Leistikow: After two tough weeks, Hawkeye wrestlers see the light

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — As 184-pounder Sammy Brooks was trying to close out a defending NCAA champion, Iowa assistant Terry Brands was out of his mat-side chair, waving his arms to build a crescendo from the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd.

A bout later, Hawkeye head coach Tom Brands sprinted to and slammed the scorer’s table after some perceived inconsistency in stalling calls.

Yep, there was some feel-good fire back in the building, as the Cory Clark-less, fourth-ranked Hawkeyes got back into the wrestling win column by defeating No. 3 Ohio State, 21-13.

It was a week ago that rival Penn State took the air out of this building by handing Iowa its second straight dual loss to a top-two team, 26-11, with wins at seven of the final eight weights.

It was a week ago that Tom Brands left the interview room pinning blame on himself, saying “We’ve got the best fans. … We just need to get the best wrestling. … It’s on me.”

Friday was a time to exhale and enjoy — however briefly wrestlers enjoy success — a much-needed dual win.

Iowa senior Sammy Brooks grapples with Ohio State sophomore Myles Martin in a 184-pound match at Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Friday, January 27, 2017.

“It’s been a tough couple of weeks,” said Brooks, who rallied from a 3-0 deficit to knock off last year's 174-pound champ Myles Martin, 5-3, and put the Hawkeyes in the dual driver’s seat. “But it just shows the perseverance in the system. If we do what the coaches have set in place for us, good things will happen.”

When fill-in heavyweight Steven Holloway overpowered Ohio State fill-in heavyweight Josh Fox for two third-period takedowns, the crowd erupted, almost in relief. There was little joy for Hawkeye backers watching what happened at then-No. 1 Oklahoma State two weeks ago or here last week.

But it didn’t get past Tom Brands that some of Friday’s announced 10,338 fans scooted out of Carver before Holloway’s match. It was a week ago that Holloway lost by technical fall to end the Penn State dual with a thud.

“Now those fans will buy one more ice cream cone,” Tom Brands said in only a way Brands can say it. “They’ll sit there a little bit longer for Steven Holloway.”

Those inside and outside the program needed this one, especially after getting unsettling pre-match news for the second Friday in a row. Two-time NCAA runner-up Clark, who has been dealing with a left-shoulder issue, was a scratch at 133 pounds instead of facing No. 1-ranked Nathan Tomasello.

“We’re very conservative and we’re going to do the right thing,” Brands said, knowing that there’s no need to put Clark at risk of a setback in the regular season. “It’ll be time to gamble in the Big Tens, if we need to gamble a little bit with an injury. But Clark’s not even there. It’s not even close. Could he have went? Yes. Did he want to go? Yes. The call was mine.”

A week earlier, Iowa announced that heavyweight Sam Stoll — a probable point-scorer at the NCAA Tournament — would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

It would’ve been a tough blow, on top of all that, for the Hawkeyes to lose a third straight dual for the first time while being coached by a Brands or a Gable.

But as top-ranked 125-pounder Thomas Gilman said — backing up his performance on the mat, where he won by technical fall over Ohio State freshman Jose Rodriguez — the Hawkeye show must go on.

“We got our butts kicked down in Oklahoma. We got our butts kicked here in Carver,” Gilman said. “There were some things that needed to be addressed individually, and once those things were addressed … I don’t see the issue with Stoll being out or even Clark being out. Those are good safety nets, but if everyone does their job to their potential, then I’m not worried about it.”

Who knows what Clark will be able to do in mid-March in St. Louis. And odds are Penn State or Oklahoma State will extend Iowa's NCAA title drought to seven years. That stuff will have to be sorted out later.

But on this night, Iowa wrestling brought back some winning excitement again.

For now, that'll do.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.