Iowa vs. Oklahoma State. This is college wrestling at its absolute best.
These two storied programs have combined for 58 NCAA titles, and, on Saturday night at 9 p.m. ET under the lights at Globe Life Field, the Cowboys and the Hawkeyes will battle it out once again for dual meet glory and rivalry pride. This year's contest will be just a little different though, as the match will take place in the unique setting of a baseball stadium, allowing a potentially record number of fans to cheer on these two historic teams. Here are the five things to know before Iowa and Oklahoma State compete against each other in the Bout at the Ballpark showdown.
1. Oklahoma State leads the all-time series against the Hawkeyes in this historic rivalry
Iowa and Oklahoma State — two of the most legendary teams in NCAA history — know what it feels like to win, and neither team wants to leave Globe Life Field with anything less than a dominating victory. In the 54 times that Iowa and Oklahoma State have wrestled each other, the Cowboys have won 29 of those matches (29-23-2), holding a just small edge in the rivalry that Iowa will hope to chip away at on Saturday. Under current Oklahoma State head coach John Smith, the Cowboys are 18-12-1 against Iowa, and he'll be looking to make a statement with Texas while trying to guide his team to a top-15 upset.
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The last time these teams met, however, way back in February 2020, the Hawkeyes beat up on the Pokes, topping them 34-6 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Oklahoma State's Wyatt Sheets and Anthony Montalvo were the only two athletes to pick up wins for the Cowboys, while Iowa's Pat Lugo headlined the event for the Hawkeyes with his first career pin, on senior night against then No. 6 Boo Lewallen.
This year, Iowa will once again have the edge on paper, but they'll be outside of the confines of their own arena, competing in front of thousands of fans from across the country who will arrive with the hopes of seeing a show. This Bout at the Ballpark dual will mark the first time the Hawkeyes and the Cowboys will be competing at a neutral site since 2007, and Oklahoma State will be hoping that mitigates some of the Carver-Hawkeye Arena momentum to spurred Iowa to such success in their last meeting. There will be thousands of eyes on this match. What can Oklahoma State do?
2. The Cowboys are looking to rebound after losing three of their last four matches
Despite coming into the season as a serious threat to win a team trophy, Oklahoma State has hit a rough patch recently, dropping to Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Missouri all within the last two weeks and slipping from No. 4 to No. 12 in the national rankings. Oklahoma State has a deep squad with 10 ranked wrestlers, when all their starters compete, but this road bump is still noteworthy.
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The absence of Oklahoma State's 197-pound NCAA champion AJ Ferrari has been a huge blow to the Cowboys point-scoring potential as Ferrari has missed the last several weeks after a life-threatening car accident that resulted in him being airlifted to the hospital. Ferrari, who updated his fans on social media earlier this week, appears to be recovering and has suggested that he expects to be back on the mat soon, though he's understandably not listed as a probable starter for the Bout at the Ballpark. Instead, Oklahoma State will be expected to field Gavin Stika, a sophomore who is 12-6 on the year and will have a tough task ahead of him against No. 4 Jacob Warner of Iowa who is 12-2 on the year with his only losses coming against All-American Max Dean and Iowa State's Yonger Bastida. Missing Ferrari will hurt the Cowboys, both from an energy standpoint and a point-scoring standpoint, but the Oklahoma State team does have another leader who has been known to be a sparkplug for his squad.
NCAA finalist Daton Fix continues to impress and set a tone for his team, and he's one of just two Cowboys who went undefeated during this recent stretch of three nearly consecutive losses to Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Missouri. Ranked No. 2 in the country, Fix is 14-0 on the year with a 71.43% bonus rate, but he'll have his hands full this weekend when he prepares to take on Iowa's No. 3 Austin DeSanto. These two wrestlers have met just twice, once in the 2019 dual — when Fix rode out DeSanto in Gallagher-Iba Arena for a 2-0 victory to send a message about his strength and power — and once in the 2021 NCAA tournament where Fix squeaked out a 3-2 win over the Hawkeye. This matchup has it all: a contrast of styles, two distinct wrestling personalities and a history of competitiveness that will all come to fruition on Saturday night.
