IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Mother Nature cooperated and 42, 287 showed up. Not a surprise in wrestling-rich Iowa.
The final score mattered little -- Iowa’s Hawkeyes beat old rival Oklahoma State, 18-16, in front of an NCAA record crowd for a collegiate dual meet. It was more about the moment, the spectacle, something never done before. More than 21,000 tickets were gobbled up when tickets originally went on sale. By Friday, the numbers had reached 35,000-plus. By the time the two powerhouse schools took the mat around 11 a.m. (CST) -- with temperatures in the low 50s -- the turnstiles were bursting at the seams, almost European soccer style, as a sea of black and gold squeezed into the south end of Kinnick Stadium.
By the time everyone settled into their seats two bouts into the dual, all involved knew it was a special day.
“Absolutely incredible,” Iowa senior 157-pounder Edwin Cooper said. “It was electric. It’s something I will never forget. To be able to be out there in an Iowa wrestling singlet for something like this, words cannot describe it.”
The festive crowd might have been at its loudest during Cooper’s wild 14-11 loss to Chance Marsteller, a highly-touted redshirt-freshman in orange and black. The familiar roar of Iowa wrestling fans reached a few extra decibels a handful of times as the Hawks won the 50th meeting between the two schools.
Usually reserved for a mid-January date, neither Iowa nor the visiting Cowboys were at its best on Saturday. Each squad won five bouts with a 17-2 technical fall by Sam Brooks at 184 pounds providing key points for the hosts. Oklahoma State, the preseason No. 1, took its first lead of the day when All-American Kyle Crutchmer pulled one out of the fire, beating Alex Meyer, 11-10, in a wild bout at 174 pounds. The Cowboy caught Meyer with an early headlock, then scrambled for a decisive takedown with 33 seconds remaining.
“It was fun,” said Crutchmer, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “The environment was crazy. The best way to not let the fans get to you is to keep scoring. There was a lot of good about it, but not coming back with a team win is pretty upsetting.”
Brooks certainly kept scoring, bringing the crowd back to its feet with a quick and decisive victory.
“I can’t even describe this,” said Brooks, a junior from Oak Park, Illinois. “Nobody will get it, except the people on the mat and the people in the stands.”
All-American Nathan Burak edged Nolan Boyd, 5-foot-3, at 197 pounds to give Iowa an 18-13 advantage with one bout remaining. Austin Marsden beat Iowa rookie Sam Stoll, 6-1, to close the dual, but Iowa picked up its third consecutive victory over Oklahoma State.
Neither program takes losing lightly. However, both sides admitted that Saturday’s festivities were about as good as it gets.
“Never even imagined being part of something like this,” said Brandon Sorenson, a sophomore from nearby Cedar Rapids, who beat Anthony Collica at 149 pounds. “Once my match started it was like any other match, but sitting over there watching and feeling (Kinnick Stadium) was amazing.”
The previous record for attendance at a dual meet was not just broken, it was shattered. Penn State hosted Pittsburgh in front of 15,996 in December 2013. So, what's next?
“It turned out a lot better (than originally thought),” Oklahoma State head coach John Smith said. “A couple of times I looked back and saw all those people along that end down there and it was much greater being a part of it than what thought it would be.
“We definitely set a standard today. I don’t think people are going to sit around and say (Iowa) can have the record. I think it puts pressure on all of us to create great environments for dual meets.”
At the end of the day, everything worked. A few years of planning and organizing were rewarded by an attention-getting showcase for college wrestling in a state that sets the standard for the sport. Penn State, before Saturday, owned the NCAA record. The next 25 on the all-time list belong to matches that included the University of Iowa.
“I noticed that when we walked out there it was hardly any concrete and was all black, and that is what we like” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said. “You could see all the fans way down (to the north of the stadium). It was good. The biggest message is that a place like the University of Iowa, which doesn’t want for fans, is still trying to set the bar higher and higher. That’s what is important. It’s a mentality and a commitment to a program from the administration. It jives with what we do.
“We want to get better every day and want better events every year.”
The 2015-16 season started with a blockbuster in Iowa City. It finishes next March inside Madison Square Garden in New York City.