Iowa wrestlers begin postseason run at home Sunday

Chad Leistikow

Iowa’s fourth-ranked Mike Evans beat Michigan’s Jake Salazar at 174 pounds on Friday, 8-3, and next has a big matchup with fifth-ranked Blaise Butler of Virginia.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – The postseason has arrived for the Iowa wrestling team. And the first warm-up to the big one — the NCAA Championships March 19-21 in St. Louis — starts Sunday in Iowa City.

No. 1 Iowa hosts 13th-ranked Virginia in the Round of 16 of this year's Cliff Keen National Duals, with all eight advancing quarterfinalists coming to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a two-day festival.

As far as Tom Brands is concerned, it's a treat long overdue for the Hawkeye fans. Iowa faced its four biggest-name opponents — Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Penn State — on the road.

"It's something for our fans," Brands said. "They've had some good dual meets with some exciting moments. But we were on the road for some of those (marquee) dual meets. This is good for our fans."

As long as Iowa beats Virginia like it should, it will be seeded first when the tournament really gets going next Saturday. If the bouts across the country play out as expected, the Hawkeyes should face the Oklahoma-Chattanooga winner. No. 2 Missouri, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Minnesota and No. 6 Cornell are also in the field.

The quarterfinals are at noon next Saturday with the semifinals at 3 p.m. The championship is at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

But before the what-if scenarios, Iowa has to beat Virginia following what was a tentative 22-9 dual win over Michigan on Friday.

The Cavaliers bring two top-10 wrestlers — No. 4 Nick Sulzer at 165 pounds (against No. 11 Nick Moore), and No. 5 Blaise Butler at 174 (against No. 4 Mike Evans). Moore and Evans are two of Iowa's five starting seniors who hope the ascent to March begins now.

"You look at the history of this (senior) group," Brands said after the Michigan dual, "let's be remembered for our best wrestling (being) in front of us."