Not many wrestling “experts” gave Iowa a chance in Sunday’s dual meet against the No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions. In fact, people were too busy predicting how bad Penn State would beat the Hawkeyes.
The 72-match unbeaten streak would be over. Iowa’s reign of terror on college wrestling would come to an end. Penn State would take one step toward the reign of power changing hands this weekend, a sign that Cael Sanderson’s Lions would stay on top for awhile.
That latter sentence may end up being true. The Lions are still likely the favorites to end the season at the NCAA championships in Philadelphia as the national champions. But at this point in the season, Iowa is still a force to be reckoned with. Iowa won’t go down without a fight at the Big Ten championships in Evanston, Ill., and the Hawkeyes will make things hard on Cornell, Wisconsin, the Lions and the rest of the country at NCAAs.
Hawkeyes coach Tom Brands had his wrestlers fighting on all cylinders from the get-go in Iowa’s 22-13 win vs. Penn State at Rec Hall. Penn State wrestling fans have a strong dislike for the Hawkeyes, as they’ve become known for displaying that cocky, “in-your-face” persona on the mat.
Tom and assistants Terry Brands and Mike Zadick are some of the most demonstrative coaches you’ll see in any sport. The Rec Hall fans were probably at their loudest as the three coaches were parading around the mat Sunday, yelling at the refs after they called for an injury timeout, when it looked like a Hawkeye wrestler poked undefeated 157-pounder David Taylor in the face.
Despite all that, the Hawkeyes were the ones who escaped Happy Valley with a win once again. If you count Iowa’s Big Ten championship two years ago, which took place at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Hawkeyes have boarded their team bus as the winners four times in the last three seasons.
I covered that tournament, and witnessed the Brands brothers yelling back and forth with then-Penn State coach Troy Sunderland during a match. They looked as if they were about to brawl.
The thing is, as annoying as the Hawkeye coaches may seem, their wrestlers take the mat with the same mentality. They’re programmed to think they’re the best. Brent Metcalf, a former Hawkeye and two-time NCAA champion, sometimes referred to himself in the third person in interviews.
That’s not to say Penn State’s wrestlers don’t think they’re the best. The match could have went in Penn State’s favor if it had taken just two more matches.
At this point of the season, in late January, Iowa looked like the better team.
Championships, however, are decided in March. The Lions will have a shot to silence the Hawkeyes in two months.