoma State has more national championships than any other program (34; Iowa is second with 23) and they were the most frequent runner-up (7 times) during Iowa's quarter-century dynasty (1975-2000).  Ideologically, they're most often characterized as the team that embraces the "dark arts" of wrestling -- stalling, wrestling on the edge, taking advantage of every bit of gamesmanship they can -- which places them in opposition to Iowa, the straight-ahead, go-getter program that prioritizes a fast-paced, hard-hitting, constant action style.  (These broad characterizations are obviously very favorable to Iowa -- probably too much so -- and there are countless examples of wrestlers for both teams that don't fit those styles, but stereotypes can be tough to shake.)  And Iowa has a modern rival, Penn State.  Penn State has risen to the top of the mountain under Sanderson and the superlative-defying talents of wrestlers like David Taylor, Ed Ruth, and Quentin Wright, winning the last four Big Ten and NCAA Championships and embodying the rise of East Coast power in a sport traditionally dominated by the Midwest.

And then there's Minneosta, the "other" rival.  Iowa shares a border with Minnesota, but not its backyard, the way they do with Iowa State.  Minnesota doesn't have the only trophy case in the sport that can out-shine Iowa's, the way Oklahoma State does.  And they don't have a track record of recent dominance, the way Penn State does.  In spite of all that, though, they remain one of Iowa's most compelling rivals.

It was Minnesota that finally ended Iowa's dynasty.  They were the barbarians at the gate in 1998 and 1999, finishing second to the Hawkeyes both years but narrowing the gap (they lost 115 to 102 in 1998 and 100.5 to 98.5 in 1999). They took a step back in 2000 -- Iowa won again, edging out Iowa State, 116 to 109.5.  Then, in 2001, they broke through -- barreling past Iowa to claim their first national championship, 138.5 to 125.5.  To make matters worse, they did it on Iowa's home mat, in front of thousands of Iowa fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.  The Gophers won again in 2002 (besting Iowa State, 126.5 to 104) and then one last time in 2007 (again beating Iowa State, 98 to 88.5).  They haven't won since, though they came close to ending Penn State's four-peat a season ago, losing 109.5 to 104.

Proximity plays a factor in the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry, of course.  The programs share a border and there's no love lost between Iowa and Minnesota in other sports, animosity which easily and naturally carries over onto the mat. After all, Minnesota fans love chanting "WHO HATES IOWA?!" at any event, at any time, for any reason whatsoever (or for no reason at all); it's hardly surprising that they'd enjoy getting their dander up at the one sport Iowa has historically dominated.  Iowa fans are rarely shy about returning hate when it's dispensed, either.

Familiarity plays a role as well.  Iowa became a wrestling powerhouse by offering the keys to the car to Dan Gable, an Iowa State legend; Minnesota became a wrestling powerhouse by offering the keys to the car to J Robinson, one of Dan Gable's proteges and a member of the Iowa coaching staff.  Robinson was an assistant under Gable from 1976 to 1984 (and interim head coach in 83-84), helping guide the Hawkeyes to seven NCAA championships and eight Big Ten championships.  Now the wrestling coaching landscape is littered with branches from the Dan Gable coaching tree, but Robinson was one of the first to strike out on his own and he's been unquestionably the most successful.  If Iowa State ultimately (and largely inadvertently) begat their own greatest enemy with Dan Gable (who took Iowa to heights that far eclipsed the success Iowa State had experienced), then Iowa did something similar with Robinson (who ended Iowa's dynasty and seemingly unstoppable dominance of the Big Ten).

The Iowa-Minnesota rivalry has its own share of wrestling history, too.  In addition to the Big Ten and NCAA championships the programs have traded back and forth, they've done their part to try and expand wrestling's audience and expose it to new constituents.  Iowa and Minnesota were the participants in the first-ever Border Brawl, a dual meet at the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis that set a then-NCAA attendance record of 15,646 people, a truly stunning number in a sport where drawing four figures is considered a wildly successful attendance number most of the time.  (That record has since been broken, first by Iowa and Iowa State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena a few years back and, most recently, by Penn State and Pitt at the Bryce Jordan Center last season.)

The Iowa-Minnesota rivalry also has history stemming from sheer volume.  Iowa and Minnesota's encounter on Friday night will be the 100th meeting between the two schools, an iconic number and also by far the most commonly contested rivalry in Iowa's storied history.  Wisconsin is Iowa's next most common opponent; the Badgers and Hawkeyes have squared off 86 times.  (In case you're curious,  Iowa State is the third most common opponent (81 meetings), followed by Northwestern (78) and Illinois (76).)  Iowa has, of course, dominated the rivalry historically -- they have a 70-28-1 record in dual meets against Minnesota -- but the total quantity of times Iowa and Minnesota have tussled is incredible.

