Big Ten takeaways: Iowa already eyeing NCAA improvement
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Thomas Gilman had nearly two hours in an Assembly Hall locker room to celebrate his Big Ten championship before talking about it.
A post-match drug test took longer than planned for Iowa’s lean 125-pound star, so by the time he stepped in front of cameras and took questions on Sunday, his mind had left Bloomington.
After a third-place team finish and a finals split, the Hawkeyes were all eyeing another opportunity at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis.
“It’s probably something I’ll appreciate when I have kids and grandkids,” Gilman said, “looking back to say I won Big Tens my senior year, and I went on to have an undefeated season and win nationals, too.
“I’m antsy to get back to Iowa City and get back to work. Sorry for everyone that wants to ‘hoo-rah,’ like we did it. This is just one step along the way.”
Gilman is Iowa’s only top-ranked and undefeated wrestler in 2016-17. So if he wants improvement, imagine how the rest of the roster feels.
Sam Brooks topped the podium a little later after an emphatic 12-2 major decision over defending national champion Myles Martin at 184 pounds. Brooks became a two-time Big Ten champion and had a similar message to Gilman's.
As awesome as his first-period body lock and leg sweep of Martin was, he’d prefer those points were scored on an even bigger stage.
“It’s a good win and another feather in my cap,” Brooks said. “But I won last year and didn’t perform the way I wanted to at nationals. So, now the focus is about going out on top and doing what I know I can in St. Louis.”
Those personal expectations are in lockstep with Iowa’s as a team for next weekend. Although upsetting dominant defending champion Penn State felt like a longshot for the Hawkeyes, Ohio State crashed the party and won the tournament with four individual champs.
Suddenly, this weekend's 14-team field looked beatable. In the end, Iowa was left wondering which weight classes could close the gap in the future.
“There are some things that we can capitalize on,” Iowa junior Brandon Sorensen said. “Like, if you look at (Cory) Clark, if you let that (finals) match go again, I see Clark winning it. That’s where my mind’s at. I believe he can do it.
“All those things add up. It’s going to have to be a perfect tournament.”
The attitude Gilman brought back from his long-awaited urine sample may strike the right tone for a team and fanbase desperate for NCAA contention.
“Whoever they put across from me — it could be King Kong, I’ll wrestle them,” the senior champion said. “I don’t care.”
Cory Clark fought hard to get himself back into Iowa’s lineup for a postseason run. After three wins on Saturday, he sat until his final against Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello on Sunday, and left with a painful 5-4 loss as the top seed escaped as time expired.
“Clark’s (match) was frustrating, very frustrating,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said. “We’re going to have to turn that around. The thing about Cory Clark is he’s not going to be the type of guy that’s going to sulk, especially this time of year.”
Clark tied the match with 15 seconds left by shooting on Tomasello’s left leg and working his way to a takedown. Now, the two-time NCAA runner-up is left hoping for decent seeding in St. Louis.
According to the Daily Iowan student newspaper, Clark threw his second-place medal in the garbage can outside of Iowa’s locker room once he got off the podium.
Iowa’s redshirt freshman Michael Kemerer also lost by decision in his championship match, taking a second defeat to Penn State’s undefeated Jason Nolf. The score was 9-4 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and it was more competitive Sunday despite the 8-2 score, but the promising 157-pounder is a clear No. 2 to the Nittany Lion right now.
“I wanted to improve on the score and continue to score more points,” Nolf said. “But (Kemerer) is a tough opponent and he’s a little bit harder to open up on than some of the other guys, so I’ve got to work on that.”
Brands sees Big Ten ‘template’
Ohio State (139.5 points) and Penn State (130) finished ahead of the Hawkeyes (112.5) in the team standings. That placement and their recent string of titles would seem to qualify them as NCAA contenders and rivals to chase next weekend — and in the seasons to come.
Yet Iowa saw style differences at play inside the historic basketball arena, too. Brooks poured on points this weekend and Gilman was his usual aggressive self, but some other champions had scoring flair and work rate that still isn’t present up and down the Hawkeye lineup.
“There are two ways to win,” Brands said after the tournament. “There’s a template where you go to the edge and keep it close. Then there’s a template where you’re going and putting pressure and trying to score points.
“Not to talk about other programs, but there’s a guy named (Penn State’s) Zain Retherford out there. He’s a template. And there’s a guy named (Isaiah) Martinez from Illinois out there. He’s the template.”
Martinez was standing behind the scrum interviewing Brands, hidden from view. The two-time national champion smiled and spoke to Brands shortly after. Martinez wrestled in the highest-scoring match of the weekend, a 24-13 first-round contest, and followed that result with a pin and 18 points in two more wins.
“That’s the template we want to have,” Brands said. “We’re not chasing that. We have that mold with Gilman, and that’s what I liked about Brooks.”
Sorensen works back in bracket
Sunday afternoon’s consolation semifinal round was an unfamiliar place for Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen. The junior at 149 hadn’t lost and been relegated to the back side of a bracket since the 2015 NCAA Championships, where he clawed back to a fourth-place finish as a freshman.
“I felt a little better in the consolations,” Sorensen said. “We talked about some things. You can’t hold on to something that you don’t have. So, (I had to) just let it fly.”
Sorensen dropped a tense 2-1 decision to Ohio State’s Micah Jordan on Saturday, but rallied to finish third after two Sunday wins. A 10-2 major decision and a pin helped alleviate a tough loss for the two-time Midlands champ and two-time Big Ten runner-up.
“He did his best wrestling after he lost, and there’s a lesson there,” Brands said. “We’re moving forward there.”
Alex Meyer also figured into the consolation semifinals, but he dropped a 3-2 decision at 174 and was bumped to the fifth-place match. He claimed that spot with his fourth win of the weekend.
Scrapping to St. Louis
Topher Carton didn’t crack the podium at 141 pounds, but he’ll represent the Hawkeyes at the NCAA Championships. With nine automatic qualifying spots available at the weight class, Carton was thrown into an extra bracket to determine ninth, and he responded with two decision wins.
Less fortunate with an NCAA bid on the line was Cash Wilcke at 197. The redshirt freshman lost a seventh-place match to finish eighth, with only seven automatic spots available. He will have to wait to discover his postseason fate and a potential at-large berth, along with Iowa’s Joey Gunther at 165.
Gunther was ranked 16th nationally in RPI on Feb. 23, but hefailed to place in Bloomington.
“We’ve got seven going, for sure, and we’ll work on 197 and 165,” Brands said. “I think we’ve got a good case for both of them, probably more so at (165).”
IOWA’S SUNDAY FINALS RESULTS
125—Thomas Gilman (Iowa) dec. Tim Lambert (Nebraska), 4-0
133—Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State) dec. Cory Clark (Iowa), 5-4
157—Jason Nolf (Penn State) dec. Michael Kemerer (Iowa), 8-2
184—Sam Brooks (Iowa) major dec. Myles Martin (Ohio State), 12-2
1. Ohio State 139.5; 2. Penn State 130; 3. Iowa 112.5; 4. Nebraska 102.5; 5. Minnesota 93; 6. Illinois 88.5; 7. Michigan 83; 8. Tie, Rutgers, Wisconsin 67.5; 10. Michigan State 38.5; 11. Maryland 32; 12. Purdue 26; 13. Indiana 24.5; 14. Northwestern 18.