#7 IOWA 18, #15 ILLINOIS 17: SLEEPWALKING

By RossWB on December 2, 2017 at 7:00 am
Thank you, Stoll.

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There's a mantra that Tom and Terry Brands repeat often and that's emblazoned on the wall of the Iowa practice room at Carver-Hawkeye Arena: "You get what you earn." The point of the saying, of course, is that success isn't going to be handed to you; you have to put in the effort to achieve it. And most of the time that saying rings true. But every now and then you can get something without earning it; Iowa wrestling got an 18-17 win on Friday night, but it didn't particularly feel like they earned it. This was one of the most sluggish performances by Iowa in some time. They got just enough results to go their way to secure the team win, but even many of the matches that went their way were ugly and disappointing. 

Iowa and Illinois each won five of the ten matches in the dual on Friday; the difference in the team score came down to bonus points. Each team recorded four decision wins and one bonus point win, but Iowa emerged victorious because their bonus point win was bigger than Illinois' bonus point win. The Illini got a 23-8 tech fall win (five team points) from Isaiah Martinez at 165, but Iowa managed to trump that with a first period pin (six team points) from Sam Stoll at heavyweight. That one point was the difference in the team score. 

Illinois wrestlers looked sharper and better-prepared than their Iowa counterparts in almost every match. Illinois outdid Iowa in takedowns, 18 to 8, and had a particularly pronounced advantage in first period takedowns (8 to 2). Kemerer and Stoll were the only Iowa wrestlers to record takedowns in the first period. Iowa wrestlers trailed after the first in four matches and there were four scoreless periods. Illinois has a solid enough team, but the level of offensive ineptitude on display from Iowa tonight reflects badly on the entire program. This was a sorry effort throughout the lineup, salvaged only by Stoll's pin. Illinois was one of the easier teams remaining on Iowa's schedule; performances like this against some of the better teams on the slate are going to result in some very, very ugly losses for Iowa. 

WEIGHT #7 IOWA RESULT #15 ILLINOIS TEAM SCORE
125 #13 Travis Piotrowski (So, 7-0) DEC (7-4) Justin Stickley (Fr, 5-3) ILLINOIS 3-0
133 #20 Dylan Duncan (RS Fr, 5-2) DEC (6-1) Phillip Laux (Sr, 6-1) ILLINOIS 6-0
141 Mike Carr (RS Fr, 2-1) DEC (7-5) Vince Turk (So, 3-2) ILLINOIS 9-0
149 #2 Brandon Sorensen (Sr, 5-0) DEC (4-1) Eric Barone (So, 4-4) ILLINOIS 9-3
157 #3 Michael Kemerer (So, 5-0)  DEC (5-1) #17 Kyle Langenderfer (Sr, 5-2) ILLINOIS 9-6
165 #2 Isaiah Martinez (Sr, 3-0) TECH FALL (23-8) Kaleb Young (RS Fr, 3-2)  ILLINOIS 14-6
174 Joey Gunther (So, 5-0) DEC (6-1) David Riojas (Fr, 2-3) ILLINOIS 14-9
184 #12 Emery Parker (Jr, 6-1) DEC (5-3) Mitch Bowman (Jr, 4-1) ILLINOIS 17-9
197 #10 Cash Wilcke (So, 5-0) DEC (3-1 SV) Andre Lee (Jr, 5-4) ILLINOIS 17-12
285 #7 Sam Stoll (Jr, 5-0) FALL (2:02) Deuce Rachal (Jr, 5-5) IOWA 18-17

The dual got off to a rough start with three straight Illinois wins at 125, 133, and 141. Given Iowa's weakness at those weights, that is likely to be a trend in those duals that start with the lightweights. In all three matches the Iowa wrestler gave up a first period takedown (or three, in Turk's case at 141) and had to try to battle back. In all three cases they came up short (very short in Laux's case). Carr pounced on a flat-footed Turk with three first period pins; he didn't do much the rest of the match, but he didn't need to do more than that with Turk being generally unable to finish his own offense. 

