Quick turnaround essential for Sorensen as No. 4 Iowa hosts No. 2 Penn State

Chris Cuellar

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Brandon Sorensen lost his first regular season match in almost two years on Sunday.

There’s no time for Iowa’s 149-pound junior to sit and be sad about it.

Sorensen faces the only wrestler to beat him last season — title-winning and top-ranked junior Zain Retherford — in an essential match for the Hawkeyes at home against No. 2 Penn State on Friday.

Iowa's Brandon Sorensen wrestles Penn State's Zain Retherford during their NCAA championship bout on Saturday, March 19, 2016 in New York City, New York. Retherford would go on to win 10-1.

“I think it’s good when you’re a competitor and something bad happens to you and you get a chance to redeem yourself against top-level competition,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said before practice Tuesday. “We don’t have a cupcake — a cupcake wouldn’t get you over the disappointment from the Oklahoma State meet.”

Sorensen dropped from No. 2 to No. 3 in TrackWrestling’s national rankings after losing a 4-3 decision to then-No. 3 Anthony Collica at Oklahoma State on Sunday.

The 12-minute, double-overtime match was determined by Collica’s riding time advantage of two seconds. It ruined Sorensen’s 17-0 start to the season but motivated the NCAA runner-up further for Friday’s showdown with Retherford.

“I wish I had cleared his hand,” Sorensen said of his matchup with Collica. “Just clearing that hand, picking up the pace and, really, just wrestling — wrestling with a guy who doesn’t want to wrestle.”

The Denver grad beat Collica in two decisions last season, including a 4-2 victory in the national semifinals. Now, he’s got to reverse a skid of his own.

Retherford ended Sorensen’s 25-0 start last season in the Big Ten finals by a 4-0 score and stood atop the podium at 149 after a 10-1 major in the NCAA finals.

Penn State’s aggressive star has competed at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials and secured a U.S. National Team spot since then, and he and the Nittany Lions (7-0) are still undefeated this season.

“We’re there with Retherford,” Brands said. “The bottom line is, (Sorensen) is going to have to own maybe one more level or half a level — he’s a half a level behind. So you’ve got another opportunity. Have you taken those steps?

“Go out there and do what you’ve got to do.”

The rematch at 149 looms large in a dual that features 11 wrestlers currently ranked in the national top five. Iowa’s Thomas Gilman (125), Michael Kemerer (157) and Sammy Brooks (184) are getting fellow top five opponents, but none have the history with the Nittany Lions like Sorensen and Retherford do.

“It was 10-1 in the national final, but there were some things we did in that match that we hadn’t done before,” Brands said.

“It’s not fun to see from the corner. It’s not fun for him, sitting on the mat, in front of 20,000 people and a national audience, but there were some things in there that were positive.

“There’s some hurdles we’ve got to overcome, but he’s a tough kid; he’s an accountable kid; he’s a quiet kid. I like his approach, and I’ve never had a problem with his commitment and the lifestyle it requires. Now it’s about going out and doing what you know you’ve got to do.”

Sorensen is one of three Hawkeyes (7-1) still undefeated in Big Ten duals, holding a 20-0 mark, including eight against ranked opponents.

But Iowa hasn’t hosted Penn State since the 2013-14 season. And Sorensen continuing his conference run will mean getting over the hump when the highly-anticipated dual starts at 8 p.m. Friday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“It’s a huge opportunity, coming back to avenge the loss I had,” Sorensen said. “I’ve got to get to my positions. I can’t wrestle into his positions.”