#1 Iowa 22, #14 Minnesota 10: Ho-Hum Hawkeyes

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#1 Iowa wrestling won their 25th consecutive dual meet on Friday night over #14 Minnesota, their eighth straight victory over the Gophers and fourth straight at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They won seven of ten matches on the evening, including the first four matches of the dual, which allowed them to open up a 13-0 lead. Michael Kemerer made his long-awaited season debut at 174 lbs, while true freshman Drake Ayala made his Iowa (and Carver-Hawkeye) debut at 125 lbs. Ayala is replacing the injured Spencer Lee, who shut down his season earlier in the week and had successful knee surgery earlier in the day on Friday (per Cody Goodwin of The Des Moines Register). 

On paper, this dual meet featured Iowa’s strongest possible lineup, with two returning NCAA finalists, seven returning All-Americans, and their highest-upside option at 125 lbs. But this overall performance was anything but strong. With a few exceptions, this was a lethargic performance, one that looked more like a team going through the motions than the top-ranked team in the country and one hungry to defend its national title. They still have time to reach that level — this is still only January 7 and we’re still over two months away from the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments — but based on this showing, there’s quite a bit of work for Iowa to do to get to that point. 

#1 Iowa 22, #11 Minnesota 10

WEIGHT WINNER RESULT LOSER TEAM SCORE
165 #1 Alex Marinelli DEC (6-5) Cael Carlson IOWA 3-0
174 #2 Michael Kemerer DEC (9-2) #23 Bailee O’Reilly IOWA 6-0
184 #18 Abe Assad MAJ DEC (12-4) Sam Skillings IOWA 10-0
197 #5 Jacob Warner DEC (6-4) #30 Michial Foy IOWA 13-0
285 #1 Gable Steveson MAJ DEC (17-7) #6 Tony Cassioppi IOWA 13-4
125 #7 Pat McKee DEC (8-6) Drake Ayala IOWA 13-7
133 #3 Austin DeSanto DEC (7-5) #24 Jake Gliva IOWA 16-7
141 #2 Jaydin Eierman DEC (6-2) #19 Jake Bergeland IOWA 19-7
149 #12 Max Murin DEC (3-1) #25 Michael Blockhus IOWA 22-7
285 #4 Brayton Lee DEC (4-3) #12 Kaleb Young IOWA 22-10

A few thoughts: 

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  • The dual started at 165, which in years past would have given Alex Marinelli an opportunity to provide a spark and get Iowa off to a fiery start. He did not. After going down 2-0 early, Marinelli grinded back to tie the match at 3-3 after the first period. It wasn’t until the third period that Marinelli was able to lodge another takedown (the match-winning takedown, as it turned out) and the whole performance from Marinelli just felt very… labored. But, again, he was hardly the only Hawkeye for whom that was true tonight. 
     
  • As noted, Michael Kemerer made his much-anticipated season debut tonight, sporting a shoulder brace that provided a clear answer for why we had not yet seen him in competition this season. Despite that brace, though, Kemerer looked pretty good and got off to a hot start, scoring a pair of takedowns in the first period to open up an early lead. He wasn’t really able to maintain that tempo, though, nor was he able to twist O’Reilly on the mat for near fall points or a pin. He was clearly the better wrestler, but he wasn’t able to make that clear via bonus points, which is a surprise for a wrestler who’s been one of Iowa’s more reliable bonus-point scorers over the past four five six seven seasons.
     
  • In fact the only Iowa bonus points in the entire dual meet came from an unexpected source: Abe Assad, wrestling his first match of the season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (and sporting a very shaggy haircut). But Assad was one of the few bright spots for Iowa tonight, he wrestled with energy and aggression through all three periods, finally securing a takedown to lock up a major decision with under 30 seconds remaining in the match. This Assad was a very welcome sight indeed. 
     
