Breaking down the Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa wrestling programs' conference tournament performances
It was a busy and important wrestling weekend for Iowa’s three Division I programs.
The Hawkeyes trekked north, to Minneapolis, for the Big Ten tournament, where they took third behind Penn State and Ohio State and qualified eight wrestlers for the NCAA Championships. Alex Marinelli won the title at 165 pounds, and five other Iowa wrestlers finished fourth or better.
Iowa State and Northern Iowa both went south, to Tulsa, for the Big 12 Championships. The Cyclones put on a show, taking second and qualifying nine for nationals. Chase Straw took first at 157 pounds. Combined with a 10-win regular season, Kevin Dresser was named the Big 12 Wrestling Coach of the Year.
The Panthers took third thanks to seven place-winners. They qualified six for the big dance, and Drew Foster won his second straight Big 12 title, marking a first for Northern Iowa.
For those keeping count, that’s 23 wrestlers from Iowa’s big three schools that punched their tickets to the NCAA Championships, set for March 21-23 in Pittsburgh. And more may join them — the wildcard selections will be announced Tuesday, and the full brackets and seeds will be released Wednesday evening.
Before we get there, we offer a breakdown of each team’s conference tournament performance here:
Bonus points: The Hawkeyes went a combined 27-15 over the weekend and scored just five bonus-point wins. Spencer Lee recorded a pin and a major decision. Pat Lugo added a major and Kaleb Young added two as well. That bonus-point win total doesn’t include the two forfeits awarded to Young and Cash Wilcke.
Compared to the rest of the field, five bonus-point wins was … not a lot. Penn State led the way with 15 (4 pins, 2 technical fall, 9 majors). Ohio State and Minnesota each had 10. The Gophers had 2 pins, 2 techs and 6 majors. The Buckeyes posted 2 pins, 1 tech and 7 majors.
Nebraska sat in fourth, with 9 (6, 1 2), followed by Wisconsin, with 7 (4 pins, 3 majors). Iowa tied with Northwestern, which posted 1 technical fall and 4 major decisions.
Match Points: For the tournament, Iowa accumulated 212 total match points, which tied for fourth (the Huskers also scored 212). Penn State was first, with 261, followed by Minnesota (249) and Ohio State (243).
For the Hawkeyes, that’s an average of 5.3 points per match (not counting the forfeits). Of the 40 contested matches, 21 featured an Iowa wrestler scoring five points or more. They went 20-1 in those matches, the lone loss coming from Mitch Bowman’s 20-5 defeat to Michigan State’s Drew Hughes at 174.
That means there were 19 matches that featured Iowa wrestlers scoring four points or fewer. They went 5-14 in those matches. Max Murin won twice, while Young, Wilcke and Alex Marinelli each won once.
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Close Matches: An early theme during Saturday’s quarterfinal round was the number of close matches Iowa lost. In total, the Hawkeyes went 3-9 in matches decided by two points or fewer. Four of those losses came in that quarterfinal round.
The three winners: Marinelli (over Wisconsin’s Evan Wick in the semifinals), Murin (over Illinois’s Michael Carr in the seventh-place match) and Jacob Warner (over Nebraska’s Eric Schultz in the third-place match).
Takedowns: The Hawkeyes scored 56 total takedowns in 40 contested matches. There were 28 matches in which an Iowa wrestler scored a takedown. They went 24-4 in those matches.
There were 12 matches in which an Iowa wrestler did not score a takedown. They went 1-11 in those matches (Wilcke’s 2-1 first-round win over Minnesota’s Brandon Krone was the one win, thanks to riding time.)
Lugo (12), Austin DeSanto (8), Warner (8) and Young (7) combined for 35 takedowns. Put another way, four guys accounted for 63 percent of Iowa’s total. The rest: Marinelli and Wilcke each scored 5, Lee and Murin both had 4, Stoll scored 2 and Bowman scored 1.
Seed Deferential: The Hawkeyes were pretty on-par when compared to their seeds. Six wrestlers finished exactly where they were seeded (Lee took second, Murin seventh, Lugo third, Bowman didn't place, Wilcke fifth and Warner third).
Two wrestled above their seeds (Young finished fourth as the 5 and Marinelli finished first as the two) and two wrestled below (DeSanto took fourth as the two and Stoll didn’t place as the eight).
Now, compare that to the rest of the Big Ten.
Minnesota, which finished fourth behind Iowa, had four wrestlers finish above their seeds, anchored by Ethan Lizak and Mitch McKee’s third-place finishes at 133 and 141, respectively, as six seeds. Nebraska, which took fifth, had three wrestlers finish above their seeds, led by Chad Red’s finals appearance at 141 as the eight.
Michigan, which entered the weekend ranked fourth, nationally, had perhaps the most disappointing weekend, as five wrestlers finished below their seeds. An injury sent Stevan Micic to sixth after earning the one seed at 133. Additionally, true freshman heavyweight Mason Parris finished seventh as the three seed.
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- Alex Marinelli wins conference title as Iowa takes third at Big Ten Championships
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Bonus Points: The Cyclones went a combined 29-14 in contested matches this past weekend, a more-than-solid record that anchored their 114.5 total team points, but they scored just seven bonus-point wins along the way.
