Breaking down the 'Grapple on the Gridiron'
Goofy things happen in college wrestling under normal November circumstances.
Remember 2002 when Iowa’s Cliff Moore knocked off the No. 2 wrestler in the country one week and lost two matches the next to a Nebraska backup and a junior college opponent?
Remember 2006 when a Minnesota team that won the national title kicked off its championship run with a dual loss to Hofstra?
Remember 2010 when an NAIA wrestler from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University handled eventual national champion Bubba Jenkins of Arizona State?
Those are just a few examples of the November nuttiness — a few instances of what can happen when wrestlers are shaking off rust and pounds from the offseason.
Throw in a couple other variables — a dual in a college football stadium with roughly 40,000 fans in the stands and temperatures hovering around 50 degrees — and it’s a formula for the unexpected.
With that as a preface, here’s the preview guide for Saturday’s Grapple on the Gridiron: No. 4 Iowa versus No. 1 Oklahoma State inside Kinnick Stadium.
125 pounds — No. 4 Thomas Gilman (Iowa) vs. No. 7 Eddie Klimara (Oklahoma State)
Gilman’s 15-5 torching of Klimara last year in Stillwater ignited Iowa’s biggest win in the series in 20 years. The Hawkeyes reeled off five straight victories to start the dual and cruised to a 30-7 win.
If Saturday’s dual begins with the clash of returning All-Americans at 125, Iowa needs Gilman to set the tone with a fast-paced match.
“I’ve got a job,” Gilman said. “I’ve got a mission, and that’s to go out there and beat this guy up. That’s all I’ve got to worry about. If I beat him up, everything else will fall into place — the crowd’s going to get into it, my teammates are going to get excited. I take a lot of pride in that because I have an opportunity to be the first guy out there and get everyone else fired up.”
133 — No. 2 Cory Clark (Iowa) vs. Gary Wayne Harding (Oklahoma State)
Clark fell one victory short of the college wrestling pinnacle in March and he’s been waiting more than seven months to wash away the aftertaste of the NCAA finals. The second-ranked Iowa junior racked up three takedowns last year against Harding in a 10-5 victory, but this is a spot where the Hawkeyes will be looking for more than just a decision.
“The kid can wrestle,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “Cory Clark has a lot of firepower. He’s one of these guys that it’s never good enough — not to the point where he derails himself or obsesses over something that isn’t important, but to the point where everything is important and he wants to be perfect every time out.”
141 — Logan Ryan (Iowa) vs. No. 1 Dean Heil (Oklahoma State)
Heil went 27-10 last year during a ragged freshman season. In January, he led Iowa’s Josh Dziewa 5-1 in the third period before getting whipped to his back for a fall. In March, the four-time Ohio state champion caught fire and followed up a Big 12 title by making a run from the No. 14 seed to a fourth-place finish at the national tournament.
The Hawkeyes are searching for a long-term solution at 141 and Ryan will get the first crack at the job, although senior Brody Grothus, junior Topher Carton and true freshman Vince Turk could factor into the equation later in the season.
Ryan’s first assignment as a starter comes against the top-ranked wrestler in the InterMat rankings. They’ve already met once in college. Heil claimed an 8-1 victory last November at the Joe Parisi Open.
Ryan reached the finals of last weekend’s Grand View Open before dropping a 14-5 major decision against Grand View’s Andrew Long, a two-time Division I All-American.
“My opponent this weekend is going to be tough, but I’m ready for it,” Ryan said. “I’m ready to wrestle, I’m confident and I’m excited."
149 — No. 3 Brandon Sorensen (Iowa) vs. No. 8 Anthony Collica (Oklahoma State)
This is one of the marquee and pivotal bouts on the card. Sorensen fueled his run to a 40-victory freshman season by handling Oklahoma State’s second-ranked Josh Kindig 6-1 last January. The sophomore All-American won last year primarily on near-bulletproof defense. The Hawkeyes are trying to get Sorensen to tap into his scoring ability.
“He’s got to realize that he’s got some pretty high-powered, high-potent offense,” Brands said. “He’s got to go-go-go and not just go… go… go.”
Collica certainly isn’t a takedown dummy. With Kindig entrenched at 149, Collica wrestled up a weight last year and nearly earned All-America honors at 157. He dropped a tiebreaker decision to Lehigh’s Mitch Minotti in the Round of 12 at the NCAA Championships.
157 — Edwin Cooper (Iowa) vs. Chance Marsteller (Oklahoma State)
Part of the suspense here is the actual matchup itself. Iowa lists Cooper and Skyler St. John as possibilities. Oklahoma State’s probable lineup includes Ryan Blees, Marsteller and Joe Smith as options at 157.
