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IOWA CRUISES TO NATIONAL DUALS FINALS

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A pair of easy wins on Saturday have Iowa one dual meet victory away from being crowned the undisputed best dual meet team in the nation.

Well, that went about as well as we could have hoped for Iowa wrestling at the National Duals.

Dominant wins?  Check -- Iowa blasted UT-Chattanooga 44-3 in the quarterfinals and had a comfortable 24-8 win over Cornell in the semifinals.

Fresh opponents?  Check -- We knew Iowa would see fresh faces from Chattanooga in the quarterfinals and thanks to Cornell's upset of Minnesota in their quarterfinal match-up, we got another fresh match-up between Iowa and Cornell in the semifinals.  We'll see a third fresh match-up in the finals, too, after Illinois and Ohio State crashed out in the quarterfinal round and Missouri advanced to the finals.  Rematches are fine, but we'll almost certainly get our fill of Iowa vs. Minnesota/Illinois/Ohio State wrestlers at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.

Seed-boosting wins?  Check -- Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark (twice), Brandon Sorensen, Mike Evans, and Nathan Burak all notched wins over ranked opponents on Saturday, with Gilman grabbing the most impressive win (a 3-1 win over #3 Nahshon Garrett), which more than off-set his surprising loss to #10 Sean Boyle earlier in the day.

Some exciting wrestling?  Check -- The Cornell dual was a little sluggish at times, but Iowa notched five (!) pins in the rout of Chattanooga (against whom Brandon Sorensen also had a takedown clinic technical fall), Thomas Gilman provided one of the loudest ovations of the day with a late winning takedown against Garrett, and there were plenty of fireworks -- on AND off the mat -- in Mike Evans' win against Cornell.

Saturday was definitely a triumphant day for Iowa wrestling -- now to follow it up on Sunday with another strong performance and end the dual meet portion of the season with a flourish.

#1 Iowa 24, #5 Cornell 8
125: #5 Thomas Gilman DEC (3-1) #3 Nahshon Garrett (IOWA 3-0)
133: #6 Cory Clark DEC (6-2) #15 Mark Grey (IOWA 6-0)
141: #6 Josh Dziewa DEC (5-3) UN Dylan Realbuto (IOWA 9-0)
149: #2 Brandon Sorensen DEC (4-1) #5 Chris Villalonga (IOWA 12-0)
157: #6 Brian Realbuto DEC (10-7) #16 Mike Kelly (IOWA 12-3)
165: #11 Dylan Palacio DEC (5-4) #9 Nick Moore (IOWA 12-6)
174: #3 Mike Evans DEC (3-0) #18 Duke Pickett (IOWA 15-5*)
184: #1 Gabe Dean DEC (6-2) #8 Sammy Brooks (IOWA 15-8)
197: #6 Nathan Burak DEC (3-2) #9 Jace Bennett (IOWA 18-8)
285: #4 Bobby Telford wins via forfeit (IOWA 24-8)

* Cornell was deducted a team point for unsportsmanlike conduct after the Evans-Pickett match.

The Iowa-Cornell dual was an all-around chippy and ill-tempered affair; there definitely didn't seem to be any love lost between the Iowa and Cornell coaching staffs.  Perhaps it's not a coincidence that the only time we've seen Iowa and Cornell wrestle in recent years has been at the National Duals tournament.  Thomas Gilman got the dual started with a bang, with an impressive upset win over #3 Nahshon Garrett, a returning NCAA runner-up.  Gilman looked locked in from the start in this match, with a good gameplan to stymie Garrett's quick offense by staying active and closing the distance on Garrett.  He secured the win with a slick takedown in the closing seconds of the third period.  This was a smart, strong performance by Gilman; hopefully it gives him confidence for the rest of the season.

Gilman Garrett 2

Clark followed up Gilman's big win with his third-straight win over a ranked opponent; maybe he just needed a break from Big Ten competition.  He gave up an early takedown to Grey, but unlike previous matches, he quickly turned that deficit around and stayed aggressive throughout the match.  He spent the third period putting a tough ride on Grey and trying to turn him for a pin or more nearfall points. Dziewa added a third straight win for Iowa to open the dual, a ho-hum 5-3 win over an unranked backup.  So much for the more aggressive Jeva we saw a week ago against Virginia.

