IOWA CITY, Iowa — There’s often a disconnect between wrestling coaches and casual fans with how to interpret dual-meet results.
For many supporters, a dual matters almost as much as the season-ending tournaments. For them, there’s nothing secondary about watching Iowa battle its Big Ten foes or other rivals, especially in person at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But for coach Tom Brands, keeping his wrestlers fresh for the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments is paramount, even if it conflicts with dual-meet strategy.
For the second straight dual, Iowa sat a top wrestler. It also cost the No. 4 Hawkeyes a second straight loss, this time 19-17 to No. 7 Michigan. Last week, Iowa trailed Ohio State by 5 points entering the heavyweight match pitting No. 3 Sam Stoll against No. 1 Kyle Snyder. Brands chose to sit Stoll, and Iowa dropped that match by technical fall.
Saturday, No. 2-ranked Michael Kemerer was a healthy scratch at 157 pounds. Iowa fill-in Jeren Glosser lost 5-2, which ultimately gave the Wolverines the victory.
In truth, Stoll isn’t going to beat Snyder and neither is anyone else in the world. But Kemerer would have won.
“He’s nicked up a little bit, not a big deal,” Brands said about Kemerer. “He probably could have went, and when I say probably, probably could have went in the dual meet. The postseason is a foregone conclusion.
“It’s a smart thing to do.”
Team losses are difficult for fans to reconcile, especially for those who support Iowa wrestling. Dan Gable was 98-1 in duals at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Maybe another wrestling coach accomplishes a similar record in the year 2525 but none of us will know about it. Winning is not only expected here, it’s demanded. So any loss, especially one at home, forces fans to crunch up their faces like they just put salt in their oatmeal.
Same with the wrestlers.
“We lost. It’s rough,” said Iowa freshman Alex Marinelli, who won his 165-pound match. “We’re the Iowa Hawkeyes wrestling team. We don’t take losses very easily.”
Kemerer’s absence was big, but what Brands was more focused upon were the tight losses at his heavier weights. Stoll slipped slightly in the first period against No. 2-ranked Adam Coon and allowed a decisive takedown in a 3-2 loss. Iowa 197-pounder Cash Wilcke gave up 2 takedowns in the second period and nearly pulled out a win late but still lost 6-5. Close counts for nothing here.
Neither Iowa’s Kaleb Young (174) nor Mitch Bowman (184) could avoid giving up riding points, which proved costly. Any of those four matches could have won the dual. All four of those weight classes lost to Ohio State as well. That’s what agitated Brands afterward, not playing with hypotheticals.
“Maybe a theme,” Brands said. “Coming off the bottom, at 84 and 74, you could throw that in there, too. We’ve got to get Wilcke going, too. That’s a big one. He gave up 2 easy takedowns in the second period. That’s going blank.
“That was a winnable dual, even without Kemerer.”
There were positives. At 125, No. 3-ranked Spencer Lee annihilated No. 9 Drew Mattin by technical fall (15-0) in 3 minutes, 21 seconds. Iowa’s No. 2 Brandon Sorensen stuck Michigan’s Ben Lamantia in 4:54. Iowa’s Vince Turk outlasted Sal Profaci 13-11 in overtime at 141. In one of the night’s most competitive matches, Marinelli, who is ranked No. 9, beat No. 8 Logan Massa 3-2. Marinelli is 10-0, with half of his victories against ranked opponents.
But the negatives always overpower the positives when Iowa loses a home meet. The Hawkeyes’ final home duals are next weekend against Minnesota and Northwestern. There are two more on the road with Penn State and Iowa State. Then it’s on to the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament.
There’s not much time left for growth.
“Listen, it’s not the end of the world,” Brands said. “But it might be getting close. We’re in the third week of January. So we’re getting to where we’ve got to figure it out.”