Iowa coach Tom Brands' team is second after the first day of the Big Ten Championships. Andy Hamilton/The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa and Penn State were expected to be in contention with each other on Sunday during the Big Ten Championships.
They were on Saturday, too.
Iowa advanced four wrestlers to Sunday's finals of the conference tournament in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Junior Cory Clark (133 pounds), sophomore Brandon Sorensen (149), junior Sammy Brooks (184) and senior Nathan Burak (197) all won their respective matches Saturday for a chance at a title.
"There’s a lot to digest right now," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "We’ll get ready to go tomorrow. … We have another day of wrestling, that’s how I look at it."
Brooks won by a 6-1 decision over Penn State's Matt McCutcheon to move on. The Hawkeyes matched up with the Nittany Lions in two other semifinal bouts. Junior Thomas Gilman lost to Nico Megaludis by a 4-3 decision at 125 and senior Edwin Cooper Jr. lost by a 21-3 technical fall to Jason Nolf at 157.
The Iowa/Penn State rivalry continues Sunday in two top matches — Sorensen will go up against Zain Retherford, while Burak squares with Morgan McIntosh.
Penn State qualified six wrestlers to the finals compared to Iowa's foursome. The Nittany Lions are in the driver's seat to win the league, pacing the team standings with 133 points. Iowa is second with 106, Ohio State third with 100, Nebraska fourth at 97.5, and Rutgers fifth at 90.5.
"It’s better going forward when all your teammates are winning too," Sorensen said. "It’s a better atmosphere. But you’re in your zone, you’re in your own head, and you’re not focusing too much on other matches. You just need to do your thing."
In addition to Clark's 10-7 decision over Wisconsin's Ryan Taylor and Sorensen's 5-2 decision over Nebraska's Jake Sueflohn, Brooks and Burak highlighted the day en route to the finals.
Brooks nearly zeroed McCutcheon, allowing the only point with 35 seconds remaining in the third period.
"When I’m focused for seven minutes," Brooks said, "I’m hard to beat."
Then Burak produced thunderous applause from the home crowd with a 3-1 decision over Minnesota's Brett Pfarr to cap the night for the Hawkeyes.
Burak breaks Big Ten semi barrier Andy Hamilton/HawkCentral.com
Burak, who placed fourth at Big Tens in 2015, sprinted off the floor filled with emotion as a senior.
"He's a senior, he's paid his dues, and he's done everything right," Brands said of Burak. "You couldn't ask for a better ambassador for your program. The way he carries himself in his academics, in his social life, how he trains, and then he's a good teammate. He's not one of these guys that's in a corner by himself. People like him, he likes his teammates, and he enjoys his time here. That's a lot of fun."
Also for Iowa on Saturday, junior Alex Meyer lost in the semifinals at 174 but can still place as high as third Sunday (as can Gilman and Cooper Jr.). Senior Patrick Rhoads and redshirt freshman Sam Stoll are still eligible in the consolation side of the bracket at 165 and 285, respectively. Rhoads and Stoll will each wrestle for seventh.
Senior Brody Grothus was eliminated from the tournament after going 0-2 at 141 — both losses were by just two-point deficits and to the top two seeds.
But back to the four finalists for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa went without a Big Ten champion in 2015, last securing a win in 2014. Will at least one of these wrestlers be on the top step of the podium Sunday?
Sorensen — who finished second last year — thinks so.
"I want to win," Sorensen said. "I want to get my name on the board. I don’t want that feeling of getting beat, it’s not a good feeling. Let’s get over it and do it right this year."
Reach Matt Cozzi at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @matt_cozzi.
Big Ten Championships
First round – Thomas Gilman (IOWA) received a bye; Quarterfinals – Gilman maj. dec. Conor Youtsey (Michigan) 14-4; Semifinals – Nico Megaludis (Penn State) dec. Gilman 4-3, OT.
First round – Cory Clark (IOWA) received a bye; Quarterfinals – Clark dec. Johnni DiJulius (Ohio State) 7-3; Semifinals – Clark dec. Ryan Taylor (Wisconsin) 10-7.
First round – Micah Jordan (Ohio State) dec. Brody Grothus (IOWA) 5-3; Consolations – Tommy Thorn (Minnesota) dec. Grothus 7-5.
First round – Brandon Sorensen (IOWA) received a bye; Quarterfinals Sorensen maj. dec. Cody Burcher (Ohio State) 12-2; Semifinals – Sorensen dec. Jake Sueflohn (Nebraska) 5-2.
First round – Edwin Cooper Jr. (IOWA) pinned Anthony Petrone (Northwestern) 1:27; Quarterfinals – Cooper Jr. dec. Jake Ryan (Ohio State) 2-1; Semifinals – Jason Nolf (Penn State) tech. fall Cooper Jr. 21-3.
First round – Patrick Rhoads (IOWA) dec. Bryce Martin (Indiana) 2-1; Quarterfinals – Isaac Jordan (Wisconsin) pinned Rhoads 6:36; Consolations – Rhoads maj. dec. Brandon Krone (Minnesota) 15-7; Chad Welch (Purdue) dec. Rhoads 2-0.
First round – Alex Meyer (IOWA) received a bye; Quarterfinals – Meyer tech. fall Nick Wanzek (Minnesota) 16-0; Semifinals – Zach Brunson (Illinois) pinned Meyer 2:00.
First round – Sammy Brooks (IOWA) pinned Matt Irwin (Indiana) 1:43; Brooks dec. Kenny Courts (Ohio State) 8-3; Semifinals – Brooks dec. Matt McCutcheon (Penn State) 6-1.
First round – Nathan Burak (IOWA) tech. fall Eric Peissig (Wisconsin) 22-5; Quarterfinals – Burak dec. Mark Martin (Ohio State) 6-2; Semifinals – Burak dec. Brett Pfarr 3-1.
First round – Sam Stoll (IOWA) dec. Youssif Hemida (Maryland) 15-4; Quarterfinals - Collin Jensen (Nebraska) maj. dec. Stoll 14-5; Stoll pinned Dimitrus Renfroe (Michigan State) 1:57; Brooks Black (Illinois) dec. Stoll 3-0.