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Wrestling: DeSanto, Murin return as Iowa defeats Minnesota to win Big Ten regular season title

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Austin DeSanto and Max Murin made their long-awaited returns to the Iowa wrestling team’s starting lineup Saturday night — and their efforts helped the top-ranked Hawkeyes secure the Big Ten’s regular-season dual meet title.

Iowa clobbered the fifth-ranked Gophers, 35-6, inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. An announced 12,608 came to see the Hawkeyes win eight of 10 matches and score bonus in five of them. They improved to 12-0 overall and finished 9-0 against Big Ten opponents.

Iowa clinched the league’s regular-season championship outright for the first time since 2014-15 after sharing it in 2016 and 2019. The Hawkeyes have won or shared the regular-season crown 12 times since the Big Ten began recognizing a dual meet champ in 1999.

“We get to go upstairs, get some t-shirts, some hats, take a couple of pictures and move on,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “I don’t say that lightly. I say that because that’s what you do.

“It means that you did your job in your conference. Good job. It’s not a slouch conference, and it wasn’t a slouch schedule, either.”

DeSanto’s return and subsequent victory were among Saturday's highlights. After missing two duals with an apparent knee injury, the junior 133-pounder sported a sleeve and knee pad on his right leg and rolled up nine takedowns in a 24-8 technical fall over Boo Dryden.

“Good stuff there,” Brands said. “Nothing held him back. He wrestled pretty smart for the most part. Wrestle your match, stud.”

DeSanto’s win put the Hawkeyes up 15-6 midway through the dual. In the three contested matches before his — Spencer Lee took a forfeit at 125 — Iowa had scored 20 total match points and just five takedowns.

The Hawkeyes took the final five after the intermission. On the whole, they rolled up 29 takedowns to Minnesota’s six and managed an 85-40 advantage in total match points. Iowa also won three straight close bouts to begin the dual’s second half.

At 141, Murin took the mat for the first time since falling to Nebraska’s Chad Red on Nov. 18. On Saturday, he took out fourth-ranked Mitch McKee, 6-4, in overtime. After trading takedowns in regulation, Murin connected on a re-shot 42 seconds into sudden victory, which brought the crowd to its feet.

“It felt amazing” to be back, said Murin, who’s 11-1 this season and entered Saturday ranked No. 7 nationally by Trackwrestling. “He’s a really good wrestler, and I was having a hard time getting to my offense, just on normal shots.

“But there was a little opening for the re-shots … it was a big relief. It felt really good, and an awesome team win, too.”

Pat Lugo followed with a hard-fought 3-2 win over fifth-ranked Brayton Lee at 149. Lugo finished a quick shot in the first period, then used a strong underhook and savvy defense to fend off a handful of Lee attempts late.

Kaleb Young capped the run with a 5-4 win over Ryan Thomas at 157. They traded takedowns in regulation, then Young nearly finished the match with a takedown in sudden victory. He ultimately won in the rideout tiebreaker, escaping after riding Thomas for 30 seconds.

“You win those three matches, you come away with five victories out of the 10 matches, and that would’ve been a better feeling,” Minnesota coach Brandon Eggum said. “What’s done is done. We lost a few close ones, and every one of them was different.

“The biggest thing is belief and focusing on the things you can control. It’s easy when you’re out there to get caught up in winning and losing versus just competing. Focus on the habits you need to do to be successful. That’s part of having a young team.”

Had Minnesota found a way to flip a couple of those matches, this dual might’ve been a lot more interesting. The Gophers actually won two of the first three matches — Owen Webster beat Cash Wilcke, 3-2, at 184, then top-ranked heavyweight Gable Steveson topped Tony Cassioppi, 7-5 — for an early 6-4 lead.

Iowa's Austin DeSanto, right, wrestles Minnesota's Boo Dryden at 133 pounds during a NCAA Big Ten Conference wrestling dual, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Jacob Warner first put Iowa on the board with a 13-4 major decision over Hunter Ritter, wherein he scored five takedowns. Then came Lee’s win by forfeit, then DeSanto’s explosive return. Then five straight wins, capped by an Alex Marinelli technical fall and a Michael Kemerer pin that sent the crowd into a frenzy as they walked toward the exits.

“There’s always things that nag at ya,” Brands said. “You try to be positive and you try to make sure that you put your professional voice out there. It can’t be all candor. But yeah, I like where we’re at. It’s always onward. We have to get better.”

This dual was workmanlike from start to finish for Iowa, a microcosm of its season to this point. In their nine Big Ten duals, the Hawkeyes went 75-15 in individual matches and scored bonus points in 25 of them. They posted two shutouts, won two more by taking nine matches and another three by winning eight.

In short, Iowa won the toughest wrestling conference in dominant fashion. The Hawkeyes have looked every bit like the nation’s No. 1 team this season, and after next Sunday’s home dual against No. 9 Oklahoma State, all that remains is the all-important postseason.

The last time Iowa won the Big Ten regular-season title outright was also the last year it truly contended for a national team title. The Hawkeyes let that opportunity slip away during those ever-so-crucial three days in March. This year's team has other plans.

“It’s always onward,” Brands said. “We have to get better. We have to get ready for the Big Ten Championships and the national tournament, coming right up around the corner.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

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No. 1 Iowa 35, No. 5 Minnesota 6

  • 184: No. 16 Owen Webster (MN) dec. Cash Wilcke (IA), 3-2
  • 197: No. 5 Jacob Warner (IA) maj. dec. No. 25 Hunter Ritter (MN), 13-4
  • 285: No. 1 Gable Steveson (MN) dec. No. 3 Tony Cassioppi (IA), 7-5
  • 125: No. 1 Spencer Lee (IA) win by forfeit
  • 133: No. 3 Austin DeSanto (IA) tech. fall Boo Dryden (MN), 24-8
  • 141: No. 7 Max Murin (IA) dec. No. 4 Mitch McKee (MN), 6-4 (SV1)
  • 149: No. 4 Pat Lugo (IA) dec. No. 5 Brayton Lee (MN), 3-2
  • 157: No. 4 Kaleb Young (IA) dec. No. 32 Ryan Thomas (MN), 5-4 (TB1)
  • 165: No. 2 Alex Marinelli (IA) tech. fall Kasper McIntosh (MN), 21-6
  • 174: No. 1 Michael Kemerer (IA) over No. 8 Devin Skatzka (MN) by fall, 2:52

Rankings from Trackwrestling.