As the more than 15,000 in attendance at Carver-Hawkeye Arena came to a roar, Jordan Conaway found himself in an unfamiliar place.
The redshirt freshman, wrestling at 133 pounds for Penn State, was pinned by Iowa’s No. 2 Tony Ramos last Friday. It was a different outcome than Conaway had recently been experiencing on the mat, and it provided several key points to the Hawkeyes, who ultimately handed the Nittany Lions their first dual loss of the season, 22-16.
“It definitely stung, especially getting pinned in a big match like that,” Conaway said at the team’s practice on Tuesday. “It definitely affected me a lot. I was upset — I’m still upset about it, but I just need to move forward and get better.”
Conaway did move forward, rebounding from the pin right away. Now, he has a chance to put the bout with Ramos far in he back of his mind this weekend.
The defeat was Conaway’s first loss by pin and first dual loss of the season. Before it, he was thrilling home crowds at Rec Hall with his victories, including one by sudden victory against then-No. 3 Tyler Graff of Wisconsin.
Conaway was able to shake off the loss quickly, though, when he defeated senior and then-No.8 Daryl Thomas, 8-6, in the team’s next dual at Illinois last Sunday.
Senior Quentin Wright took note of the significance of the quick turnaround by Conaway.
“It’s super important, especially for young guys like that. It’s hard; you have tough losses whenever you’re young,” the third-ranked 197-pounder said. “But as a team, we came to him like, ‘Hey, you know what? Don’t worry about this. Let’s work toward this next match, think about this next guy and let’s go do it.’ ”
With the weekend behind him, Conaway is now preparing for his biggest challenge of the season. After the Lions square off with Pittsburgh on Feb. 8, they will travel to Ohio State, where he will face No. 1 Logan Stieber on Feb. 10.
Stieber, a redshirt sophomore, won the 133-pound national championship last season, grabbing InterMat Freshman of the Year honors along the way.
Conaway said that despite the pin to Ramos, he doesn’t lack confidence with the even larger obstacle looming. Noting in the past that his unranked status does not bother him, Conaway said he does not get caught up in his opponents’ rankings, either.
“[In terms of] confidence, I think I’m doing well. I mean, other than what happened on Friday, I’ve kept working hard,” Conaway said. “[I’m] just staying focused, not really worried about rankings and wrestling to the best of my ability.”
Coach Cael Sanderson said he saw Conaway move on from the Ramos matchup with his victory against Thomas. In preparation for Stieber, though, he said Conaway needs to improve in a few positions that are problematic for younger wrestlers.
“When you’re young, you shoot when your guy presses you a little bit,” Sanderson said. “And that’s what Ramos got him to do; [he] got him to take some bad shots.”
Wright had similar things to say about Conaway’s technique this weekend.
Wright said Conaway has to focus on avoiding opening up when he takes shots against the best wrestlers in the nation, and expects him to wrestle smarter against Steiber.
“When you wrestle some of these really good guys, they’re going to take those big opportunities,” he said.
Even with the tough road ahead of him, Sanderson still has plenty of faith in Conaway.
“He’s doing great. He’s a hustler; I love watching him wrestle,” he said. “He’s going to give his best effort every time he goes out there, and that’s a rare human being.”