Iowa's Sam Stoll takes irregular path to first individual Midlands title
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Sam Stoll carried his commemorative bracket and his first-place trophy back underneath the Sears Centre Arena. He set down his new awards and walked over to talk about his tournament wearing a black-on-black outfit complete with black Crocs.
“Always,” he said and smiled.
Stoll was happy Saturday night, and for good reason. The junior heavyweight placed first at the 55th annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships, part of Iowa’s fifth straight team title. In one of the tournament’s deepest weights, it was Stoll who ended the weekend on top of the podium.
“I won,” Stoll said. “This is my first time winning it. I took third twice before this, so it definitely feels nice to win it.
“I do what I do. Some people do it differently, but this is the way I do it, and I think it works decently.”
All told, it was kind of a weird weekend for Stoll, who entered as the two seed despite being ranked 18th nationally at 285 pounds by Trackwrestling. He won all five matches, of course, pushing his record to 11-0. He ultimately scored 26 of the Hawkeyes’ 156.5 total team points.
But his route to Saturday’s finals began a little strange. After a first-round bye, Stoll won back-to-back matches by way of disqualification. Against both Buffalo’s Ian James and Penn’s Patrick Garren, Stoll forced them each into five stalling calls, which is an automatic disqualification.
“It’s not frustrating to me when they call it right and they get (disqualified) out,” Stoll said. “That’s six team points. It doesn’t bother me. That’s how guys are going to wrestle sometimes.
“I still got to a lot of holds, so I was pretty satisfied with how I wrestled yesterday for the most part. I had some chances to get turns on top that I didn’t get, so I just need to keep improving.”
Both victories pushed Stoll into Friday night’s quarterfinals, where he finally wrestled a complete match, a 17-5 major decision over Ohio’s Zack Parker. During Saturday’s early session, he pushed into the finals after a six-point sequence led to an 8-2 victory over Northwestern’s Canon Jennings.
In the finals, Stoll met Arizona State’s Tanner Hall, the country’s No. 4 heavyweight. They were two of the nine wrestlers ranked by Trackwrestling in the Midlands field. The match resembled one that might occur in March at the NCAA tournament.
Hall and Stoll traded escapes in the second and third periods, but Stoll’s came with a hint of weirdness. He broke through near the edge for one, and Hall told the ref that Stoll grabbed his finger during the sequence. The ref penalized Hall and gave Stoll another point — and the lead.
“He was talking to the ref,” Stoll said afterwards. “I don’t know. A lot of things happen in a match. He grabbed my singlet and shoved his thumb up my (rear) maybe. It happens.
“I don’t know. That’s just what they called.”
With a 2-1 lead in hand, Stoll hand-fought his way to first place. After the match, Hall wandered over to members of the media and asked for pictures to show Stoll grabbed his fingers. Arizona State head coach Zeke Jones also pleaded with the referees.
In the end, the call could not be overturned, so Stoll left the Midlands with a trophy and bracket in hand and a spotless record, now 11-0. He will likely climb in the rankings, but more importantly, he said he’ll move forward with confidence.
He always knew he could hang with some of the country’s top wrestlers. Now, shortly after the midway point of the 2017-18 season, he has the results to prove it, regardless of the weirdness that came with them. .
“It’s good for the seedings later in the season,” Stoll said. “It’s a good benchmark to see where I’m at. I still have a lot to work on.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.