Iowa 34, Minnesota 7: Whack-a-Gopher

By RossWB on February 2, 2018 at 11:55 pm
Are you not entertained?

This dual made me rewrite this lede three times. At first the focus was going to be on Brandon Sorensen, kickstarting the dual with a thoroughly dominant pin just 30 seconds into the second period. That was a great moment for Iowa's senior leader. Then the focus was going to be on Spencer Lee, Iowa's freshman phenom who -- oops, he did it again -- dismembered a Top 10 125er to the tune of a 15-0 technical fall. We're going to have to invent new superlatives to keep up with him if this keeps up. But then Carter Happel decided to steal the show with an almost literal buzzer-beating pin to secure an upset win over #10 Tommy Thorn and end the night with an emphatic bang for Iowa. The dual victory was well-secured by that point -- Iowa led 28-7 heading into the final match -- but that was beside the point. Happel's win was the most electrifying moment from a dual that, from an Iowa perspective, featured a whole lot of highlights.  It was just that kind of night for Iowa wrestling, a near-constant stream of "can you top this?" moments and victories over Minnesota, one of their oldest rivals. 

There's no doubt that this particular Minnesota squad isn't exactly on par with many of the powerhouse Gopher teams of the last 15-20 years. They have holes at several weights and injuries have left them even more threadbare and weakened. But this was still a fiery and impressive performance from Iowa, especially after last week's disappointing loss to Michigan. That dual ended with four straight defeats; this dual began with four straight wins and Iowa never looked back. And Iowa didn't just beat up on Minnesota's lesser lights, either: they beat their three best wrestlers -- #6 Ethan Lizak (125), #10 Tommy Thorn (141), and #8 Nick Wanzek (165) -- and, in the case of Lizak and Thorn, did so with style. 

Flex on 'em, Carter Happel. You've earned it after that performance. 

The dual started at 149 and Brandon Sorensen didn't waste any time staking Iowa to a lead. He had a takedown inside 30 seconds and grabbed a few more to extend his advantage; 30 seconds into the second period he ended the match with a pin. Michael Kemerer came out next for Iowa at 157 and methodically blitzed Jake Short with a wave of takedowns. The one time Short managed to catch him for a takedown, Kemerer immediately turned it into a reversal of his own. Iowa had a 10-0 lead after the first two bouts and never looked back. It took Alex Marinelli a little while to finish a takedown at 165 lbs, but once he did, the match was effectively over and he was able to lock up a 5-1 decision win over #8 Wanzek. Joey Gunther made it four-for-four for Iowa to start the dual with a matching 5-1 decision win at 174. The only sour note of the first half of the dual was at 184, where Mitch Bowman was completely dominated on the mat by Brandon Krone for two periods and ended up dropping a 12-2 major decision.

It wasn't always pretty, but Cash Wilcke got Iowa back on track with a 10-7 win at 197 and Sam Stoll surprisingly turned into a takedown machine and picked up a 12-2 major decision win at heavyweight. That gave Iowa a 23-4 lead heading into the final three bouts, which made the results in those matches largely academic. Fortunately, two of them were highly entertaining all the same. Spencer Lee manhandled #6 Lizak on the mat on his way to a 15-0 technical fall win to keep the bonus points rolling in for Iowa. Mitch McKee gave Minnesota their second (and final) win of the night at 133, with a 7-2 win over Paul Glynn. And then Carter Happel capped off the night with the biggest fireworks of all and a pin with three seconds to go. BOOM. That win gave Iowa bonus points in five of eight wins, which is a mighty healthy number. 

149 #2 Brandon Sorensen FALL (3:34) Ben Brancale IOWA 6-0
157 #2 Michael Kemerer MAJ DEC (16-6) Jake Short IOWA 10-0
165 #7 Alex Marinelli DEC (5-1) #8 Nick Wanzek IOWA 13-0
174 Joey Gunther DEC (5-1) Chris Pfarr IOWA 16-0
184 Brandon Krone MAJ DEC (12-2) #20 Mitch Bowman IOWA 16-4
197 #7 Cash Wilcke DEC (10-7) Dylan Anderson IOWA 19-4
285 #3 Sam Stoll MAJ DEC (12-1) Ryan Streifel IOWA 23-4
125 #3 Spencer Lee TECH FALL (15-0) #6 Ethan Lizak IOWA 28-4
133 #12 Mitch McKee DEC (7-2) Paul Glynn IOWA 28-7
141 Carter Happel FALL (6:57) #10 Tommy Thorn IOWA 34-7

A few thoughts: 