Brandon Sorensen made it 4-for-4 for Iowa to open the dual, notching a very solid 4-1 win over #5 Chris Villalonga. That's the fourth top-5 wrestler Sorensen's knocked off since calendar turned to 2015; he's turned into a really damn good wrestler -- far sooner than we ever expected.  He was a menace in this match, stalking Villalonga from beginning to end, fending off any and all of Villalonga's offense, landing a crisp takedown of his own, and putting a hard ride on the Cornell man, too.  More points would have been nice, but this was still a rock-solid win for a guy who's become one of Iowa's most consistent -- and best -- performers.  Have we mentioned lately that he's just a redshirt freshman?

Things hit a skid for Iowa after Sorensen's win, with Mike Kelly dropping a 10-7 decision at 157 and Nick Moore dropping a 5-4 decision at 165.  This wasn't entirely unexpected; Cornell is pretty strong at the middle weights and Kelly and Moore have been anything but consistent this season.  Kelly's 10-7 loss was, frankly, not quite as close as the score indicates; I think over half of his points came from escapes.  He had no answers for Realbuto's quickness, which was been a persistent issue for Kelly; he's a gamer, but he tend struggles to deal with opponents with elite talent.  Nick Moore was ostensibly the favorite in his match, but 9 vs 11 is basically a toss-up and with the way Moore's been wrestling of late, it would be hard to make him a favorite against anyone.  Palacio landed some nice takedowns and spent much of the third period on his bike, but Moore couldn't get much of anything going on offense against Palacio.  Which is not exactly a new story for Moore, unfortunately.

Mike Evans ended Iowa's two-match losing streak with a... let's call it "ill-tempered"... 3-0 decision win over Duke Pickett.  Pickett was chippy and handsy from the start (apparently he pulled the same thing against Logan Storley earlier in the day, which may have been why he'd been cut before this match) and as we know from past experience, Evans is only to happy to retaliate to an opponent who's trying stuff like that.  Some shoves near the coaching areas and out of bounds lines (including one that sent Pickett into a camera stand) got things even more heated -- and also got the coaching staffs into it.  Evans grabbed an escape in the second and a takedown in the third after Pickett opted for neutral (a curious decision, since he only had one decent shot all match... then again, he didn't fare much better on bottom after Evans got the takedown).  The win was the 100th of Evans' career at Iowa; it seems fitting that a milestone win like that came in a match that was an out-and-out brawl -- that's been Evans' signature, after all.

Evans Pickett blood

Outside of Garrett-Gilman and Villalonga-Sorensen, the match that most intrigued me between Iowa and Cornell was #8 Sammy Brooks getting a crack at the division kingpin, #1 Gabe Dean.  Dean ended Ed Ruth's 2+ year winning streak last season (though Ruth won the rematch in the NCAA Tournament) and has been very tough all year, give or take a hiccup or two.  This match looked like a great opportunity to see how Brooks stacked up against a top guy.  The verdict?  He's got some work to do.  After an explosive start -- where Brooks looked close to picking up an early takedown -- the pace of the match settled down and Brooks looked somewhat tentative, hesitant to let things fly on offense or put in much of a ride from top.  If Brooks meets Dean again this season, he needs to push the pace and let things fly -- Brooks isn't going to win a tight, buttoned-up match against a guy like Dean.

The dual closed out with a 3-2 win from Nathan Burak at 197 and a forfeit win for Bobby Telford at heavyweight.  Burak's win was similar to a lot of his wins this season: cagey, lots of defense, not a lot of shots.  The only difference this time was that he got an early takedown rather than waiting until the final 30 seconds of the match to get one.  That was a nice change of pace, but it would have been even nicer if he'd been able to build on that early score with more points.  And there's nothing to say about Telford's "match," other than the fact that it's anticlimactic to end things with a forfeit.  Cornell's heavyweight wrestled (badly) against Minnesota earlier in the day, so I'm not entirely sure of the rationale behind him sitting out the match with Telford.  It didn't have any impact on the result of the dual -- Iowa was going to win either way -- but it did make the scoreline a little more lopsided (though Bobby might have been able to pin him anyway).