The guess here is that Cooper will get the nod for the Hawkeyes. Though he hasn’t appeared in a dual of this magnitude, he competed on the big stage in Fargo three times as a prep and wrestled two years ago in the Division II NCAA finals.
The Cowboys have three options at 157 and they’re all former blue-chip recruits. Marsteller, a four-time Pennsylvania state champ, was considered by some as the nation’s top prospect in 2014, but his best results to this point in college have come at 165. Oklahoma State coach John Smith could turn to his son, Joe, a mega-talented true freshman, or he could go with Blees, a freestyle Junior Nationals champion who placed third last weekend at the Oklahoma College Open after dropping a semifinal decision to two-time NAIA All-American Zach Skates.
165 — Patrick Rhoads (Iowa) vs. No. 1 Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State)
David Taylor and Logan Stieber drummed up the most attention during the past two seasons and all the noise created by the Hodge Trophy winners drowned out Dieringer’s dominance. But the super-skilled Oklahoma State senior might be the sport’s biggest star now.
Dieringer piles up points with physicality and flash. He owns a 103-4 career record (three of his defeats, including his most recent came against Iowa’s Derek St. John) and has hardly been challenged during his last two trips to the NCAA Championships. The two-time national champ ripped through his brackets, registering three pins and pounding his other seven opponents by a collective 88-34 count.
Though Iowa could turn to freshman Burke Paddock, the task of slowing down the two-time NCAA champ will likely fall on the shoulders of Rhoads, a senior who dropped a 20-8 major decision against Dieringer in last year’s dual.
174 — No. 6 Alex Meyer (Iowa) vs. No. 4 Kyle Crutchmer (Oklahoma State)
The latest installment of a budding rivalry could be a tipping point in Saturday’s dual.
Meyer and Crutchmer wrestled twice at the Junior Duals during the summer of 2012. Meyer pinned Crutchmer in Greco-Roman. Crutchmer pinned Meyer in freestyle.
They went to Fargo later that summer and Meyer won the 170-pound title in Greco-Roman and Crutchmer won the 170-pound title in freestyle.
Their college series sits at 1-1 now after they split two meetings the past two years at the Joe Parisi Open.
Meyer has been known as a slow starter whose motor runs best in the third period. He came from behind last year to beat Crutchmer 4-3 on a late takedown.
The Iowa junior said “being really stingy right from the first whistle” and controlling the pace are two keys to beating the returning All-American.
“We have to be ready to go,” Brands said. “There’s no (room for a) slow start. That’s a big match.”
184 — No. 12 Sam Brooks (Iowa) vs. No. 15 Jordan Rogers (Oklahoma State)
Iowa saved the main pitch of its recruiting work in 2011 for one October weekend when the Hawkeyes brought in nearly a dozen prospects. They scooped up commitments from Gilman, Clark, Carton, Meyer, Brooks and Nathan Burak, but they didn’t get everyone they went after that weekend.
Rogers opted for Oklahoma State, which was also one of the suitors for Brooks. Now the two former blue-chip recruits could meet up again.
The Cowboys listed returning NCAA qualifier Nolan Boyd, who split a pair of college bouts against Brooks, as a possible option at 184. But Rogers downed Boyd 8-3 last weekend at the Oklahoma College Open.
197 — No. 4 Nathan Burak (Iowa) vs. Austin Schafer (Oklahoma State)
Though he won’t blow anyone away with athleticism or a huge arsenal of offensive skills, Burak has steadily developed into one of the nation’s best wrestlers at 197. He’s a two-time All-American who sticks to the basics and mixes in a nasty headlock every now and then.
From top to bottom, Oklahoma State arguably has college wrestling’s best lineup, but 197 might be the hot spot for the Cowboys. It was the only weight they failed to qualify for the NCAA Championships in March.
Oklahoma State lists two possible options: Schafer and freshman Preston Weigel. Schafer went 10-8 last season and he’s off to a 7-1 start this year after winning the Oklahoma College Open. Weigel claimed the title in the freshman division of the same tournament.
Hwt. — Sam Stoll (Iowa) vs. No. 5 Austin Marsden (Oklahoma State)
Stoll is a full-sized heavyweight who arrived at Iowa with a full-sized resume. The two-time Minnesota state high school champion registered pins in the final 63 bouts of his high school career, a national record. In Greco-Roman, he won a bronze medal at the Junior World Championships and claimed a Cadet national title.
But Marsden represents the biggest college challenge yet for the Iowa freshman. The senior owns an 83-18 career record. He earned All-America honors as a sophomore but fell short of the awards podium in March when he reached the quarterfinals as a No. 4 seed and dropped two decisions by a combined three points.