Gilman leads way in Hawkeyes' Thursday-night charge

Chad Leistikow

Iowa's Thomas Gilman wrestles Penn State's Jordan Conaway at 125 pounds during the second round of the NCAA Championships in St. Louis on Thursday. Gilman won in overtime, 3-1.

ST. LOUIS – As Thomas Gilman was being interviewed following his overtime win at 125 pounds in a hallway at the Scottrade Center, a familiar hand was extended his way.

It was Cory Clark, who had just rolled to his own win at 133, offering a slap of congratulations. Both Iowa sophomores had just secured quarterfinal berths in the biggest tournament of the season.

Neither had been brought down by the disappointing morning session for the Hawkeyes, which saw four wrestlers — all seniors — stub their toes with first-round losses.

"Me and Thomas, we both wrestle for ourselves first and let the team kind of play out as we do our jobs," Clark said. "We're always looking to do our jobs regardless of how the team thing's going. You've got to stay focused on what you're here for."

A third sophomore, 184-pounder Sammy Brooks, joined them in the quarters by upending Michigan's Domenic Abounader — the Big Ten Conference champion who beat Brooks in their only previous meeting.

"I got the (4-2) win," said Brooks, who will face top-seeded Gabe Dean of Cornell next. Dean beat Brooks 6-2 at the National Duals. "One match at a time right now. It's on to the next one."

In all, five Hawkeyes with tunnel vision will compete in Friday morning's quarterfinals at the NCAAs: the three sophomores, junior Nathan Burak (197) and senior Mike Evans (174).

And it was the firecracker 125-pounder that led Iowa's charge to a 5-1 mark in the round of 16 and into second place (with 21 points) in the team standings.

Gilman secured a 3-1 win over Penn State's Jordan Conaway — his third narrow victory over the junior this year — with an overtime takedown.

"It's war out there. Sometimes you lose your best guys," Gilman said of the morning session, which saw top-five seeds Josh Dziewa (141) and Bobby Telford (heavyweight) get beat. "I'm a scrapper. It doesn't matter what's going on. I keep my focus. If it comes down to overtime, it comes down to overtime. "

On Thursday night, fourth-seeded Brandon Sorensen (149) joined the consolation bracket by losing to Penn's Charles Cobb, 3-4.

But while some Hawkeyes stumbled, others flourished. Burak looked as good as he has all year in scoring two major decisions. He generated wins of 18-4 and 12-2, after a season full of 4-3 and 3-2 matches, by instilling some urgency.

"Sometimes I can hold back a little too much, especially in the first period," Burak said. "If I wait all the way until the third period, it's a lot harder to get a major or tech (fall)."

How Iowa fares in its quest for a 24th national championship will hinge on a quarterfinal round of familiar matchups. Each Hawkeye has faced his opponent before. Clark and Evans have encouraging histories; Gilman, Brooks and Burak do not.

What better guy than Gilman to start the charge. He'll face Virginia Tech's third-seeded Joey Dance — who beat him in the Midlands Championship final in overtime. He's ready to bring the fight in his first NCAA Championships.

"Make it tough on him," Gilman said. "He's real slick. He doesn't like a battle. I didn't quite make it a battle last time.

"I'm a fighter. So you can never count me out."