So that sucked. After a Friday morning that featured a few setbacks but also a lot of promise, Friday evening was pretty miserable for Hawkeye wrestling. Over eight matches, Iowa went 3-5, which included three wipeouts in the semifinals and two losses in the Round of 12 on the verge of being All Americans. It was one gut-punch after another for Iowa fans, with a few most welcome exceptions.
Most notable among those exceptions was Cory Clark, who is tougher than three-year old beef jerky but has been going ahead and getting the job done match after match. Friday night he avenged his loss to Nathan Tomasello in the Big Ten Tournament finals by digging deep to grind out a 7-4 win. Tomasello got to Clark's legs often, but after an initial takedown for the OSU man, Clark turned those opportunities into scoring opportunities of his own, scoring multiple takedowns off of some unconventional headlock set-ups. It's rarely flashy or crisp or textbook-perfect from Clark -- but it is awfully effective. And he's back in the NCAA finals for the third straight year, extending Iowa's streak of having at least one NCAA finalist to 28 consecutive years. Hopefully Clark can finally get over the hump tomorrow night and get his long-awaited NCAA title.
|125||#4 Darian Cruz (Lehigh)||DEC (4-2 OT)||#1 Thomas Gilman|
|133||#4 Cory Clark||DEC (7-4)||#1 Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State)|
|149||#1 Zain Retherford (Penn State)||FALL (2:37)||#5 Brandon Sorensen|
|184||#2 Bo Nickal (Penn State)||FALL (1:02)||#3 Sammy Brooks|
The night started on a terrible note with a stunning loss from Thomas Gilman in the 125 lb semifinals. Gilman gave up a late takedown in the third period that pushed the match into overtime, then conceded a takedown in sudden victory to lose it. As he has done far too often, Gilman seemed to freeze up in big matches and become overly conservative. A wrestler who fires off shots in bunches in lower-profile matches, Gilman becomes cautious under the spotlight -- to his detriment. His offense from neutral is spectacular and able to be matched by hardly anyone at 125 lbs. But if he's not going to attempt shots, it doesn't matter. He didn't here, and so he painfully -- but deservedly -- lost. It's a bitter way for his quest for a national title to end.
Meanwhile, Iowa's other two losing finalists lost in almost identical fashion. Facing fearsome Penn State opponents, both got taken down early in the first period -- and wound up staring up at the lights a few moments later, their matches over. Sorensen lasted longer than Brooks, although he may wish he hadn't -- Retherford had him tied up in a pretty nasty bow-and-arrow hold before finally getting the pin; that had to hurt like hell. Brooks went straight to his back and was pinned a moment later; he lasted just 20 seconds longer than he had at the dual meet. So much for either man narrowing the gap against Retherford or Nickal. And so ended a most disappointing semifinal round, aside from Clark's very welcome triumph.
|157||#2 Michael Kemerer||MAJ DEC (14-3)||May Bethea (Penn)|
|174||#7 Kyle Crutchmer (Oklahoma State)||DEC (13-10)||#11 Alex Meyer|
|197||#10 Kevin Beazley (Old Dominion)||DEC (7-6)||Cash Wilcke|
|197||#2 Michael Kemerer||MAJ DEC (15-6)||Paul Fox (Stanford)|
Things weren't too much different in the consolation rounds. One Iowa wrestler excelled (Kemerer), the others floundered. Neither Meyer nor Wilcke got pinned, but they still fell short in their quest to claim All America honors. Meyer had a lead against Crutchmer in the third, until he got caught in a headlock and taken down for a 6-point move. From there he went into wild catch-up mode, but ended up getting caught for about as many takedowns as he scored himself. Wilcke gave up two quick takedowns to Beazley, who then proceeded to do almost nothing the rest of the match. The problem? Wilcke didn't do much himself, as his offense once again went missing. Still, props to Wilcke -- from last-minute injury replacement to Round of 12 wrestler is a pretty nice run.
Michael Kemerer provided the only other highlights for Iowa on Friday night as he thrashed two opponents by major decision. The first win locked up All-America honors for the redshirt freshman, while the second guaranteed that he can finish no lower than 6th on the podium. Hopefully he finishes much higher -- he responded exactly as you'd hope on Friday evening; nothing eases the disappointment of coming short of your goals like scoring a bunch of points on some opponents.
It's all over but the shouting for Penn State to claim a sixth national title in seven years. They went 5-for-5 in the semifinals, with Retherford and Nickal's pins bookending three more wins -- they won five straight weights, which is a pretty heady accomplishment. Ohio State retains a mathematical chance of winning the title, but realistically they would need Penn State to contract the plague over night. Iowa is bringing up the rear in the Top 5, although they have enough wrestlers alive in the consolation bracket to move up a bit if guys come to wrestle on Saturday morning.
|133||#4 Cory Clark||vs||#2 Seth Gross (South Dakota State)|
For the third year in a row, Cory Clark is in the finals at 133 lbs. (And for the second time in three years, he's the only Iowa representative in the finals.) We really hope he can end his run of being a bridesmaid and claim a national title in his final match in an Iowa singlet. Standing in his way is an ex-Iowa teammates, Seth Gross. They've never wrestled against one another in official competition (they were slated to earlier this year at the Iowa-South Dakota State dual, but Clark suffered the shoulder/collarbone injury that's dogged him all season shortly before that dual). I'm sure they wrestled each other quite a bit when Gross was in the Iowa training room, though, so there should be no lack of familiarity between them.
|125||#1 Thomas Gilman||vs||#2 Joey Dance (Virginia Tech)|
|149||#5 Brandon Sorensen||vs||#6 Solomon Chishko (Virginia Tech)|
|157||#2 Michael Kemerer||vs||#4 Tyler Berger (Nebraska)|
|184||#3 Sammy Brooks||vs||#6 Myles Martin (Ohio State)|
Outside of Sorensen's match with Chishko, these matches all involve rematches with previous opponents. On one hand, Iowa's done well in those previous matches -- Gilman is 1-1 versus Dance, Kemerer is 2-0 against Berger and Brooks is 2-0 against Martin. On the other hand, outside of Brooks' major decision win over Martin in the Big Ten Tournament finals, all of those matches were very close. More than anything, Saturday morning consolation round matches seem to come down to mindset -- everyone's disappointed about not being in the Saturday night finals, but the wrestlers who can bury that disappointment and come out fired up and ready to compete are the ones who end up finishing high on the podium. That's been a problem for Iowa wrestlers in recent years, many of whom have seemed to be sleepwalking through the final consolation matches, and it's hard to say how guys like Gilman, Sorensen, and Brooks will respond to suffering such devastating losses on Friday night. We'll find out shortly, though.