IOWA CITY – Iowa 19, Iowa State 18.
It is a score that likely sent shockwaves across the college wrestling landscape.
And it could’ve turned out worse for the third-ranked Hawkeyes. Much worse.
They had to fight for their lives to hold off the unranked Cyclones on their home mat before a crowd of just under 10,000 fans Saturday afternoon at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa survived a huge scare in the final match when ISU’s Austin Gomez threw Iowa’s Austin DeSanto to his back in the third period of their 133-pound bout.
If the referee slaps the mat, the Cyclones pull off a major upset and beat the Hawkeyes for the first time in 15 meetings.
But DeSanto somehow fought off his back and Iowa prevailed. Barely.
It was a fun and exciting day at Carver. Here are a few of my observations that I made during a surprising and entertaining day of college wrestling in Iowa City:
There was a reason Iowa’s Jacob Warner was so highly regarded coming out of high school. And he showed exactly why in his season debut at 197 pounds. The Junior world team member scored a last-second reversal to knock off three-time All-American and fifth-ranked Willie Miklus 5-4 in a huge match. Warner, ranked 11th, will be a factor nationally this year even though he is in his first year on the varsity after redshirting last year.
Iowa State has made major improvements in its second year under Coach Kevin Dresser and assistants Brent Metcalf and Derek St. John. All three were national champions for Iowa. The Cyclones may not be ready to contend for a team trophy just yet, but they came in with a mindset of knocking off the heavily favored Hawkeyes. “I thought we fought hard. You don’t like losing and we let one slip by,” Dresser said. “We came in to win – we talked about it all week. We came up short, but I loved the fight of the 10 guys that we put out there. That’s what we preach and that’s what we coach. We also preach winning. We didn’t win, so there’s a part of me that’s not going to sleep very well tonight. I’m excited about this team and the direction Iowa State is heading.”
There is no doubt that Iowa is nowhere close to 100 percent physically right now. The Hawkeyes lost two-time All-American Michael Kemerer to a season-ending injury with Sam Stoll and Jacob Warner wrestling for the first time this season on Saturday. Kemerer’s replacement, Myles Wilson, came out strong at 174 and took an early 4-3 lead on Marcus Coleman. But Wilson suffered a knee injury early in the bout and had to default. That was a big swing in the dual with ISU picking up six team points in a match it may not have even won.
Even without Kemerer, Iowa coach Tom Brands has a team that has a chance to be very good by March. But he also has some early season concerns in addition to some of his team’s injury issues. “I think a lot of coaches get out of the frying pan and just move on,” Brands said. “But I can tell you there is no feeling of relief up here. We need to shape up and move forward in a lot more ways than just one.”
Iowa State showed it meant business in the first two matches when Ian Parker (141) and Jerrett Degen (149) rallied for wins. The Cyclones showed they were ready to go seven minutes and beyond. Degen won his bout in overtime.
How can you not love Iowa’s Alex Marinelli? The sophomore All-American loves to scrap and he came out with a mentality he was going to pin Brady Jennings on Saturday. The fourth-ranked Marinelli did just that. Don’t be surprised to see Marinelli wrestling for an NCAA title at 165 this season.
Iowa State’s Sam Colbray is a kid who was a national age-group star while growing up in Oregon. Colbray showed he is ready for the big stage when he downed No. 9 Cash Wilcke of Iowa 7-6 at 184.
Austin Gomez, another Junior world teamer, looked really impressive in his win over DeSanto. Gomez has a big-move arsenal and he can turn an opponent to their back in the blink of an eye. He showed that when he threw and nearly pinned DeSanto late in their bout. DeSanto somehow fought off his back after looking like was going to be pinned in the day’s final bout.
The good news is that Iowa State is going to be relevant again in wrestling and Dresser’s rebuilding job is ahead of schedule. The Cyclones are a solid team, they have a stud redshirt in David Carr and they have some talented recruits heading to Ames. It’s no surprise Dresser is already making an impact after the high level of success he achieved at Virginia Tech. ISU has an incredible history in wrestling and the sport is better when the Cyclones are competitive.
National champion Spencer Lee of Iowa stormed out to a big 11-0 lead in his 125-pound bout before downing Alex Mackall 13-4. Mackall showed a lot of heart with the way he fought back and Lee did appear to tire a little bit in the third period. The good news is that it was only Lee’s fourth match of the season and he will be just fine. I will pick Lee to beat anybody in that weight class on every day of the week.
Top-ranked Sam Stoll of Iowa showed me a lot by stepping on the mat for his first dual of the season despite not being 100 percent physically. He wasn’t expected to wrestle, but his team needed him and Stoll made the call to step on the mat. He looked good in controlling Gannon Gremmel 5-1 in their bout at heavyweight.
The crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena was excellent. The fans were into it, as they typically are, and it was a tremendous atmosphere for what turned out to be a very entertaining early season dual.
And one last thought: the ice cream cones at Carver-Hawkeye Arena are the absolute best. You can’t go to a dual meet at Carver without trying the twist cones they have there. They are magnificent.