The tournament was nearing the teardown stage in December when Iowa State’s Tanner Weatherman stepped on the mat to wrestle Northern Iowa’s Cooper Moore for seventh place at 165 pounds in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
It was a bout that meant virtually nothing in the team race, and yet it seemed like it meant everything to wrestlers from both schools who crowded around the mat to watch.
Cyclones on one side. Panthers on another.
A snapshot moment in a boiling rivalry.
“We saw them in Vegas some and they got up for the matches,” Northern Iowa coach Doug Schwab said. “Their guys were excited. They had everybody on the edge of the mats, so it is a big deal. Our guys have to match that and then we have to raise the ante a little with our intensity level and fight and emotion when we go out there and wrestle those guys.”
Literally and figuratively, the heat will be turned up Friday inside Northern Iowa’s sweltering West Gym for the annual dual for between the Cyclones and Panthers.
“Probably the same way it was two years ago,” Weatherman said. “A real hostile environment. Hot. The crowd right on top of you. I’m sure they’ll get some homer calls. It’s going to be fun, though.”
Iowa State’s last visit to the West Gym ended with a 24-13 UNI win and a few post-match Panther celebrations that stuck in Cyclones' craws. Iowa State coach Kevin Jackson recalled “seeing a guy do a backflip, headspin and some WWE thrusts.”
“They partied,” Jackson said last February. “They celebrated in West Gym and it hasn’t been forgotten.”
Iowa State returned fire last year in Ames with a 24-14 win that included a key victory from Gabe Moreno, who rejoiced by pulling on his singlet straps to emphasize the logo on the front.
“I feel like we kind of sent them a message and we did it in a way that was fairly classy, especially compared to how we were treated last year,” Moreno said after the dual.
“That we’re on top,” he said.
A good rivalry, though, needs more than just theatrics and soundbites. It needs compelling subplots and hotly contested individual battles. One of the storylines this week is the heat itself and how the Cyclones will handle their return trip to the West Gym.
“We talked about that in practice this week,” Weatherman said. “We practice five days a week in a room that’s plenty warm and you sweat your butt off. It’s actually probably better for your body. You can get warm real fast, you can adjust and you’ve been practicing in it all year long.”
Iowa State (8-5) is ranked 16th. UNI (3-7) is absent from the top 25. The Cyclones have two wrestlers — No. 8 Earl Hall at 133 and No. 9 Weatherman at 165 — in the InterMat national rankings. The Panthers have four: No. 7 Dylan Peters at 125, No. 15 Josh Alber at 133, No. 13 Moore at 165 and No. 17 heavyweight Blaize Cabell.
“I’m looking forward to having them come back in here this year,” Cabell said. “It hasn’t really favored them very well when they come in here. They get tired, they look slow, their conditioning isn’t as well. When you’ve got people who are on top of you here, it’s just a different feeling. I think we just need to take the fight to them.”