The Hawkeyes finished fourth, more than 40 points behind Penn State.
ST. LOUIS — With a team championship out of reach, Iowa wrestled on Saturday to salvage some self-respect.
Sure, Friday night at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships was a gigantic letdown, with top-ranked Thomas Gilman getting upset and stars Brandon Sorensen and Sam Brooks ending the semifinals on their backs.
But instead of ducking for cover, the Hawkeyes decided to leave Scottrade Center with their heads held high. Gilman, Sorensen and redshirt freshman Michael Kemerer claimed the top consolation prizes, and it pushed Iowa into team trophy territory.
“I don’t know the last time I got pinned,” Sorensen said Saturday afternoon after his third-place finish at 149 pounds. “It’s been a while. It stung. It stung deep.
“But it’s real good mentally to come back for third place, and get the best I could get.”
Iowa finished fourth, scoring a session-high 19 points in the afternoon to pass host Missouri in the team standings. The disappointment from leaving Cory Clark as the team’s lone finalist was still palpable, but the tournament’s pace demanded a quick turnaround.
Even if that’s not how the Hawkeyes have reacted in recent seasons.
“I haven’t had time to think. This tournament goes by fast. You sit down and think, you end up getting sixth place,” Gilman said after beating Virginia Tech’s Joey Dance and Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni on Saturday. “I’ll take some time and be emotional and refocus. It’ll set in that I’ll never be an NCAA champion.
“I’m sorry to my team and my university.”
Every Hawkeye lost his final match in the consolations and finals last season. It takes steam out of having six All-Americans when Penn State pulls away and nobody has their hand raised to end a tournament.
In 2015 inside Scottrade Center, only Nathan Burak and Bobby Telford could finish with Iowa victories in their seventh- and fifth-place matches. Saturday’s rounds saw Iowa go 8-1.
“A lot of guys come in here and talk about wanting to be an All-American,” Kemerer said after an overtime tilt and win at 157. “I wanted to go out and wrestle in the finals and win the thing. I really believe that. When (Friday’s loss) happens, it shocks you, but you’ve got to go back and wrestle.”
Brooks was the only Hawkeye to lose in an afternoon placement match. He gave up his second pin in as many days, this time to Nebraska’s returning finalist T.J. Dudley.
His teammates had already provided enough advancement points to sit between Oklahoma State and Missouri. Ohio State was already two steps ahead of Iowa, and Penn State sealed its second straight national title after Sorensen’s win.
“It’s more of an individual thing,” Sorensen said. “If individuals take care of themselves, the team race will take care of itself. I can’t help to beat the heavyweight at Penn State. That’s got to be our heavyweight. That’s their job.
“I can build them up, practice with them, help them along the way, but all in all, that’s him out there against that guy. I can’t do anything except cheer.”
He is Iowa's highest finishing freshman since Matt McDonough won it all in 2010. Chad Leistikow / The Register
Sorensen and Gilman have both finished fourth, second and third in the past three tournaments. They had a late-night workout with Brooks on Friday after their losses, forced to make weight just hours after the worst losses of their season. But the experienced group took solace in the fact that they could still rebound as victors and leave St. Louis with hardened smiles.
“It sucked and it was kind of quiet to begin with, but we got talking and it lightened the mood,” Sorensen said. “Everyone’s human, and we make mistakes. But the world doesn’t stop just for that. We’re moving forward. We’ve got to continue to go forward and have fun with it.
“That’s a major key that I think we do a really good job of, which some people may not see.”
And the wins may set an example for the younger Hawkeyes that will have to follow in this team’s footsteps to stay competitive the next couple seasons.
“Ultimately, it’s about more than just us as individuals,” Kemerer said. “It’s about Iowa and the culture we have and the tradition we have. That’s getting the best thing you can get. We’re not going to win the team title, but it’s fighting for that next-best thing.”
Titles will stay at Penn State
Coach Cael Sanderson’s Nittany Lions locked up their sixth national championship of the last seven years on Saturday afternoon. And that’s before their five finalists took the mat and owned ESPN’s proceedings.
Penn State went 5-0 in championship matches at five straight weights: Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174) and Bo Nickal (184). Five title-winners in one weekend tied the NCAA tournament record.
All five are underclassmen and plan to return next season.
“It’s what we do every day in our room,” Retherford said. “Have fun with it, compete hard and learn.”
The last team to put together such a successful stretch was Iowa when it won the national title from 1995-2000. The Hawkeyes had wins in 1991-93 before that, too. Sanderson is finishing his eighth season as head coach in State College, Pa., after leaving Iowa State.
Thomsen UNI’s top freshman in three decades
LaPorte City native Max Thomsen lost a tense semifinal on Friday night, but he made up for it with a fifth-place finish at 149 pounds on Saturday. The former Iowa high school four-timer became the highest-placing Northern Iowa rookie since Mark Schwab in 1986.
As a redshirt freshman, Thomsen arrived in St. Louis with a 27-5 record. A consolation semifinal loss to Ohio State’s Micah Jordan and fifth-place match win over Virginia Tech’s Solomon Chishko moved him to 31-7 and higher on the podium.
“We’re young, we’re hungry, we’re mean,” Thomsen said. “I know we’re going to be doing big things. Maybe it didn’t go like we planned this weekend, but we’ve got seven underclassmen.
“All we’re going to do is keep building and we’re going to come back stronger, faster, more technical. We’ll be back here with 10 qualifiers.”
UNI’s last freshman All-American was Tony Wieland in 1996.
Sophomore Drew Foster also worked his way to a seventh-place finish on Saturday. The Mediapolis grad won an 11-7 decision with Indiana’s Nathan Jackson at 184 pounds.
UNI redshirt freshman Max Thomsen discussed his admiration for Iowa's Brandon Sorensen after finishing fifth at 149 pounds for the Panthers. Chris Cuellar / The Register
See you in St. Louis
All six sessions of the 2017 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships were credited with better than 18,000 fans in attendance. And Saturday night’s count of 19,657 pushed the tournament into No. 3 all-time for fan figures.
The top three total attendance marks have been set at Scottrade Center: 2015, 2012, then 2017.
Saturday night’s championship matches were wrestled on a mat lifted by risers on the arena floor. Fans filled in around on all sides to see Penn State’s dominant coronation.
Olympians earn standing ovations
Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder and Missouri’s J’Den Cox became larger-than-life personalities this weekend as NCAA student-athletes with Olympic medals on their resumes. Snyder, the reigning gold medalist, impressively won the heavyweight bracket by scoring piles of points until the final, where he picked up and slammed Wisconsin’s Connor Medbery. Snyder was nursing a rib injury, but won 6-3.
“I think it’s hard for me to even describe the feeling of what it was like to win the Olympics or the Worlds or the NCAAs,” Snyder said. “I think it’s just hard to put into words.”
A bronze medalist won the first title on Saturday night as Cox cleaned up Minnesota’s Brett Pfarr with an 8-2 decision.
“At the end of the day, I wrestle because I love to wrestle,” Cox said.
FINAL TEAM SCORING
1. Penn State 146.5; 2. Ohio State 110; 3. Oklahoma State 103; 4. Iowa 97; 5. Missouri 86.5; 6. Virginia Tech 63.5; 7. Minnesota 62.5; 8. Cornell 60.5; 9. Nebraska 59.5; 10. Michigan 47.5; Also: 18. Northern Iowa 25.5; t-57. Iowa State 1.