The first round of a January trifecta took place last Sunday in Stillwater where top-ranked Oklahoma State took care of No. 3 Iowa, 24-11, in front of almost 8,000 fans inside Gallagher-Iba Arena. The second round will draw at least 10,000 when the Hawkeyes host reigning NCAA champion Penn State, ranked second in the latest NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll on Friday inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa continues the 1-2-4 punch with Ohio State on Jan. 27. The Buckeyes are currently ranked No. 4 in the NWCA Poll.
Since moving to Carver-Hawkeye in 1983, Iowa is 236-23 at home. Head coach Tom Brands and the Hawkeyes have won 24 straight Big Ten dual meets. Along with Oklahoma State, winner of 34 NCAA team titles, Iowa, and its 23 championships, have been collegiate wrestling’s premiere programs.
The landscape changed significantly when Penn State, winner of just one NCAA title in 1953, hired four-time NCAA champion Cael Sanderson away from Iowa State. PSU has won five of the last six NCAA titles and will certainly challenge again this March. When the Nittany Lions wrestle, regardless of location, it’s a big deal.
“You know what’s consistently entertaining is consistent winners. Americans love winners. If somebody’s on the fence as far as being a fair-weather fan, they’re going to pick the winner. There’s something to being a fair-weather fan.”
Entertaining and dominant is what PSU has been since Sanderson’s arrival. Entering Friday, PSU (7-0) has won 24 straight duals and is 79-7-2 over the last five seasons in dual meets.
“Our approach is the same every time we wrestle, I mean we wrestle in front of big crowds,” Sanderson said. “Most of the time they’re our fans but you know noise is noise. You have to be focused on what you want.
“We’re excited. This week will be a fun match. Iowa has a great program and a great fan base. It’s not really something we’re dwelling on; we want to win like every other match but it’s just another match. We want to be in there and have fun and be the best we can be and score some points.”
RELATED: USA Today/NWCA Coaches
PSU brings five unbeaten wrestlers to Iowa City. Rookie 125-pounder Nick Suriano is 11-0, while Sanderson’s 1-2 mega-punch of national champion Zain Retherford (149) and NCAA runner-up Jason Nolf (157) are a combined 24-0; Bo Nickal (11-0 at 184) and heavyweight Nick Nevills (11-0) are also perfect in 2016-17. Rookie Vincenzo Joseph (10-1 at 165) and senior 174-pounder Geno Morelli (10-1) are also pretty salty.
Suriano will face top-ranked Thomas Gilman (17-0), who will have 10,000-strong behind him. Two-time NCAA runner-up Cory Clark (9-1) is coming off his first loss at 133 pounds, as is Brandon Sorensen (17-1), who lost to Retherford in 2016 NCAA final. Freshman Michael Kemerer (19-0) is ranked No. 2 and hails from Pennsylvania like Nolf, who is ranked first at 157. Sammy Brooks (16-1) and Nickal is also one to watch, along with the heavyweights Sam Stoll (7-2) and Nevills.
Carver-Hawkeye, no doubt, will be amped on Friday night. Round three of the trifecta takes place next weekend when Ohio State’s Buckeyes visit Iowa City.
“I think that we found out a lot about our team as far as where we need to go,” said OSU head coach John Smith. “It was a match that exposed us. As far as riding on top, we didn’t want to do anything. Guys didn’t want to put any effort into grinding guys out while on top and normally things don’t work out the way that you want in big dual meets when you don’t have that effort on top.
“In the end it definitely showed me an area where we can get better. Overall, though it goes back to what I’ve said all week in that you’ve got to win tough matches.”
OSU (6-0) hosts West Virginia on Friday and No. 19 South Dakota State on Sunday.
Points in bunches
The Hokies host Pittsburgh on Friday and Virginia on Sunday.
Pack still has a bite
Pac 12 supremacy
“The biggest mistake we’re making is deciding how good a team is before we wrestle them instead of knowing how good they are after we wrestle them,” Jones said. “Once you wrestle them, you know exactly how good they are, but before the match, you’re only guessing. We must prepare like everyone we wrestle is a national champion, that way our focus is tight and sharp.
“We have to be ready to go out there every time.”
Stanford went 2-1 during an Eastern road trip, beating Princeton at the New York Athletic Club in New York City before beating Drexel and losing to Penn on Sunday in Philadelphia.
Good matches everywhere
● Michigan, ranked 15th, is at No. 12 Illinois on Friday. All eyes will be on 165 pounds where two-time NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez (15-0) puts his unbeaten record on the line against the Wolverines’ talented redshirt-freshman Logan Massa (18-0).
● Also on Friday, No. 6 Nebraska (9-1) is at Minnesota where Gopher All-American Brett Pfarr (18-1) should square off with NU’s tough senior Aaron Studebaker (21-3).
● No. 10 Cornell (5-2) welcomed back All-American 157-pounder Dylan Palacio last Friday. The senior missed the first semester and could be in the lineup again this weekend when the Big Red wrestle at No. 7 Lehigh (7-1), who features freshman 157-pounder Jordan Kutler (11-1), the Southern Scuffle champion. Saturday’s meeting is the 95th meeting between the programs dating back to 1910. Cornell has won five of the last six.
● Rider entered the rankings last week at No. 25. The Broncs (6-0) host Edinboro on Friday.
“The kids have been working very hard this year and deserve to be recognized for their wins,” said RU’s 39th-year head coach Gary Taylor.“I am pleased that their hard work and accomplishments have been acknowledged by being ranked. The coaching staff of John Hangey, Nic Bedelyon, and Jason Nase have worked hard to prepare these guys and it is paying off.”