IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa finished the opening day of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships at the front of a three-team pack and on its way to topping the point total the Hawkeyes posted last year when they claimed a share of the conference crown.
That’s one side of the coin for the Hawkeyes.
The other: They’re leading the race for second with Penn State well out in front and on its way to a fifth league championship in six years.
The Nittany Lions piled up 133 points to finish the opening day 13 ahead of the winning number Iowa and Ohio State posted last year when they tied for the title. The Hawkeyes accumulated 106 to hold a six-point edge over third-place Ohio State. Nebraska is fourth with 97.5.
For the most part, Iowa did what Iowa was supposed to do Saturday, according to the seeds. A couple No. 3 seeds reached the finals, which canceled out a pair of No. 2 seeds falling short in the semis.
But wrestling to on-paper predictions wasn’t going to cut it coming in, and especially not after the on-mat performance Penn State displayed Saturday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
EARLIER DAY 1 TAKEAWAYS: Penn State, Iowa move to top at Big Ten wrestling meet
Six Nittany Lions reached the final round. Two notched pins in the semis. Another won by technical fall. Junior Jimmy Gulibon, who started the season ranked No. 1 in the country by one service and tumbled to a No. 8 seed after compiling a 10-8 regular-season record, broke out of his slump by reaching the finals at 141.
“That was big,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “You know it’s in him. … It’s great momentum for him going into the nationals. That’s what he needs. He’s a guy whose confidence soars when he’s having success. Maybe that’s a no-brainer, but when he’s confident, he’s tough to beat.”
So, too, are the Nittany Lions when they’re wrestling the way they were Saturday.
Iowa’s Thomas Gilman reached the NCAA semifinals last year. Penn State’s Nico Megaludis has been there in each of his three trips to the national tournament. Odds are, both will be wresting Friday night in Madison Square Garden with a title-bout ticket resting on the outcome.
By sight and sound, the start of Saturday night’s semifinal round felt seemed like an NCAA primer, a nine-minute time-warp trip two weeks into the future or 50 weeks into the past.
“Yeah, except the NCAA tournament doesn’t have 90-percent of your competitor’s fans,” Sanderson said. “But Nico is a guy who doesn’t hear anything. I know because I’ve tried to yell to him during matches before. That was a great match.”
Gilman and Megaludis traded escapes and fought to break down each other’s wall of defense until the second-ranked Iowa junior dropped in on a single-leg shot with a minute left in the third period. But getting to a leg is only a fraction of the battle against Megaludis.
The Gumby-like Penn State senior performed the splits and kept Gilman from corralling his far leg for the go-ahead takedown.
“He’s going to have to finish that single,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “And if he doesn’t, he’s going to have to get to it again and finish. That’s the key.”
Iowa coach Tom Brands' team is second after the first day of the Big Ten Championships. Andy Hamilton/The Register
After a scoreless overtime period, the two wrestlers traded escapes again in the 30-second tiebreaker sessions. Brands said it felt "like two heavyweights slugging it out and seeing which one blinked first."
Gilman went for broke with a front-headlock tilt try on the edge of the mat and opened himself up for the only offensive points of the match. Megaludis slipped into a takedown and claimed a 4-3 victory.
“It was not panic time and we, for some reason, did a move there that was very low percentage, very high risk — unless you’ve got that chin and you can step over and pin the guy,” Brands said. “Looking at it from my chair, I don’t know that that hold was there, and I think he would agree with that after talking to him.”
Making a point
It’s almost unfair the way Ohio State Kyle Snyder is picking on these big guys who outweigh him by dozens of pounds.
The reigning World champion piled up 50 more points Saturday while scoring a pair of technical falls at heavyweight. He’s averaging 24 points per match in his five bouts this year.
The toughest test yet, though, comes Sunday afternoon in the heavyweight championship when Snyder wrestles Michigan’s Adam Coon, a returning NCAA finalist.
The bout that created the college wrestling season’s biggest buzz is set for a Sunday afternoon rematch.
Penn State freshman Jason Nolf ripped through the top half of the 157-pound bracket Saturday, registering a pin and two technical falls to run his record to 28-0. His 21st victory of the year is the one that sparked the most online chatter.
Penn State freshman Jason Nolf will face defending NCAA champ Isaiah Martinez in the Big Ten finals at 157. Andy Hamilton/HawkCentral.com
In January, Nolf pinned returning Illinois sophomore Isaiah Martinez, handing the returning Big Ten and NCAA champion his only college defeat.
“When something like that happens, a lot of times guys want to go back to the drawing board and scrap everything,” said Martinez, who needed a last-minute takedown against Michigan’s Brian Murphy to uphold his half of the rematch with Nolf. “My problem is I wasn’t sticking to what I was good at and that showed. In matches where I’m winning close and I’m not looking like myself, it’s because I’m not doing the things I need to do and I’m kind of relying on God-given talent. To beat a guy who wants to win as bad as I do, it’s going to take a good game plan, a good strategy, focus and sticking to what I’m good at.
“In that match, I really didn’t have a plan going in. I didn’t underestimate him, because I knew how good he was. But it showed me I still have to prepare the right way and be the same way I was last year — a stone-cold killer — and have that level of focus. It’s hard to keep that when you win your first year and you go in and it looks like no one can really touch you. I guess I let that get to me a little bit, but now I’m on the right path and I feel very good about it going into our rematch.”