IOWA CITY, Ia. — The upstarts from the ACC gathered Monday night at one end of Carver-Hawkeye Arena to capture a watershed moment for North Carolina State wrestling in a snapshot.
Simultaneously, dozens of deflated Iowa fans quietly shuffled past the Wolfpack, trying to avoid getting in the way of the impromptu photo session.
There wasn’t that much that disrupted North Carolina State during the inaugural National Wrestling Coaches Association Dual Championship Series — except the notion that the fourth-ranked Wolfpack didn’t belong here.
North Carolina State wrecked Iowa’s bid for an undefeated dual season, downing the Hawkeyes 21-17 in front of an announced crowd of 6,056 that exited in stunned and saddened silence.
Iowa not only lost the dual, the Hawkeyes may have lost their heavyweight in the process. The winner-take-all final match came to an abrupt end when seventh-ranked freshman Sam Stoll injury defaulted against two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski after sustaining an apparent knee injury.
“Really, to sum it up, we got beat up in more ways than one,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “We’ve got to come back and we’ve got to be strong and we’ve got to build and we’ve got to have our minds right.”
It marks the second straight season that the Hawkeyes ran the table in the regular season only to fall at home in the National Duals. Iowa bounced back from a loss to Missouri in last year’s finale to tie for the Big Ten crown two weeks later.
The Hawkeyes have less than two weeks before their conference comrades come to town for the Big Ten Championships.
“We’ve got guys who like to score points,” Brands said. “We’ve got guys who are about bonus points. Getting knocked off here, I don’t think that’s a major issue unless you know something about our guys that I don’t. I think our guys are up to a challenge. And they better be.”
Some were Monday night, but there weren’t enough for Iowa to avoid its first loss in program history against an ACC opponent. Then again, this isn’t the same old ACC.
“This is big-time wrestling,” North Carolina State coach Pat Popolizio said. “Hopefully now people understand we’re in the position where we can compete with anybody.”
The Wolfpack won in December at Oklahoma State and entered Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a 22-1 record. Still, the chatter throughout the week leading up to the dual was about Virginia Tech and comments from coach Kevin Dresser, who called out Iowa and suggested the Hawkeyes pulled strings to avoid the fifth-ranked Hokies, the ACC dual champions responsible for North Carolina State’s only loss.
“I don’t think his statements were quite correct,” Popolizio said. “It was disrespectful to (Iowa) and N.C. State, his comments about Iowa not wanting to wrestle them. We earned the right to be here. I hope this puts a lot of that talk to sleep.”
There was no questioning North Carolina State’s legitimacy Monday night. The Wolfpack split five matches with the Hawkeyes, limiting the damage where Iowa was heavily favored and piling up bonus points with a lineup led by four wrestlers ranked sixth or better.
Thomas Gilman and Brandon Sorensen — Iowa’s unbeaten duo — picked up major decisions at 125 and 149, but North Carolina State seized a technical fall from No. 3 Kevin Jack at 141, a major decision from Tommy Gantt at 157 and put the dual away on Gwiazdowski’s 82nd straight win.
“We didn’t take it to them when there was a mismatch on paper,” Brands said. “And if you want to give those guys the paper matches, what’s favored on paper, then let’s just play chess online. (Popolizio) can stay in North Carolina, I’ll stay in Iowa City and me and him can play chess, if we want to do that. But the thing that fans look forward to and the thing this program looks forward to is a battle, and that’s probably where this guy’s most disappointed.”
The dual began to slip away from the Hawkeyes (16-1) at 141, where Jack mowed through senior Brody Grothus 18-3, scoring four takedowns and six near-fall points on his way to an 18-3 technical fall.
Brands said Iowa is “settled on Grothus” as its 141-pounder for the postseason, but this wasn’t the momentum-building performance he wanted to see heading into March.
“We’ve got to figure out are you going to go out there and be timid, or is a No. 3 ranking behind a guy’s name, does that make you wig out?” Brands said. “Or are you going to get tough? I think we can get tougher. We can do it. I know he’s a competitor, I know he loves to battle, but for some reason he was sitting back. Figuratively.”
The Wolfpack also won the dual’s pivotal swing bout at 184, where 16th-ranked Pete Renda put No. 10 Sam Brooks away, 7-3.
“You give credit to North Carolina State, but fans want to see a good dual and it doesn’t do us any good to sit here and give them credit,” Brands said. “I’ll congratulate them, but it doesn’t do us any good to give them credit. But they earned it. There’s no doubt.”
They earned it at Oklahoma State. They earned it at Iowa.
“These programs all have history,” Popolizio said. “We’re not there in that aspect, but people now understand we can compete. To do it year in and year out like these guys do, that’s a totally different ballgame. But we’ve got to do our job with a program to keep building momentum off this. But this is obviously a great start.”