IOWA CITY, Iowa — Wrestling is a zero-sum sport at Iowa, where teams are judged less by victory and more by their level of domination.
The expectations are so high that sometimes it’s difficult to enjoy the process and development. But in the aftermath of No. 3 Iowa’s 33-8 pounding of No. 16 Wisconsin on Friday, coach Tom Brands wanted his wrestlers to take in the night and relish their accomplishment.
Maybe it’s only for a minute, but Brands wore a smile.
“I just said out in the hallway that sometimes you have to give yourself a little bit of credit,” Brands said. “So give our guys credit. They wrestled. There was some bonus points. We needed bonus points. You’re not wrestling (Cory) Clark and you’re not wrestling our heavyweight (Steven Holloway). So, it’s one match at a time, but we take all the points we can get. We’ll give our guys some credit.”
The Hawkeyes (9-2, 5-1 Big Ten) won eight of 10 matches and claimed extra points in five of them. Sammy Brooks (184 pounds) and Michael Kemerer (157) picked up pins. Top-ranked Thomas Gilman (125) nearly earned a technical fall. While it wasn’t a victory, unranked Joey Gunther battled Wisconsin’s No. 3-ranked Isaac Jordan to overtime before losing, 3-1. That’s progress.
Perhaps the most satisfying moments of the evening came at 133 and 141 for Iowa. Junior Phillip Laux stepped in for Clark and beat Wisconsin’s Eli Stickley, 6-2, at 133 pounds. After giving up a takedown early, Laux scored a reversal and picked up four back points in the first period. He held out for the rest of the match.
Laux (9-8) wasn’t happy with the way he wrestled, but he was excited for the victory.
“A win’s a win and it’s good, but it’s not the way I wanted to win,” Laux said. “You’ve got to score takedowns and got to convert leg attacks, can’t get on the bottom. A lot to improve on but a step moving forward.”
Brands, however, touted Laux’s progress.
“It’s huge for him,” Brands said. “That’s something as a coach or a coaching staff you key on. That success is critical to keeping a guy going. The opportunity that he’s had this year because of Clark (being out), he seized it.”
Clark (10-1) has wrestled with a shoulder injury this year. He will compete Sunday at Minnesota.
Carton, a No. 17-ranked senior, dominated his match with No. 16 Cole Martin, winning 9-1. Carton (18-5) scored takedowns in the first and second periods and turned Martin to his back in the third.
The victory was a way for Carton to get a little payoff for a tough couple of weeks. He wrestled three ranked wrestlers and dropped two of them by a single point. The other was an 8-5 defeat to top-ranked Dean Heil of Oklahoma State. Motivation was critical for Carton this week, and he found it in an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “Never confuse a single defeat with the final defeat.” He said those words spoke to him.
“I’ve kind of been thinking of that all week and my sister — that’s her favorite author — and I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like to now that I’m in college and she has her kid and all that,” said Carton, who hails from Rock Island, Ill. “So in my head it was kind of God’s way of telling me she’s there and she’s thinking about me and watching out for me and she’s pulling for me even though she’s not here. So that was kind of nice to have that in the back of my head.”
Brands praised Carton for pushing his offense throughout the match’s seven minutes.
“He finished the match,” Brands said. “That’s what I mean when I was out in the hall and I said give ourselves some credit. Give yourself some credit for finishing that match and getting bonus points, a major decision there. Wrestling the whole match and putting a ride on the guy. Going to your offense, not just once, not twice, but three or four times and making it pay off for you.”
It was a dominant dual for Iowa, and the progress was evident. Like Brands said, it’s worth giving his wrestlers some credit. But in about five minutes after this story, the praise evaporates. Iowa wrestles at rival Minnesota on Sunday. A win there, then the credit gets extended. A loss, well, don’t expect a kind word for a while.