After eating three straight losses to start the dual and digging themselves a 9-0 hole, Iowa turned to what ought to be the bright spot in their lineup: Brandon Sorensen (#2 at 149) and Michael Kemerer (#3 at 157). In this dual Iowa's two best wrestlers combined for... two takedowns. Total. Of the two Sorensen's match was probably the most frustrating; he's a senior leader taking the mat with his team down 9-0 and he spent the entire first period doing... not much of anything. The second period wasn't much different; in fact, he didn't score a single point in the match until an escape to start the third period. He added a takedown and a riding time point in the third, but Iowa needs much more than this from one of their best wrestlers. As a senior Sorensen pretty much is what he is at this point and he's never going to be an offensive dynamo, but it's one thing to grind out defensive 4-1 wins against Top 5 or Top 10 opponents and another (very disappointing) thing to do it against unranked opponents.

Kemerer started his match better than Sorensen and got a first period takedown, but he couldn't get much else going on for the remainder of the match. Unlike Sorensen Kemerer is an offensive dynamo most of the time so his inability to score more in his match was more surprising. Hopefully it was a rare off performance for a wrestler Iowa is counting on to win and dominate this year. 

The difference in performance among the top wrestlers on each respective team was jarring. Sorensen and Kemerer combined for one first period takedown in their matches; Isaiah Martinez scored three takedowns in the first period alone. He knew his team needed a big win from him and he delivered in typically impressive fashion, taking Kaleb Young down with ease again and again again (and again). Even when he's thrashing one of your own guys, it's hard not to enjoy watching Martinez wrestle; in a dual that featured way too much standing around and pointless hand-fighting, Martinez was one of the only wrestlers who displayed high octane offense. 

Iowa entered the final four matches of the dual down 14-6 and needed to either sweep them (if they won decisions) or win at least three of them and pick up bonus points somewhere along the way. Joey Gunther did get Iowa started with a win at 174 and while he managed to tack on some late scoring to win 6-1 that scoreless first period still stung. It's very hard to get bonus points in a win if you don't get anything from the first three minutes of a match. 184 featured another scoreless first period -- shocker! -- but Mitch Bowman took a lead in the second period off a nice takedown, but a pair of Parker escapes tied the match at 2-2 heading into the third. Unfortunately, after a Bowman escape to start the period, it was all Parker -- he scored off a re-shot and managed to ride Bowman out for the win. Bowman absolutely has to be able to get off the mat and score an escape in those situations. 

Down 17-9 with two matches to go, Iowa was going to need wins and bonus points to complete a comeback on Illinois. Cash Wilcke completed the first part of that equation at 197, but only just -- after three periods without too much action  (Wilcke came close to scoring in the second, but neither guy did much in the first or third periods) and with time running down in sudden victory, Wilcke finally managed to finish a duck under and get the winning takedown. The win was good, but the offense needs to be there long before there are 10 seconds left in overtime. 

Down 17-12 with one match to go, there was only one way for Iowa to win: with a pin. Fortunately, Iowa had their most proficient pinner on the mat, he was facing a backup, and he was up against a guy who wanted to go upper body with Stoll. PROTIP: don't go upper body with Stoll. That's going to end badly for most folks who try it. Sure enough, that's what happened here -- Rachal tried for a throw, but Stoll ended up taking him to his back. From that point the pin was just academic and Stoll got it a few seconds later. That pin gave Iowa six points, just enough for a very narrow and largely unimpressive 18-17 team win. My predictions were pretty bad for this dual (LOL at expecting so many bonus point wins out of Iowa), but I did talk about the high likelihood of a pin at 285, so I'm going to claim partial credit there. Winning beats losing, so we can thank Stoll for that, but hopefully this flat performance lights a fire under the Iowa wrestlers. If it doesn't, this is going to be one painful season to watch. 

NEXT: Iowa heads east to face #11 Rutgers next Friday at 6 PM CT (BTN Plus). 

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