Lately, the most notable aspect of the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry has been the intensely competitive and closely contested dual meets that it's produced.  Iowa's rivalry with Iowa State has turned hopelessly one-sided since Sanderson ventured east and the competitiveness of the Iowa-Oklahoma State rivalry has ebbed and flowed in recent years.   The Iowa-Penn State rivalry, for all its virtues, has rarely produced edge-of-your-seat dual meets -- the closest encounter in the last four years was a 22-16 Iowa win in 2013.  But Iowa and Minnesota have produced several duals in recent years that have come down to the final few matches. In fact, let's take a look back at the last ten dual meet showdowns between the Hawkeyes and Gophers (because ten is a nice, round number).

2007-08: #1 IOWA 20, #3 MINNESOTA 13

The top-ranked Hawkeyes, hungry for their first NCAA championship since 2000, headed to Minneapolis to face the defending NCAA champion Gophers.  Iowa lost the first match, with Jayson Ness handing a 14-2 major decision loss to Charlie Falck, but won six of the next nine matches, including a 20-5 technical fall by Brent Metcalf at 149.  Iowa used two key upsets (#9 Dan LeClere over #3 Manuel Rivera at 141 and #8 Phil Keddy over #5 Roger Kish at 184) to earn the victory -- and serve notice that the balance of power in the Big Ten was shifting back to Iowa City.

2008-09: IOWA 27, MINNESOTA 7 (NWCA National Duals)
2008-09: #1 IOWA 25, #11 MINNESOTA 9

I'm going to lump the 2008-09 encounters together because they weren't particularly noteworthy.  Iowa was in the midst of their three-peat while Minnesota was rebuilding.  Iowa cruised over the Gophers in a semifinal match at the NWCA National Duals in early January, winning eight of ten matches and taking bonus points at 149, 174, and 184. The scoreline wasn't quite as lopsided when the teams met later in the season in a Big Ten dual, but it was still an Iowa blowout, with Iowa wins in seven of ten matches, including bonus points at 149 and 174.

2009-10: #1 IOWA 28, #5 MINNESOTA 12 (NWCA National Duals)
2009-10: #1 IOWA 28, #5 MINNESOTA 9

The Gophers didn't fare much better in 2009-10.  The third and final year of Iowa's three-peat saw a Hawkeye team that was a fully operational Death Star of a team.  Minnesota had rebuilt themselves into a top-5 team... and they were still no match for that Iowa team.  (Only two teams wrestled Iowa close in dual meets that year -- Iowa State, who lost via 18-16 and 19-12 scorelines and Oklahoma State, who lost 19-16.)  Iowa again cruised past Minnesota in the NWCA National Duals semifinals, opening up a 28-6 lead after eight matches with a Metcalf pin at 149, a Ryan Morningstar technical fall (!) at 165, and major decisions from Jay Borschel and Phil Keddy at 174 and 184.  Iowa was even less merciful in the Big Ten dual meet in Minneapolis, winning seven of ten matches, with all but one of those wins (285) featuring bonus points.

2010-11: #2 IOWA 19, #5 MINNESOTA 12

The departures of Brent Metcalf, Jay Borschel, Phil Keddy, and Ryan Morningstar brought an end to the era of lopsided Iowa wins and ushered in the current era of closely contested dual meets.  Iowa won four of the first five matches in this dual, with Derek St. John earning a major decision at 157.  Iowa's 13-3 lead evaporated behind three straight Minnesota wins and stood at just 13-12 heading into the final two matches.  Luke Lofthouse and Blake Rasing picked up key upset wins for Iowa at 197 and 285 to secure the victory, beating the higher ranked Sonny Yohn and Tony Nelson, respectively.

2011-12: #6 IOWA 19, #3 MINNESOTA 17

Iowa won its seventh-straight dual meet against Minnesota in the teams' first of two meetings in 2011-12, with Iowa taking the "win early and just hang on" approach from their previous dual to even bigger extremes.  Iowa won five of the first six matches and opened up a 19-4 lead behind a Nick Moore major decision at 157 and a massive Mike Evans pin at 165.  Those bonus points proved vital when Minnesota swept the final four matches of the night, but could only get bonus points of their own (a 12-4 Kevin Steinhaus major decision at 184) in one of those wins.  Iowa was able to hang on for a 19-17 win.  The template was in place for the next several Iowa-Minnesota dual meets, though: with the teams so evenly matched -- Iowa was better at the light weights and Minnesota was better at the upper weights -- bonus points could be key to the final scoreline.  This dual also started a strange trend of the lower-ranked (or seeded, in the case of the NWCA National Duals) team beating the higher-ranked (or seeded) team.  That might be an ominous note for Iowa this year, since most ranking services have the Hawkeyes at #1 and the Gophers at #2.