#1 Iowa 44, UN Chattanooga 3
125: #10 Sean Boyle DEC (3-1 SV) #5 Thomas Gilman (UTC 3-0)
133: #6
Cory Clark FALL (4:16) #13 Nick Soto (IOWA 6-3)
141: #6 Josh Dziewa DEC (4-2) UN Mike Pongracz (IOWA 9-3)
149: #2 Brandon Sorensen TECH FALL (20-4) UN Shawn Greevy (IOWA 14-3)
157: #16 Mike Kelly FALL (4:32) UN Austin Sams (IOWA 20-3)
165: #9 Nick Moore DEC (11-6) UN Justin Lampe (IOWA 23-3)
174: #3 Mike Evans FALL (4:44) UN Sean Mappes (IOWA 29-3)
184: #8 Sammy Brooks FALL (1:53) UN McCoy Newberg (IOWA 35-3)
197: #6 Nathan Burak DEC (7-4) UN Scottie Boykin (IOWA 38-3)
285: #4 Bobby Telford FALL (2:50) UN Jared Johnson (IOWA 44-3)

There isn't much to say about Iowa's earlier dual in the day, a 44-3 smashing of UT-Chattanooga.  The Mocs were in no way, shape, or form one of the eight best dual meet teams in the country, but that's the way things work with the current format of National Duals.  Things did start well for the Mocs, with Sean Boyle's 3-1 sudden victory win over Thomas Gilman.  Boyle, a Michigan transfer, is a solid wrestler (ranked #10), but this was still a surprise.  It was also a bit of an odd loss; unlike some of Gilman's other close matches, where he simply didn't initiate much action at all, he had some very good scoring opportunities here and just wasn't able to finish them off.  The loss was disappointing and he needs to finish shots better (which he did against Garrett later in the day), but this match felt like a blip more than anything -- hopefully he got it out of his system before the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.

Gilman's surprise loss seemed to light a fire under the rest of the Iowa team, though, because they came out and smashed the Mocs (more or less).  Six of Iowa's nine wins featured bonus points -- including five pins.  And the one bonus point win that didn't have a pin was Brandon Sorensen's emphatic 20-4 technical fall win... so yeah.  Dziewa, Moore, and Burak were the lone Hawkeyes not to get in on the bonus point fun; no surprise that those three had more subdued decision wins.  Of the pins, Mike Kelly's was definitely the best:

You can see the others here:

Cory Clark

Mike Evans

Sammy Brooks

Bobby Telford

Here's what the bracket looks like heading into tomorrow's final matchup:

2015_national_duals_bracket_finals2

And here's what the finals matchup between Iowa and Missouri looks like:

FINALS MATCHUP: #1 IOWA VS #2 MISSOURI

125: #5 Thomas Gilman (SO, 24-2) vs #2 Alan Waters (SR, 26-0)
133: #6 Cory Clark (SO, 21-4) vs UN Zach Synon (SO, 28-10)
141: #6 Josh Dziewa (SR, 24-5) vs #5 Lavion Mayes (SO, 29-1)
149: #2 Brandon Sorensen (RS FR, 31-2) vs #4 Drake Houdashelt (SR, 28-1)
157: #16 Mike Kelly (SR, 20-7) vs #12 Joey Lavallee (SO, 29-10)
165: #9 Nick Moore (SR, 19-7) vs UN Mike England (SR, 23-12)
174: #3 Mike Evans (SR, 23-1) vs #5 John Eblen (SR, 25-3)
184: #8 Sammy Brooks (SO, 23-4) vs #14 Willie Miklus (RS FR, 25-6)
197: #6 Nathan Burak (JR, 17-2) vs #1 J'Den Cox (SO, 29-0)
285: #4 Bobby Telford (SR, 23-2) vs #16 Devin Mellon (SR, 27-8)

Missouri's a strong team, especially in the lower weights -- if they get wins at 125, 141, and 149 (quite possible), then things could get a bit nervous for Iowa heading into the back half of the dual.  The back half looks much friendlier for Iowa, although relying on Kelly and Moore for wins is a bit nerve-wracking at this point and Eblen should be a good test for Evans at 174.  My preliminary pick is 19-12 Iowa, with Missouri wins at 125, 141, 157, and 197 and Iowa wins at the other six weights (including a major decision for Clark at 133).