Speaking of impressive Cowboys and ranked Iowa opponents, Oklahoma State's No. 13 Kaden Gfeller has also quietly been putting up notable results, wrestling to a 12-1 record so far and winning all four of his last bouts during the team's challenging period. His only loss so far this season has come against Jaden Abas of Stanford in his first match of the year, but, since then, the fifth-year junior has been undefeated and bonused nearly 40% of his opponents. His Iowa foe this weekend, No. 10 Max Murin, will be new for him, as these two have never met but have competed in similar weight classes across their college careers. Gfeller started his tenure with the Cowboys at 149 pounds, finishing his first year as a starter with a 28-6 record and a national tournament appearance. Murin's results were similar, as his first season, also in 2019, saw him post a 17-10 record but advance to the Round of 12 at NCAAs. Murin would qualify for the tournament twice more and ending up the Blood Round again last year while Gfeller worked to find his rhythm in the Oklahoma State lineup, wrestling just a few matches at 141 over the last two years before bumping up to 149 where he looks to be a different wrestler. Gfeller has momentum, but Murin is as solid and fundamental on the mat as they come. Oklahoma State will want to pick up a win here to stay in the hunt, but expect this one to be close.
3. Questions about 125 pounds impact both teams
While Iowa and Oklahoma State, on their best days, bring 10 ranked wrestlers each to the mat, injuries and illnesses have impacted both programs over the course of the season, and, for the Hawkeyes, no weight has been more impacted than 125 pounds. Iowa started the year with redshirt freshman Jesse Ybarra holding down the spot, but the expectation was that Ybarra would wrestle a few matches only while three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee continued to recover from his ACL tear last March. Ybarra was solid, posting a 1-1 record against Army and Iowa State before stepping aside for Lee at the Collegiate Duals. The veteran lightweight champion Lee posted three comfortable wins against Brock Berglein, Janet Lane and Jakob Camacho before opting to undergo surgery and take a medical redshirt for the remainder of the season.
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Enter Drake Ayala, the superstar recruit and true freshman who came into the lineup at the start of the new year and took a tough loss to Pat McKee before beating Purdue's Devin Schroder, Northwestern's Michael DeAugustino and Illinois's Justin Cardani. Ayala, however, hasn't been in the lineup since his sudden victory loss to Malik Heinselman of Ohio State, as Ybarra has been back wrestling against Penn State and Wisconsin. Both Ybarra and Ayala are listed as probables for the dual, but it's hard to make any predictions here as Oklahoma State also has two probables listed, one of whom is still in redshirt.
Watch Ayala wrestle DeAugustino below:
The Cowboys' initial starter, NCAA Round of 16 wrestler Trevor Mastrogiovanni, wrestled to an impressive 12-1 so far this season with his only loss coming against Iowa State’s Kysen Terukina, but Mastrogiovanni sat against Missouri and is listed as just one of two probables. Redshirt freshman Alex Yokubaitis instead earned the start against the Tigers, but he's not listed on the list of probables this weekend either. Instead, redshirt Cooper Birdwell, who is 9-2 thus far this year in open tournaments is included on the list of potential staters along with Mastrogiovanni. If Mastrogiovanni starts, and Iowa sits Ayala, the advantage leans Oklahoma State, but if Birdwell goes against Ybarra, Iowa would likely be favored. If Mastrogiovanni and Ayala wrestle each other, fans are in for a treat and a potential NCAA finals Round of 12 type matchup, but Oklahoma State will need to look for team points at this weight regardless of who takes the mat.
4. New faces and veterans opponents set to clash
Iowa's reputation as a team of experienced veterans has been a source of joy, intrigue and amusement for fans, wrestlers and Iowans alike, but this squad does bring a level of comfort to high-level matches that makes them dangerous in these rivalry matches.
Iowa's oldest and most experienced leader, Michael Kemerer, comes into the dual as a seventh-year senior with a career record of 116-11, and he's 4-0 against the Cowboys, having beaten Oklahoma State All-American Joe Smith three times and backup Jonce Baylock once. He'll likely take on No. 10 Dustin Plott for one of three expected top-10 matchups in the dual, but Plott is only just beginning what is expected to be a long and successful wrestling career for the Cowboys. The true sophomore is 26-8 in his career with two of those losses coming against Sean Harman of Missouri and Lance Runyon of Northern Iowa. Plott's best win is No. 11 Michael O'Malley, but Kemerer is on a different level.
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This isn't the only weight class though where Iowa's experience and skill could be a problem for young Cowboys. At 141 pounds, the Hawks are expected to send forward NCAA finalist Jaydin Eierman, another seventh-year senior who will face off against an underclassmen, in his case true freshman Carter Young, for a battle between one have been on the biggest NCAA stage and one who is setting himself up for that as well. Young, who impressed in late fall with a third place finish at senior World Team has been solid this year and continues to improve, as he's currently 8-4 on the year with recent Ls against Ian Parker and Clay Carlson in decision matches. Much like Plott's dual against Kemerer, Young has an NCAA finalist opponent who has a history of domination, but if he can slow down Eierman, he could work to compete.
