The 12th-year Iowa wrestling expects a fight on Sunday. Cody Goodwin/Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The last time Oklahoma State came to wrestle Iowa, the two perennial powers squared off on a mat in the south end zone of Kinnick Stadium, where 42,287 watched the Hawkeyes upend the Cowboys, 18-16.
Sunday’s dual between No. 8 Oklahoma State (6-0) and No. 3 Iowa (8-0) is unlikely to top that total, which is the largest dual-meet crowd in NCAA history. But Tom Brands expects many fans to pile into Carver-Hawkeye Arena to watch what’s expected to be another classic showdown.
“The last time I checked, we had 9,000 tickets sold, and that was only Tuesday,” Brands said during his weekly media availability on Wednesday. “There’s a lot of history between the programs. There’s a lot of pizazz. It’s maybe a carnival-like atmosphere for the fans.”
The dual is set for 3 p.m. Sunday and will be broadcast live on Big Ten Network. It will feature 16 ranked wrestlers out of a possible 20, using Trackwrestling’s rankings. Seven of the 10 bouts will pit one ranked wrestler against another.
“What factors into my world is when you’re talking about national seedings,” Brands said. “Even though this is not a Big Ten (Conference) dual, this impacts rankings and seedings for the future. Every opportunity is an opportunity, and we have a big opportunity against a high-ranked opponent.
“Seize the moment, jump on the opportunity, and make it go your way.”
Sunday will also be the 52nd meeting between the two programs with the most NCAA wrestling titles (Oklahoma State has 34; Iowa, 23). The Cowboys lead the all-time series, 28-21-2, but the Hawkeyes hold a 12-10 edge when the dual is contested in Iowa City.
“You treat it the same,” Brands said. “You say, hey, this is Oklahoma State, and they’re coming after the same thing you’re after. They’re coming in to beat you and they’re coming in to beat you bad. You’re going to have an opportunity. What’re you going to do with that opportunity?
“If our guys get ready to go, I feel real good about our chances.”
The freshman 125-pounder knows a lot about the history of both programs. Cody Goodwin/Hawk Central
The unknowns are becoming known
During the team’s media day in November, Brands spoke of how he was excited about the unknowns. A little less than two months later, some of those unknowns are becoming, well, known.
“I’ve kind of been talking about it all year,” Brands said. “We knew that our lineup would look differently this time of the year, and it is. It is looking differently than it did earlier.”
The obvious differences, of course, have been the additions of Spencer Lee at 125 pounds and Alex Marinelli at 165.
Marinelli, a redshirt freshman, was inserted into the lineup in early December and has since gone 7-0 and won the Midlands in December. Lee made his Iowa debut last week with a 46-second pin over Michigan State’s Rayvon Foley.
“The mysteries were the names that the fans were hearing, people closest to our program were hearing, but didn’t even know what they were about,” Brands said. “Marinelli, Lee — that’s what I was talking about. Now fans are starting to see that these guys are pretty entertaining.”
The last remaining unknown is Pat Downey, who gave his verbal commitment to Iowa back in August. Brands has hinted that his appearance may come soon, but hasn’t explicitly mentioned Downey by name. He’s expected to wrestle 184 pounds once he officially joins the program.
Downey would go on the books as a graduate transfer. Iowa’s spring semester beings on Tuesday, Jan. 16.
Updates on 133, 141
The ongoing battles at 133 and 141 pounds will continue ahead of Sunday’s dual, Brands said Wednesday.
“We’re going to weigh in two guys at each of those weights,” Brands said, “and whichever guy gets the opportunity, what’s the other guy going to be doing? When you don’t get what you want, are you going to derail the progress that you’ve made and sulk?
“Or are you going to man up and be ready for the next time?”
To recap: Phillip Laux and Vince Turk began the season as the starters at 133 and 141, respectively. Paul Glynn and Carter Happel got opportunities in mid-December, then seemingly seized the starting spots during the Midlands.
Glynn, a Bettendorf native, beat Michigan State’s Matt Santos by fall in the third period. Happel, a Lisbon native, got pinned by Javier Gasca III after getting reversed to his back. Brands did not explicitly say who would start on Sunday.
When asked about Happel, he offered a quick thought.
“First thing you think about,” he said, “is you need to turn that one weight class from an L into a W.”
The sophomore discusses his progress at 133. Cody Goodwin/Hawk Central
High attendance at open practice
Brands mentioned that his open practices are starting to see greater attendance as well — so much that Iowa wrestling secretary Julia Tomash is taking phone calls from many who want to sit in and watch.
Here’s Brands’ full quote: “Every day, very consistently, it’s fun and entertaining to be in that room. I’ll just say another barometer for that is — don’t take my word for it — but we have more people in that practice room watching our open practices than ever before.
“I’m not talking about the Saturday morning before football. I’m talking recently. I’m talking the last month. I’m talking about over Christmas break. I’m talking about the secretary Julia Tomash fielding calls asking about what time practice is today, because people are interested.
“It’s very entertaining in that wrestling room.”
Sunday will mark senior Brandon Sorensen’s fourth career dual against Oklahoma State, but just his first inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena … Iowa is five dual wins away from 1,000 victories in program history. Only three other programs (Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Oregon State) have reached that mark … Only three wrestlers in this week’s probable lineups competed at the Grapple on the Gridiron in November 2015: Iowa’s Sorensen and Sam Stoll and Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.