Leistikow: Hawkeye wrestlers have Friday scores to settle at NCAAs
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Thursday night went pretty well for the Iowa wrestling team.
But that’s already ancient history. Come Friday morning, the Hawkeye lineup will have some scores to settle.
And, naturally, Thomas Gilman is leading the charge.
Iowa’s unbeaten, top-ranked 125-pounder is one of six Hawkeyes who advanced to the quarterfinals at the NCAA Wrestling Championships here at the Scottrade Center.
He’ll get a rematch with No. 8 seed Nicholas Piccininni of Oklahoma State; Gilman remembers what was said after his 12-4 major decision in Stillwater, Okla., on Jan. 15.
I asked Gilman what he knew about Piccininni.
“I know he runs his mouth a lot. He likes to run his mouth,” Gilman said. “You know, he didn’t make one move in the dual, and after the dual he wants to say, ‘I’ll see you at the nationals.’
“Hey, guess what, bud. You’re going to see me at the nationals tomorrow morning. We’ll see how much he wants to see me in a few hours.”
Led by Gilman, the Hawkeyes are showing a swagger that was maybe missing the past few national tournaments.
Instead of wrestling not to lose, they’re wrestling to win.
In their round-of-16 bouts Thursday night, Gilman, Cory Clark and Michael Kemerer scored takedowns within 15 seconds.
“This is the big daddy,” said 184-pounder Sammy Brooks, who like Gilman has a confident air about him. “This is where everybody’s in the zone.”
Brooks’ personal score to settle Friday? Quarter. Finals.
The last two years, he’s gotten to the final eight in the championship bracket but fallen short – 3-2 to Cornell’s Gabe Dean in 2015, 9-6 to Nebraska’s Tim Dudley in 2016.
Going to change anything up as a senior, Sammy?
“Um, yeah,” he said with a big grin. “Win.”
Brooks will get surprise quarterfinalist 11th-seeded Emery Parker of Illinois, who finished fifth in the Big Ten Championships that Brooks won.
It sounds like a good situation for Brooks. But, like his teammates, he’s got to get the job done.
Another score to settle belongs to fifth seed Brandon Sorensen, who seems to be wrestling on a different level than he has in recent weeks. The junior 149-pounder opened his tournament with a pin, then a 6-2 decision over Wisconsin’s Andrew Crone in which he controlled the pace early.
“When my hands and feet are moving,” Sorensen said, “that’s where my best wrestling comes from.”
Sorensen and No. 4 Micah Jordan of Ohio State will be facing off in a season rubber match. Sorenson won the first meeting, but Jordan prevailed, 2-1, at the Big Tens.
“Familiarity’s worth something, or it’s not,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "This is the time of year where it doesn’t matter what happened.”
How about Clark?
This is the last chance for the 133-pounder from Southeast Polk to win a national title after runner-up finishes the last two years.
The No. 4 seed has the biggest Friday of his life ahead.
First, he needs to repeat his 2-0 win against No. 5 Stevan Micic of Michigan – who is one of the hottest wrestlers in this class with wins in 13 of his last 14 bouts.
Win that, and he (probably) will get a chance to avenge a 5-4 Big Ten finals loss to top-ranked Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State to reach his third straight championship.
(And he’ll have to do it all with a bad shoulder.)
Iowa’s other two quarterfinalists are a dynamic of young and old.
A win Friday against Cornell’s No. 7 Dylan Palacio at 157 pounds, and second-seeded Kemerer will guarantee himself all-America status – something that’s happened to only five other freshmen in the Brands era.
And then there’s the surprise quarterfinalist, 11th-seeded Alex Meyer. The fifth-year senior rallied from a 3-0 deficit with three takedowns for a 7-5 win over Lehigh’s Ryan Preisch.
Meyer gets a rematch with Ohio State’s No. 3 Bo Jordan, who edged Meyer, 3-2, in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 27.
There would be no better time than to settle that score.
Brands says it all the time. If the individuals do their thing, the team race will take care of itself.
His Hawkeyes are probably in a little better shape than expected through Day 1 – fourth place in a tight four-team race, with Penn State at 30.5, Big Ten champ Ohio State at 26, Oklahoma State at 25.5 and Iowa at 24.5.
If the Hawkeyes have moved up the ranks by around lunch-time Friday, then scores will have been settled.
“If it went against you, you’ve got to right the wrong,” Brands said. “You’ve got to believe you can go out there and win.”
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.