  • Despite what the announcers kept saying, Brandon Sorensen (and Iowa as a whole) still has one more home dual meet remaining this season, against #17 Northwestern on Sunday. Given that he's set to face a difficult opponent in that dual (#5 Ryan Deakin), though, this might have been his final pin in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was good to see Sorensen looking aggressive from the opening whistle and finishing his offense. And when he smelled blood in the second period, he didn't hesitate and whipped Brancale to his back for the pin.
  • Kemerer made his return to the lineup after sitting out last week's dual against Michigan and, frankly, he looked pretty damn good while dealing with a knee injury of indeterminate magnitude. (For what it's worth, his brace wasn't as bulky as the ones Lee, Marinelli, and Stoll have.) He got to his offense early and often against Short and kept up the tempo through the first two periods. He seemed to flag a bit in the third, but he still managed to score a few more points and lock up a major decision. 
  • Alex Marinelli matches rarely feature more than one takedown these days, but when you don't give up any, well, that's enough. And in this match Marinelli could have -- and probably should have -- had several more takedowns. He was in deep on three shots in the first two periods, but wasn't able to finish them due to a combination of solid defense from Wanzek and uncertain finishing from Marinelli. But as we've seen from him this year, Marinelli doesn't quit and doesn't back down -- and his tank doesn't hit E. He finally got that elusive takedown in the third, then proceeded to put a saddle on Wanzek and ride him hard until the final whistle. There are still things for Marinelli to work on, but boy, is there a lot to like about the building blocks he already has in place. 
  • After two weeks of Kaleb Young at 174, Joey Gunther made his return to the lineup and he mostly wrestled like someone with something to prove, which was encouraging. Gunther used takedowns on the edge of the mat in the final seconds of the first and second periods to build up a lead and while he didn't really extend that lead in the third period, he was still moving forward and looking to score, which was a welcome sight. This performance certainly earned Gunther a few more starts, I'd bet. 
  • If there were credible competitors behind him at 184, Friday night's performance might have earned Mitch Bowman a spot on the bench for the next dual. Bowman leapt out with an early shot, but he wasn't able to finish it and Krone responded with an early takedown of his own. And from there everything went downhill for Bowman. He couldn't get an escape, gave up several nearfall points, and wasted a ton of time trying to get a reversal instead of securing an escape and starting fresh. Krone looked sharp here, so full credit to him, but Bowman looked sloppy physically and mentally in this one. This was a match to forget.
  • Cash Wilcke might join him in wanting to forget his performance tonight; his match at 197 at least ended in a win, but it was far from impressive. It started well, with Wilcke racking up three takedowns in the early part of the match and seeming to find some of the confidence that had drained away during his recent three bout losing streak. But he gave up a takedown in the second and third periods and seemed to shut down his own offense and spend a lot of time backing away and waiting for the clock to run out. Suffice to say, improvement is still needed from our man Cash. 
  • Sam Stoll gave us something more to smile about at heavyweight with an usually takedown-filled 12-1 major decision win. It's rare to see Stoll be a takedown machine, but his power and skill was too much for Streifel in this one. About the only thing he couldn't do was get Streifel onto this back for the pin. 
  • Meanwhile, The Spencer Lee Show once again delivered at 125 lbs. Lee got an early takedown in the first and proceeded to put on his increasingly-standard punishing ride from top, eventually managing to take Lizak to Tilt Town with a four-point nearfall. Lizak, of course, is also pretty strong on top -- see: the top game thrashing he put on Thomas Gilman before gassing out last year -- and when he had the choice of positions to start the second, he chose top. That decision... didn't work out. Lee got a quick reversal... and again went to work on top, getting another four-point nearfall off another tilt. Leading 13-0 entering the third, Lee chose neutral -- and wrapped up the dominating display with a takedown a few seconds later. 

    Obviously a pin is the apex in wrestling -- it's the result that generates the most bonus points and it's the only move that definitively ends a match -- but there's something to be said for the power of the technical fall, too. Pins can come in all shapes and sizes, as the result of utter domination or a fluke move (and many varieties in-between). Just look at Iowa's two pins tonight: Sorensen's pin came at the end of a dominating display and underlined that dominance, and while Happel's pin wasn't a fluke, that was also a very closely-contested match, not a bonus point rout. By comparison, there's no such thing as a fluke technical fall. If you beat your opponent by 15 points, you have thoroughly and utterly kicked his ass and proven your superiority. And among technical falls, the 15-0 technical fall is the best of the best. It might be the closest thing wrestling has to a perfect game in baseball: a display of complete dominance and control from the winner. Losing 15-0 doesn't just say that you get beat; it says you got owned and humiliated. And Spencer Lee is doing that to Top 10 guys right now. Yeah... we could get used to this. 
  • Glynn got the nod at 133 and, well, he lost 7-2, but he showed some spunk. He took it to McKee off the opening whistle and was aggressive early in the match. It's disappointing to be in moral victory territory here, but so it goes. 
  • And then Happel... wow. If Gunther earned himself a few more starts with his win at 174, then Happel absolutely earned himself more starts at 141 after his showing here. I would have said that even without the bonkers ending, frankly. Happel attacked Thorn, ranked #10 in the country at 141, from the opening whistle and even scored the opening whistle. Thorn bounced back to go up 3-2 and while Happel had a little trouble getting out from bottom, he kept the match tight. And in the third period he wrestled hard -- and smartly. He put on a solid ride to erase Thorn's riding time edge to start the period, then battled him from neutral for the last 60-70 seconds, down 4-3. I thought time might run out on his comeback bid, but Happel kept battling and battling, and finally hit an inside trip to take Thorn to his back with literally seconds to go in the match. Vince Turk had his own thrill-a-minute victory last week with a high-scoring overtime win, but this was a much stronger showing overall for Happel, especially given the caliber of the opponent, and I'd be stunned if he didn't get some more starts after this showing. He certainly deserves them. This was the breakout effort we've been hoping to see from someone -- anyone -- at 141 lbs this year. 

No doubt, Minnesota is very down this year. This program has seen better days. So Iowa's dominant win isn't fraught with as much meaning as it would be if it had happened against Gopher teams of yore. But this was still a strong performance by Iowa at almost every weight and a much-needed bounce back after the disappointments of the last few weeks. At nearly every weight, Iowa was aggressive and attacking and looking to score -- and then score some more. And beating the Gophers? Yeah, that never gets old. 

NEXT: Iowa hosts #17 Northwestern on Sunday (10 AM CT, BTN Plus) in their home finale. 

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