Oklahoma State has both an experience and a rankings advantage at 184 pounds though where All-American No. 11 Dakota Geer is set to face off against Iowa's No. 15 Abe Assad, a redshirt sophomore who has been wrestling tough against some of the best in the country. These two have never met, but Geer has a slightly better record by just one win, holding an 11-3 resume compared to Assad's 10-4 stat. This match will be close, and Geer offers Assad an important test against someone who has been on the podium before and knows how to win when it matters. The Cowboys will be counting on Geer to keep momentum rolling at the upperweights before heavyweight, when Iowa's Tony Cassioppi, who has becoming known as a dangerous, more athletic heavyweight pinner, takes the mat against Surber.
Outside of 184 pounds, Iowa really has the advantage on paper most of the way through the dual, though all of these ranked bouts are fun. No. 12 Kaleb Young vs. No. 18 Wyatt Sheets at 157 pounds has intrigue because Iowa's Young has both dropped matches that he was in contention to win, and he's also beaten NCAA finalists. Young beat Sheets in their last meeting 3-2, but he lost the previous year 9-4, so this one is up in the air.
Following 157 pounds though is a top-ten matchup between Iowa's No. 5 Alex Marinelli and Oklahoma State's No. 8 Travis Wittlake. The Cowboy fourth-year sophomore just wrestled Mizzou's Keegan O'Toole tight, and he also held Marinelli to a tight 3-2 decision in their last meeting. Wittlake actually outplaced Marinelli at last year's NCAA tournament, finishing fourth while Marinelli injury defaulted out after dropping in sudden victory in Shane Griffith, but the Hawkeye has the rankings advantage and is considered to be potentially more dangerous, particularly after his gritty win against Wisconsin's Dean Hamiti and his major decision against Penn State's Brady Berge. These middle weights are where things could get really interesting though, and this is where the Cowboys will need to break through and pull off some upsets to keep themselves in the hunt.
5. Bout at the Ballpark will have an international element
One of the biggest, additional elements of this Bout at the Ballpark, originally, was the international element and the potential of Team Iran traveling in to take on the U.S. Senior World and National team members, including Oklahoma State's Daton Fix in a freestyle match. Visa complications interfered with this plan, but a number of NCAA wrestling alums and former champs are still expected to compete in a series of exhibition matches against various international foes.
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See below for a full breakdown of these senior level matches:
Men’s freestyle pairings:
- 57 kg – Thomas Gilman (USA) vs. Darian Cruz (Puerto Rico)
- 61 kg – Daton Fix (USA) vs. Giusseppe Rea (Ecuador)
- 65 kg – Joey McKenna (USA) vs. Kamal Begakov (Tajikistan)
- 70 kg – James Green (USA) vs. Dillon Williams (Canada)
- 74 kg – Jason Nolf (USA) vs. Mitch Finesilver (Israel)
- 79 kg – Jordan Burroughs (USA) vs. Nestor Taffur (Colombia)
- 86 kg – Zahid Valencia (USA) vs. Noel Torres (Mexico)
- 92 kg – Kollin Moore (USA) vs. Evan Ramos (Puerto Rico)
- 97 kg – Kyle Snyder (USA) vs. Zbigniew Baranowski (Poland)
- 125 kg – Nick Gwiazdowski (USA) vs. Zach Merrill (Puerto Rico)
Women’s freestyle pairings:
- 50 kg – Victoria Anthony (USA) vs. Madison Parks (Canada)
- 53 kg – Jacarra Winchester (USA) vs. Dom Parrish (USA)
- 57 kg – Helen Maroulis (USA) vs. Karla Godinez Gonzalez (Canada)
- 62 kg – Kayla Miracle (USA) vs. Ana Godinez Gonzalez (Canada)
- 76 kg – Victoria Francis (USA) vs. Justina DiStasio (Canada)
- 97 kg – G’Angelo Hancock (USA) vs. Ahmed Hassan (Egypt)
The Bout at the Ballpark will have a little bit of everything: experienced Hawkeyes, hungry Cowboys and elite U.S. Olympians and former NCAA champs. This is an event that any wrestling fan won't want to miss.