Iowa rolled to a 32-7 dual meet win over Northwestern on Sunday afternoon, winning eight of 10 matches and lodging bonus points in four of those eight victories. It was, as expected, a thorough rout. The biggest story coming from the dual wasn't about any of the matches that actually happened, but rather the ones that didn't happen because neither Spencer Lee nor Kaleb Young wrestled in this dual. Both Lee and Young were slated to be in Top 10 vs Top 10 match-ups. Lee vs Sebastian Rivera was one of the most anticipated matches of the season, a #1 vs #2 showdown and a rematch of the Midlands final a month ago, where Rivera scored a stunning upset on Lee. Turns out we'll have to wait a few months longer to see that rematch.
Iowa coach Tom Brands offered an explanation after the dual, but it didn't really explain much. Per Hawk Central:
“The best decision for them,” continued Brands, who is now 12-0 all-time against Northwestern. “It was in the plans. It’s something that, as coaches, we’re talking all the time about with these dual meets.
“This is an important time of the year to build and create momentum and put yourself in the best possible position for rankings and those types of things. But it’s also — especially with our wrestling room depth, we have a luxury that maybe some teams don’t have as much.
“It’s very, very important that we do the right thing for our individuals.”
That's a lot of words, but they don't really say very much. Brands mentions that it was "in the plans," but those plans were never mentioned before yesterday's dual. The match notes (hardly gospel, but still) listed only Lee as an option at 125 for the Illinois and Northwestern duals. Lee talked up the rematch with Rivera during Iowa's press availability last week and gave every indication of expecting to (and wanting to) wrestle yesterday. He just... didn't. For... reasons.
The cynical explanation for these sort of absences in dual meets is always seed protection -- that a wrestler is "ducking" another opponent in order to protect his seed. I'm not sure that applies in this situation because in terms of rankings and future seeds, both Lee and Young were already behind the opponents they didn't wrestle yesterday. Lee lost to Rivera in the Midlands final; Young did the same against Deakin. Wrestling them yesterday and losing was unlikely to alter where they're already slated to be seeded (especially Lee). Conversely, if they had wrestled yesterday and won they could have improved their future seeds. They had more to gain by competing than they did by sitting.
So, yes, the most anticipated matches of the day didn't happen and a dual that was already lacking in overall excitement became even less interesting. My official position on this is that I think it was bad and dumb and frustrating. Wrestling already struggles to capture attention from November through February; removing the best matches from dual meets only exacerbates that problem. Dual meets are -- or should be -- a good way to try and make new fans and to generate enthusiasm among existing fans. They're less of a time commitment than a tournament, infinitely easier to follow, and with easy rooting interests. I understand that wrestling coaches are judged on what happens in March, but I don't think that has to mean neutering the regular season.
#4 Iowa 32, Northwestern 7
|125||#1 Sebastian Rivera||MAJ DEC (11-1)||Perez Perez||NW 4-0|
|133||#4 Austin DeSanto||MAJ DEC (18-8)||Colin Valdiviez||TIE 4-4|
|141||#15 Max Murin||DEC (4-0)||Alec McKenna||IOWA 7-4|
|149||#13 Pat Lugo||DEC (2-1 2OT)||Yahya Thomas||IOWA 10-4|
|157||#3 Ryan Deakin||DEC (6-1)||Jeren Glosser||IOWA 10-7|
|165||#2 Alex Marinelli||MAJ DEC (12-4)||Tyler Morland||IOWA 14-7|
|174||Keegan Shaw||DEC (11-6)||Johnny Sebastian||IOWA 17-7|
|184||#14 Cash Wilcke||FALL (1:20)||Brendan Devine||IOWA 23-7|
|197||#5 Jacob Warner||DEC (4-2)||Zach Chakonis||IOWA 26-7|
|285||#3 Sam Stoll||INJ DEF||#15 Conan Jennings||IOWA 32-7|
A few thoughts:
Perez kept it closer than expected against Rivera for about five minutes. There's nothing else worth noting about the 125 lb match.
DeSanto returned to the lineup after sitting out the Illinois dual and picked up an easy major decision win. He had four takedowns in the first period and three in the second and seemed to be on his way to a technical fall, but then had none in the third. He spent most of that period riding Valdiviez; if the remit from the Iowa coaches was for him to work on his skill on top, fair enough. He didn't really come close to turning Valdiviez, though, and I would have preferred to see him cut bait on the riding after 45-60 seconds and go for more takedowns to try and get the technical fall.
Murin got back in the win column at 141, but hardly in impressive fashion. After a 0-0 first period that featured about 1.5 decent shots for Murin he got an escape and a takedown in the second period and then put on a big ride in the third period. His ride did a fine job of maintaining control and keeping his opponent on the mat, but he never really came close to a pin or scoring nearfall points. This was not exactly the emphatic bounce-back from Murin I was hoping to see.
Speaking of underwhelming performances... Pat Lugo eked out a 2-1 win on unranked Yahya Thomas (who moved up to 149 from 141 a few weeks ago) thanks to an escape in the tiebreaker portion of overtime. This match also featured a 0-0 first period and generally featured about 15 minutes of inaction from both guys; the most excitement in the entire match came from a scramble off of Thomas' escape in the third period. I use the phrase "most excitement" there very generously. Lugo looked pretty good on Friday night, but this was a hugely disappointing match.
Glosser put forth a game effort in replacing Young at 157; he stymied Deakin for much of the match (Deakin only had a 3-1 lead entering the third) and had a few good attacks of his own that he wasn't able to finish.
Marinelli had to settle for a 12-4 major decision win, but not really for lack of trying. He spent a lot of time riding Morland and trying to wrench him over for a pin or nearfall points, but just wasn't able to complete the turn. Perhaps he, like DeSanto, should have given up the ride and gone for more takedowns. He was much closer to actually getting a turn and a possible pin, though.
Keegan Shaw got another start at 174 -- and he picked up another win, too, dispatching Northwestern's Johnny Sebastian via an 11-6 decision. Shaw gave up the opening takedown of the match, but responded with a series of his own takedowns to turn the momentum of the match. Some of the takedowns Shaw scored were a bit awkward-looking, but hey -- Shaw kept fighting throughout the match and took advantage of his opportunities. We can't ask for much more than that at 174 right now.
Wilcke picked up a quick takedown and turned that into a quick pin in less than 90 seconds total. He was facing a seriously overmatched opponent, but it was still nice to see Wilcke take care of business quickly and decisively.
As has been normal in recent weeks, Jacob Warner picked up a win but didn't put up any fireworks in doing so. Warner's only takedown came in the first period. He got ridden hard for much of the second period, and while he responded with a smothering ride of his own in the third period, it would still be nice to see a bit more explosiveness from Warner in the neutral position.
- Finally, Stoll ended the dual with a decisive win over familiar opponent Conan Jennings. Though the official result goes down as an injury default from Jennings (he was forced to quit after his shoulder appeared to pop out while Stoll was attempting to turn him for a pin), Stoll was leading 8-0 at the time of the default and putting Jennings in position to get pinned. Stoll was never really threatened and did a good job of overpowering Jennings.
NEXT: Iowa faces #9 Nebraska in Lincoln on Sunday (12 PM CT, BTN Plus).