  • Jacob Warner made it 4/4 for Iowa to start the dual and it looked at first like he too might be able to put together a comfortable win and perhaps threaten bonus points; he started fast out of the gate and scored a pair of early takedowns to take firm control of the match. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot of action after that and the third period was spent fending off Foy and trying to hang on for the victory. I think we’re beyond expecting bonus points from Warner in most of his matches, but it would be nice to not have to sweat quite so many 1- and 2-point wins, especially against wrestlers far down the rankings. 
     
  • The biggest bonus point showcase of the dual came at 285, to no one’s surprise. Gable Steveson is not just on another level than Tony Cassioppi (and every other collegiate heavyweight), he’s essentially on another plane of reality. Cassioppi couldn’t touch Steveson, could barely slow him down, and was fortunate to fend off a few near fall (or pin) opportunities at times. Steveson was so good and so entertaining that he got a standing ovation from the Iowa crowd at the end of the match. Hey, Iowa fans can certainly recognize (and acknowledge) great wrestling, no matter the color of the singlet that’s producing the dominant performance. This was likely Steveson’s last performance ever in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and he made sure to put on a show for the sellout crowd. 
     
  • Minnesota made it two wins in a row with Pat McKee’s tense and thrilling 8-6 decision win over Drake Ayala. McKee has beaten Ayala three times this season (and twice in the span of a week now), but they’ve all been close matches. Ayala scored first in this match to take the lead, but McKee hit back with an explosive attack near the end of the second period that caught Ayala off-guard and briefly put him on his back. That ended up a four-point move and gave McKee a lead he wouldn’t relinquish. He added another takedown in the third off a very sudden blast double attack off a re-shot, before Ayala scored again with a takedown on the edge with only seconds remaining. Ayala looked like he belonged with one of the top guys at this weight, though, so it should be fun to see how he develops in the lineup over the next few months. 
     
  • Austin DeSanto stopped the bleeding for Iowa at just back-to-back losses, but like several other Iowa wrestlers tonight, he too had a curiously flat performance. It started well enough, with DeSanto scoring a few early takedowns, but the action mostly dried up after that; I think DeSanto had just one takedown in the final two periods. Gliva’s only points came off escapes, but by the end of the match, DeSanto was basically just hanging on ’til the end, which is an uncommon situation to find him in, especially against a lower-ranked opponent. 
     
  • Jaydin Eierman didn’t exactly provide a lot of fireworks at 141 lbs, either. He got an early takedown, but only scored one other takedown in the match, scoring two other points on an escape and riding time, and rarely seemed to get out of second gear in this match. I suppose this is an improvement from the big holes he was digging himself in his last few matches, but it’s still frustrating when we know the explosive bonus point potential that Eierman possesses. 
     
  • Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a Max Murin match came down to a single takedown late in the third period. Murin and Blockhus wrestled a scoreless first period, then traded escapes to start the second and third periods, before Murin staved off overtime with a sharp takedown with under 15 seconds to go in the match. He’s done that a lot, but it’s a very nerve-wracking way to win and when you wrestle that many close matches, you’re going to get burned more than a few times. 
     
  • The last match of the evening was at 157 lbs and featured strong action between Kaleb Young and #4 Brayton Lee. Young got the better of Lee in the first period, scoring a takedown out of a wild scramble situation and he wrestled well after that, preserving his lead until late in the third. Alas, he got caught flat-footed on a sudden attack from Lee late in the third and that takedown proved the difference. 149 and 157 showed both sides of the coin of what happens when you let a match come down to a single score late in the third period. Some of those will go in your favor — but not all of them. 

Iowa doesn’t have long to dwell on this performance — they’re back in action against #15 Purdue on Sunday. The Boilermakers upset #9 Nebraska earlier tonight, so they should enter Sunday’s dual meet with plenty of confidence. Hopefully we see a more fiery and energetic performance from Iowa as well. 

NEXT: #1 Iowa hosts #15 Purdue (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten) on Sunday, January 9 (2 PM CT, BTN).