Alex Mackall recorded a major and a technical fall at 125. Ian Parker contributed a pair of majors at 141. Austin Gomez added a major at 133, Logan Schumacher scored a first-round pin at 165 and Willie Miklus had a technical fall in the quarterfinals at 197.
Comparatively, Oklahoma State, which finished first with 158 points, recorded 19 bonus-point wins. That’s not a typo: 12 major decisions, 4 technical falls and 3 pins. (We’ll get to Northern Iowa’s numbers down below).
Close Matches: One thing that really helped Iowa State was winning the close matches. In bouts decided by two points or fewer, the Cyclones went 7-1. Gannon Gremmel was the only loss, but he also contributed two such wins, including a 2-0 decision over Northern Iowa’s Carter Isley in the quarterfinals to secure his NCAA bid.
Takedowns: The Cyclones were takedown machines over the weekend. In 43 matches, they combined to score 69 total takedowns. At least six Iowa State wrestlers recorded eight or more during the tournament.
Marcus Coleman (174) led the way, with 11. Mackall, Gomez and Straw, the Big 12 champ at 157 pounds, all recorded 9. Ian Parker (141) and Sam Colbray (184) both added 8.
In all, there were 30 matches in which an Iowa State wrestler scored a takedown. Put another way: The team scored takedowns in 70 percent of their matches this weekend. The Cyclones went 26-4 in those matches and went 3-10 when they did not score a takedown. Gremmel went 2-2 on the weekend and recorded just one takedown — and actually lost that match. He went 2-1 when he didn’t score a takedown.
As a team, Iowa State totaled 275 total match points over the weekend, good for an average of 6.4 points per match.
Seed Deferential: The Cyclones had just one wrestler finished where he was seeded — Miklus, the two seed at 197, finished second. Four others wrestled above their seed: Schumacher finished sixth after not being seeded; Mackall took third as the five; Straw won it as the three seed; and Jarrett Degen took second as the three seed at 149.
Surprisingly, five Iowa State wrestlers finished below their seeds — but just barely. Gomez took third as the two seed; Parker took fourth as the two; Coleman took fifth as the four; Colbray took second as the one; and Gremmel took fifth as the three.
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Bonus Points: Overall, the Panthers went 22-16. That includes Max Thomsen’s extra victory at 149 pounds. He had to wrestle a seventh-place match because the NCAA awarded the weight seven automatic qualifiers for the national tournament.
Still, Northern Iowa finished a distant third behind Oklahoma State and Iowa State, scoring 82 points to edge out fourth-place Oklahoma (78). They were able to do so, in part, because of 11 bonus-point victories from seven different wrestlers.
Jay Schwarm recorded three pins at 125. Thomsen added a technical fall and two major decisions. Josh Alber (141), Taylor Lujan (174), Drew Foster (184) and Carter Isley (285) each scored one major decision. Bryce Steiert (165) added a technical fall.
Close Matches: The Panthers weren’t as successful in the close matches, producing a 4-6 record in bouts decided by two points or fewer. Josh Alber, who entered as the one seed at 141, actually lost his first match to Northern Colorado’s Chris Sandoval, 5-3, but then rebounded to win two close matches in the wrestlebacks on his way to third.
Takedowns: As a team, Northern Iowa collected 50 total takedowns in 38 contested matches. Six different Panther wrestlers scored six or more. Thomsen led the way, with 8. Lujan, Foster and Jack Skudlarczyk, who took sixth at 133, all scored seven. Alber and Steiert both scored six.
In all, the Panthers scored takedowns in 27 of the 38 matches and went 21-6 in those matches. Conversely, they went 1-10 in matches where they didn’t score a takedown.
As a team, Northern Iowa scored 226 total match points, good for an average of 5.9 points per match. That’s not far off Iowa State’s pace. If you remove the total match points from the three Panther wrestlers who didn’t make the podium (Paden Moore at 157, Izaak Shedenheldm at 197, and Isley), their seven place-winners averaged 6.5 points per match, which is right there with Iowa State.
Seed Deferential: The Panthers had a mixed bag when it came to seeding deferential. Three wrestlers finished where they were seeded, four finished below and three wrestled above.
Steiert was the lone wrestler to finish where he was seeded, taking third. Moore and Shedenhelm both entered the tournament unseeded and went a combined 0-4.
The four who finished below their seeds did not help the Panthers’ team prospects. Schwarm entered as the three seed and took fifth, actually losing to Iowa State’s Mackall in the wrestlebacks. Alber entered as the one and took third after a first-round loss. Thomsen entered as the two seed and ultimately took seventh. Isley was given the six seed and went 1-2, losing to Iowa State’s Gremmel in the quarterfinals.
Two of the three who wrestled above their seeds weren’t a huge surprise — Lujan finished second as the three seed and Foster won it as the two seed. Both won Big 12 titles a year ago. The third was Skudlarczyk, who entered unseeded and went 3-3 to take sixth, missing out on an NCAA bid by just one spot.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.