No gasoline necessary to fuel Iowa-Minnesota wrestling rivalry

Chad Leistikow

MINNEAPOLIS – J Robinson chuckled after the wisecrack left his mouth.

"Like they say, when you drive into Iowa, the IQ of both states go up," the 29th-year Minnesota wrestling coach said Thursday, tongue planted firmly in cheek, before adding: "That'll piss some of the Hawks off."

Robinson knows there's nothing wrong with stoking an old rivalry, not that this one needs added gasoline. Their heated history resumes Friday night, and fittingly, Iowa and Minnesota are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the nation for the 100th all-time dual meeting.

"The biggest rivalry in college wrestling," Robinson said.

Although, contrary to the joke, it'll be the Hawkeyes busing across state lines. Waiting for them at Williams Arena, known as "The Barn," will be more than 12,000 ticketed fans at the 6 p.m. dual to see which unbeaten team gains inside position for the Big Ten Conference dual championship.

"I like it, man. I mean, you've got to look at it this way," Iowa second-ranked 174-pounder Mike Evans said, each word slow and measured. "We're going to go into their arena. And we're going to hear a bunch of boos. And we're going to hear a huge crowd. And then we're going to shut them up.

"Ain't nothing better than that."

In other mainstream sports, trash talk like that would be splattered across front pages and talk radio for days. But this is Iowa-Minnesota wrestling. That kind of rhetoric is par for the course. It's expected. And the fans, not to mention the competitors, lap it up.

"That's what it's about," said Robinson, a longtime Iowa assistant coach under Dan Gable before taking the reins in 1986 at Minnesota — where he's since led the Gophers to three national championships and six Big Ten titles. "That's why people want to come. The passion involved with both sides, and both sides want to be the best. And the other side is trying to take it away from them. That's what brings intensity. That's what brings the fun of what it is."

Who's really No. 1?

In the past, Minnesota has doctored up special events or promotions to bring fans to The Barn for the Iowa dual. This year, the best marketing strategy is to point to the rankings.

When Iowa coach Tom Brands received the list of Minnesota's probable wrestlers, it looked appropriately like a fight card.

"It was full-color, good-looking. They had their guys in the rankings with an 'M' by each guy, and they had our guys with the rankings with a tiger-hawk by each guy," said Brands, 8-4 vs. the Gophers in his nine years at the helm. "They bill it. They bill it for what it is, and that's two titans going at it."

The last time these teams met in Williams Arena, the score after all 10 weights was 15-15. Iowa was awarded the 2013 victory, 16-15, on the third tiebreaker. Minnesota has won the last two duals, including 19-15 last year at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The USA TODAY Division I Coaches' Poll, which The Des Moines Register uses, has Iowa No. 1, Minnesota No. 2. The Gophers are No. 1 in Intermat's dual rankings, with Iowa right behind.

"I'm sure both sides are bragging that they're (No.) 1," Robinson said. "One side is going to get to live with it (Friday) night."

Iowa has 10 nationally ranked wrestlers, Minnesota has eight.

"They're the No. 2-ranked team," Brands said. "Now we're going to find out. It's been close with the voting, the points, and how the pundits declare who's No. 1. It's not important? This is how you decide. … It's real important."

The decisive matches

The battles within the overall battle figure to be tremendous. Iowa is a definitive favorite at four weights: Thomas Gilman at 125 pounds, Brandon Sorensen at 149, Nick Moore at 165 and Bobby Telford at heavyweight. Minnesota has an edge with Nick Dardanes at 141 and top-ranked Dylan Ness at 157.

If the evening starts at 125 — and Robinson said he might elect to go to the random draw to determine the starting weight — the night's first blockbuster would be at 133, where Iowa's Cory Clark, ranked eighth but with national-title talent, clashes with No. 1 Chris Dardanes.

"I can really make a statement there by getting a win," Clark said.

From Minnesota's perspective, the key is to split the lower six weights and conquer swing matches at 174, 184 and 197.

At 174, Iowa's Evans gets a fifth meeting with No. 4 Logan Storley. The two have been going at it for four years, including at 165 as freshmen. Storley owns a 3-1 edge, but Evans got him last year at Carver-Hawkeye.

At 184, a battle of sophomores pits Iowa's No. 7 Sammy Brooks vs. No. 13 Brett Pfarr. Brooks won the only career meeting while both were redshirting in 2012, 5-4.

"It'll come down to those two weights," Robinson said. "Whoever wins those two weights will win."

Iowa thinks it has a chance at 197, where unbeaten Hawkeye Nathan Burak is ranked ahead of Minnesota's Scott Schiller — but is 0-4 all-time against him.

But it's Evans, at 174, who might be able to ensure Iowa wins for the 71st time in this rich, heated dual history.

"I like a little extra pressure, a little extra incentive to get up for it," Evans said. "But, I mean, it's Minnesota. How much incentive do you need?"


A weight-by-weight look at Friday's 6 p.m. dual (Big Ten Network), with Iowa wrestlers listed first:

125: No. 4 Thomas Gilman (19-1) vs. Ethan Lizak (22-7)

A chance for Iowa to get bonus points early; Gilman beat freshman Lizak 11-4 at Midlands.

133: No. 8 Cory Clark (16-2) vs. No. 1 Chris Dardanes (17-0)

Clark has been dogged by slow first-period starts. He has never faced a Minnesota wrestler.

141: No. 8 Josh Dziewa (18-4) vs. No. 4 Nick Dardanes (16-1)

Dziewa's pin of Oklahoma State's Dean Heil on Jan. 11 has sparked a three-match win streak.

149: No. 2 Brandon Sorensen (24-2) vs. Jake Short (11-7) or Seth Lange (12-8)

Redshirt freshman Sorensen has said and done all the right things amid his meteoric national rise.

157: No. 10 Michael Kelly (17-3) vs. No. 1 Dylan Ness (22-0)

Ness has two majors and a fall vs. Kelly in four career meetings. He could be on the prowl for a pin.

165: No. 9 Nick Moore (14-4) vs. Nick Wanzek (14-7) or Brandon Kingsley (11-4)

Moore's four defeats are against top-eight foes; Iowa can't afford a surprise loss here.

174: No. 2 Mike Evans (18-0) vs. No. 4 Logan Storley (20-2)

Perhaps the dual's biggest swing match. The career scorecard is Storley 3, Evans 1.

184: No. 7 Sammy Brooks (18-2) vs. No. 13 Brett Pfarr (19-5)

Sophomores met one time as freshman redshirts at the 2012 UNI Open. Brooks won, 5-4.

197: No. 3 Nathan Burak (13-0) vs. No. 6 Scott Schiller (16-3)

Schiller is a former No. 1 who has owned Burak — 4-0 all-time, including 16-5 last season.

Hwt.: No. 4 Bobby Telford (18-1) vs. No. 12 Michael Kroells (18-8)

Tom Brands said Telford is "ornery" after suffering his first loss of the season last Friday.