2011-12: #3 MINNESOTA 16, #2 IOWA 15 (NWCA National Duals)

Iowa's winning streak over the Gophers ended in the semifinals of the NWCA National Duals later that year, with Minnesota edging Iowa by one point.  Bonus points were once again the difference: Iowa and Minnesota split the dual at five matches apiece, with Iowa winning at 125, 133, 141, 157, and 174. while Minnesota won at 149, 165, 184, 197, and 285.  Alas, Dylan Ness's major decision over Mike Kelly at 149 provided the decisive point for the Gophers, although Cody Yohn's upset win over Mike Evans at 165 was also very costly.

2012-13: #4 IOWA 16, #3 MINNESOTA 15

Iowa regained the upper hand in the rivalry with their own 16-15 win, although this time bonus points weren't the difference-maker in the final score.  Iowa and Minnesota again each won five matches apiece (Iowa took 125, 133, 141, 157, and 165, while Minnesota took 149, 174, 184, 197, and 285), but all five matches were decision wins. Instead, the match went to the third tiebreaker criteria, total match points, which favored Iowa, 41-33.  The dual was also light on upset wins; only #18 Nick Moore's win over #10 Cody Yohn at 165 featured a win by a lower-ranked wrestler.

2012-13: #4 MINNESOTA 22, #2 IOWA 15 (NWCA National Duals)

Unfortunately for Iowa, the rematch in Minneapolis later that year -- in the NWCA National Duals semifinals -- did not go well for the Hawkeyes.  They started well enough, with Matt McDonough winning at 125 and Tony Ramos getting a pin at 133, but then #7 Mark Ballweg gave up a major decision to #8 Nick Dardanes at 141 and Mike Kelly got pinned in 2:39 by Dylan Ness at 149.  Decision wins for Iowa at 157 and 165 gave the Hawkeyes a 15-10 lead, but that was nowhere near enough given Minnesota's strength at the upper weights.  The Gophers rattled off wins at 174, 184, 197, and 285 and cruised to a 22-15 win.  Bonus points didn't produce the final margin -- Minnesota won six of ten matches and would have won 18-12 without any bonus points -- but they did give the Gophers a more impressive final scoreline and they provided a jolt early in the dual that Iowa couldn't handle.

2013-14: #4 MINNESOTA 19, #2 IOWA 15

The Gophers won again last year in the teams' lone dual meet encounter, in a Big Ten dual.  It was a dual characterized by unusual results.  Mike Evans and Bobby Telford finally beat the opponents that had bedeviled them, Logan Storley and Tony Nelson, respectively, and Josh Dziewa picked up a rare win over a top-10 opponent (a 1-0 win that was plenty strange in its own right), but those wins went for naught when Derek St. John was surprisingly defeated by Dylan Ness at 157 and, most shockingly, when unheralded Sam Brancale was able to plant #3 Thomas Gilman to the mat for a pin at 125.  That upset put Iowa in a 6-0 hole right out of the gate and represented at least a 9-point swing in the team score (Gilman would have been favored to at least win a decision over Brancale), which was far too much for Iowa to overcome, even with the upset results for Iowa at several other weights.  This was a dual where up was down and left was right almost across the board, though -- in addition to all the other odd results already noted, Nick Moore barely beat Danny unranked Danny Zilverberg, 3-2, while two-time All-American Kevin Steinhaus struggled with redshirt freshman Sammy Brooks and Scott Schiller wiped the floor (16-5 major decision) with usually-competitive Nathan Burak.  So many matches in this dual zigged when we thought they would zag; this was one of the strangest Iowa duals in recent memory, no doubt.

So what's next for the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry as the two teams take the mat tomorrow night in the centennial edition of the rivalry?  If the last few duals between the teams have taught us anything, it's that we should be ready for just about anything because there will be upsets, there will be bonus points, and the dual meet will (probably) be a back-and-forth, closely contested affair.  Iowa's usual gameplan this year in its closest dual meets -- Ohio State and Illinois -- has been to pull away behind the strength of their upper weight wrestlers.  Iowa trailed after six matches in both of those duals, only to sweep the final four matches of the meet (174, 184, 197, 285) and come away victorious.  Minnesota is one of the few teams that can match Iowa's upper weight prowess, though, so that strategy may not be as effective this time.  Whatever the case, we'll find out soon enough, as another chapter in the incredibly long and (lately) incredibly competitive rivalry between Iowa and Minnesota is written.

NOTE: Video below comes via Minnesota, hence them being ranked #1 and Iowa being ranked #2.  InterMat ranks Minnesota #1 and Iowa #2 in their tournament rankings; several other services -- including the USA Today Coaches Poll -- rank Iowa #1 and Minnesota #2.