Sometimes, the most humbling wrestling experience can come at the hands of a fierce rival.
Such was the case Sunday, when the Iowa wrestling team closed out its regular season at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The Hawkeyes, ranked fifth nationally by Trackwrestling, squared off with No. 3 Oklahoma State, the 53rd meeting between the two most historic college wrestling programs.
The Cowboys took this edition, 27-12, before an announced crowd of 13,811 — a sellout. Oklahoma State took seven of 10 matches, including the final four in a row, to secure its largest margin of victory over Iowa since the 2003-04 season (30-10, in Iowa City).
"We knew what we were coming into," Iowa coach Tom Brands said afterward. "Our guys love this type of environment. Just not sure that we showed up."
The Hawkeyes close the 2018-19 regular season with a 14-1 dual record, and that one in the loss column will be what people remember until they take the mat at the Big Ten Championships next month in Minneapolis.
Sunday’s contest against Oklahoma State (15-0) was always going to be Iowa’s toughest of the season. Due to the Big Ten’s scheduling cycle, the Hawkeyes missed duals against No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan this season.
As such, the Cowboys were always going to be the barometer against which Iowa could measure itself for a reasonable postseason outlook. And this performance likely did not leave the black-and-gold faithful optimistic about this team’s chances next month.
For starters, Spencer Lee, the Hawkeyes’ defending NCAA Champion at 125 pounds, lost by fall for the first time in his college career. In the dual’s opening bout, Lee, wrestling Nick Piccininni, trailed 1-0 in the second period when Piccininni took a shot. The Iowa sophomore defended with the splits on the edge. Piccininni adjusted for a cradle and a pin in four minutes, 55 seconds.
"We got in position where, if I'm the opposing coach coaching against our guys, I would do those things," Brands said. "Those shortcuts sometimes that we go to will bite you eventually. Today, they bit us."
That set the tone for a raucous Cowboy crowd. Daton Fix and Kaid Brock followed with back-to-back decision victories over Iowa’s Austin DeSanto and Max Murin, respectively, at 133 and 141 pounds. Oklahoma State led 12-0 after just three matches.
The Hawkeyes would not bow to that, at least not immediately. At 149, Iowa’s 10th-ranked Pat Lugo put forth perhaps his most encouraging outing of the year in a 7-4 win over 5th-ranked Kaden Gfeller. Lugo scored two takedowns and displayed stellar defense throughout to put Iowa on the board.
"Big win," Lugo said, "but it's just another match. Went out there with a gameplan. Wrestling with a crowd like this, I think I wrestled better, coming into enemy territory — I had something to prove to a bunch of people.
"I went out there, wrestled my match and got the job done."
Kaleb Young and Alex Marinelli followed with a decision and a pin at 157 and 165, knotting the dual at 12 with four matches left. Young scored three takedowns in a 9-5 win over Wyatt Sheets. Marinelli recorded his ninth pin of the year in 2:45 over Jonce Blaylock.
"Just went out there and did my job," Marinelli said. "I knew the team score was going to be close. I had to get bonus points in whatever way I had to. A pin is what I wanted, and what I always want. My mind was trying to rip his head off right away."
But the Cowboys took over from 174 on — a pin from Chandler Rogers, ranked 10th at 165, over Mitch Bowman at 174 pounds; a 6-3 decision from Jacobe Smith over Cash Wilcke at 184; a 5-3 decision from Preston Weigel over Jacob Warner at 197 to officially clinch the dual; then a 3-1 decision from Derek White over Sam Stoll at heavyweight for the icing on the cake.
Oklahoma State won this dual is most every facet, scoring more total match points, 44-40, and more takedowns, 10-7. From 174 through heavyweight, the dual’s decisive weights, the Hawkeyes scored just 10 match points and recorded zero takedowns.
"The bottom line is, you come out and wrestle seven minutes in your positions," Brands said. "It doesn't take someone too intelligent to say those things. It was glaring out there.
"This was an important dual to Oklahoma State. This was an important dual to Iowa. It looked like it was more important to Oklahoma State. That means we've got work to do."
So it’s not quite back to the drawing board for the Hawkeyes, but Sunday’s dual should be considered a humbling experience, nonetheless. The Big Ten Championships are just two weeks away. The NCAA Championships are two weeks after that, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Hawkeyes rebounded from a poor conference tournament to storm to a third-place NCAA finish last season. Second-place is up for grabs at both this season. After losing to the Cowboys, Iowa now knows just how hard that fight is going to be.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
No. 3 Oklahoma State 27, No. 5 Iowa 12
125: No. 4 Nick Piccininni (OSU) over No. 2 Spencer Lee (IA) by fall, 4:55
133: No. 2 Daton Fix (OSU) dec. No. 3 Austin DeSanto (IA), 2-0
141: No. 16 Kaid Brock (OSU) dec. No. 23 Max Murin (IA), 8-6
149: No. 10 Pat Lugo (IA) dec. No. 5 Kaden Gfeller (OSU), 7-4
157: No. 7 Kaleb Young (IA) dec. Wyatt Sheets (OSU), 9-5
165: No. 2 Alex Marinelli (IA) over Jonce Blaylock (OSU) by fall, 2:45
174: Chandler Rogers (OSU) over Mitch Bowman (IA) by fall, 5:30
184: No. 10 Jacobe Smith (OSU) dec. No. 15 Cash Wilcke (IA), 6-3
197: No. 6 Preston Weigel (OSU) dec. No. 4 Jacob Warner (IA), 5-3
285: No. 2 Derek White (OSU) dec. No. 7 Sam Stoll (IA), 3-1
Rankings from Trackwrestling