Lineups locked, loaded as Hawkeyes head to No. 1 Oklahoma State

Chris Cuellar

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Looking for an easy win in Iowa’s schedule?

Fast-forward to February.

The third-ranked Hawkeyes (7-0) travel to Oklahoma State (5-0) on Sunday, where eight of the 10 matches figure to feature ranked wrestlers. The challenge against the No. 1 team in the nation opens a stretch that has No. 2 Penn State and No. 4 Ohio State on deck.

“It’s not going to be just running out there in a mismatch,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said Wednesday. “They’re well-coached, it’s serious business. You’re going to have to earn it when you step on the mat.”

Iowa's Alex Meyer wrestles Oklahoma State's Kyle Crutchmer during the Grapple on the Gridiron dual at Kinnick Stadium in November 2015. Crutchmer earned an 11-10 decision that day and has won two of the pair's three meetings.

Iowa has two No. 1 (Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark) and two No. 2 (Brandon Sorensen, Michael Kemerer) wrestlers entering the dual, but the depth of the 34-time national champions is astounding. Coach John Smith has assembled a lineup that is ranked at every weight, with defending champion Dean Heil leading the way from 141 pounds.

“It’s about believing when I wrestle hard for seven minutes, nobody can hold up,” said Topher Carton, Iowa’s senior starter at 141. “That’s what I’m thinking in my head.

“I’ve got a limited number of matches left in my career with a limited amount of wrestling time. Why not wrestle as hard as you can?”

Even though both teams have solidified their healthy starters two months before conference tournaments begin, there are more toss-ups in the projected lineups than clear winners,

Sammy Brooks has split two meetings with OSU’s Nolan Boyd at 184. They’re ranked No. 6 and No. 4, respectively. In front of them, Iowa’s Alex Meyer and the Cowboys' Kyle Crutchmer have met three times collegiately, with Crutchmer taking two close decisions.

Last season’s came outdoors at Iowa’s “Grapple on the Gridiron.” The result left Meyer hunting for improvement and an eventual rematch.

“He’s explosive and wants to come out hard, but he doesn’t like to wrestle hard,” Meyer said. “If you put it on him, he’ll put his head down a little bit. It takes a while, and it takes a lot of hard wrestling.”

It’s hard to find a David when both teams are capable Goliaths, but Iowa is unranked at 165 (Joey Gunther or Skyler St. John) and 197 (Cash Wilcke) and will need upsets or bonus points to continue its 21-dual road win streak. Sunday’s dual is set for 2 p.m. at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

“Part of cutting your teeth and going through the process of being the best that you can be, you’re going to have to go through some of these,” Brands said. “You’re going to have to saddle up in some of these matchups where you might be the underdog.

“But hey, it’s an opportunity. Go get it.”

Clark back after down December

Clark returned to action at 133 over the weekend after missing all of December, including the Midlands Championships, with a previously undisclosed injury. The Southeast Polk grad and two-time NCAA runner-up confirmed Wednesday he was recovering from a shoulder injury and was held out of practice until recently.

“I just didn’t feel like it was the time of year to be pushing it and putting myself in a position where I could hurt it worse,” Clark said. “Coaches and I both felt it was best to get it back to where I could feel comfortable and strong rather than worrying about it.”

Clark (9-0) won both of his matches against Michigan and Michigan State and plans to be ready for Oklahoma State’s sixth-ranked Kaid Brock.

“He was able to overcome not being on the mat,” Brands said of Clark's weekend road wins. “We weren’t worried about that at all.

“He’ll be fine. He did great.”