Iowa began their two-game sojourn on the east coast with their first-ever conference dual meet against the mighty Rutgers Scarlet Knights at The RAC (aka, The Rutgers Athletic Center). The "mighty" quip was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the Scarlet Knights aren't a bad team -- they have a returning All-American (Anthony Perrotti), a pair of possible future All-Americans (Anthony Ashnault and Andrew Campolattano), and some other solid wrestlers. They were a deservedly ranked team and one of the top teams in their previous conference, the EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association).
But the Big Ten is not the EIWA, a lesson Rutgers figures to learn several times throughout this season. Iowa, the best team in the history of the Big Ten and the most dominant program in the sport's modern history, gave them the first of those lessons Friday night, cruising to an easy 27-9 victory in front of a packed house of 5400+ fans. And props to that crowd: they were numerous and very boisterous -- when Rutgers wrestlers gave them something to cheer about. When Rutgers faces a team that they're a little more evenly matched against, that crowd might help sway a few tight matches. And 5400 is nothing to sniff at, either. Iowa fans are spoiled by the rabid fanbase that descends on Carver-Hawkeye for Big Ten dual meets but Iowa is very much the outlier when it comes to wrestling attendance; if Rutgers can get 3000 or so people to show up on a regular basis (duals against the likes of Iowa and Penn State are obviously going to goose attendance significantly), that should be considered a nice success.
The problems for Rutgers in this dual were twofold: Iowa has top-10 ranked wrestlers at nearly every weight and even at the weights where Rutgers has very good options (141, 157, 197), Iowa has someone just about as good, making those matches toss-ups at best. Rutgers benefited from the fact that Iowa didn't play their top lineup on Friday: Tom Brands sent out backups at 133 and 197; not coincidentally, two of Rutgers' three wins came at those weights. The other Rutgers win came at the toss-up weight of 141. It was no surprise that Iowa used a few backups; the Rutgers dual came just a few days after the two-day Midlands tournament just two days before a pivotal dual meet against Ohio State in Columbus.
The dual began at 125, where Thomas Gilman appeared to be under strict instructions to work on his takedowns after scuffling to an ugly, offense-light 3-1 loss to #6 Joey Dance in the Midlands finals earlier. Gilman hit takedown after takedown after takedown on McCabe, racking up 12 total in a blowout 25-10 technical fall victory. The key for Gilman is still being able to get those takedowns in big matches against tough opponents, but this was a good start. Cory Clark was rested at 133, allowing Philip Laux (nominally a 125er) to wrestle; unfortunately, he got horsed around by DelVecchio on his way to a 10-3 decision loss. One of the dual's two matches matching up ranked opponents was up next at 141; unfortunately, it was a very typical Dziewa match: lots of hand-fighting, not a lot of attacks, and hardly any points. Ashnault scored the decisive takedown in the final seconds of the match. That takedown came on his only real attack of the match, but it's hard to be too irritated by that when Dziewa didn't offer much more in the offense department.
Brandon Sorensen got the nod over Brody Grothus (who suffered an ankle injury at Midlands, per BTN) and promptly put up a flurry of offense on his overmatched opponents. It was a touch disappointing that he was unable to get a technical fall when he was so close (18-5), but it's hard to be too upset -- he logged an emphatic major decision and it's just refreshing to have a 149er who can score points in buckets again. 157 featured Rutgers' other ranked wrestler (and returning All-American), Anthony Perrotti, as well as the most pleasant surprise of the dual for Iowa. 157 has been a question mark for Iowa all season and while Mike Kelly has a ways to go to allay all of our concerns, his win over Perrotti was a great start. He looked aggressive in scoring the opening takedown and rode him tough throughout the match, including in a wild third period when it looked like Perrotti was going to get a reversal on several occasions. After a 3rd-place finish at Midlands and a win over #13 here, Kelly should definitely crack the rankings at 157 next week.
Nick Moore was another Iowa wrestler who needed to erase a middling performance from Midlands and he did so in fairly emphatic fashion himself, using a series of takedowns and back points to earn an easy 16-4 win. Moore looked short on confidence and energy at times during Midlands; hopefully last night's performance helps to rejuvenate him. Several Iowa wrestlers struggled to find offense from their feet at Midlands, including Mike Evans, who again struggled to get takedowns against Phil Bukuckas on Friday night and had to settle for a 5-0 win. Evans was never in trouble, but it would certainly be nice if he could score a few more takedowns and make things easier for himself -- and get a few more bonus points, too.
Sammy Brooks provided the highlight of the night at 184: after giving up an early takedown, he went to work with takedowns and tilts of his own, racking up points before finally finishing the match off in the second period with a slick pin off another tilt. Brooks is a ton of fun to watch and his aggressive, attack-happy approach is a breath of fresh air. Nathan Burak was once again a scratch at 197 -- he looked good at Midlands earlier in the week, but Brands still seems wary of burning his redshirt this year, which would suggest that there might still be some question marks about his knee. Kris Klapprodt deputized for Burak again and the match with Campolattano went about as I expected: Camp's very good athleticism helped him land some takedowns, but his poor cardio led him to give up some as well. And finally, Bobby Telford finished off the night with a solid 6-2 win in the dual's other showdown of ranked wrestlers, using an early takedown and a mess of riding time to lock up an easy win.
#2 Iowa 27, #24 Rutgers 9
125: #4 Thomas Gilman TECH FALL (25-10) UN Sean McCabe (IOWA 4-0*)
133: UN Scott DelVecchio DEC (10-3) UN Philip Laux (IOWA 4-3)
141: #11 Anthony Ashnault DEC (3-1) #6 Josh Dziewa (RUTGERS 6-4)
149: #10 Brandon Sorensen MAJ DEC (18-5) UN Ken Theobold (IOWA 8-6)
157: UN Mike Kelly DEC (4-0) #13 Anthony Perrotti (IOWA 11-6)
165: #7 Nick Moore MAJ DEC (16-4) UN Nick Gravina (IOWA 15-6)
174: #2 Mike Evans DEC (5-0) UN Phil Bukuckas (IOWA 18-6)
184: #8 Sammy Brooks FALL (3:52) UN Hayden Hrymach (IOWA 24-6)
197: UN Andrew Campolattano DEC (8-5) UN Kris Klapprodt (IOWA 24-9)
285: #3 Bobby Telford DEC (6-2) #9 Billy Smith (IOWA 27-9)
*Gilman's technical fall was only worth four points instead of the usual five because he did not record any nearfall points.
Iowa returns to action on Sunday at 1 PM Central against #7 Ohio State. The meet will be streamed online by BTN Plus.