IOWA CITY - Unfortunate and unacceptable.
When the 2013-14 college wrestling season schedules were originally released, one glaring aspect stood out. The two Big Ten programs that accounted for the last six NCAA Division I and conference team titles were not going to cross paths for the first time since 1982.
The situation was not ideal for the University of Iowa and Penn State, their fans and the sport in general.
The leaders of the program, and of amateur wrestling, went to work. Like many times in the past, Tom Brands and Cael Sanderson scored a win when they managed to add a non-conference dual between two of the sport's top powers. The third-ranked Hawkeyes host No. 1 Penn State Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, beginning at 8 p.m. The dual will be televised on BTN.
“It was a big deal to make it happen at prime time and do the things that they did and move some things around that did,” Brands said. “I don’t want that to be the focus. I know it’s a big deal (and) important to talk about. We’re more about the performance but sometimes for the better of the sport you have to put energy into things like this.”
Both coaches were determined to take action and make the dual come to fruition.
“I think Coach Brands and I decided we needed to take the bull by the horns and we need to make sure this dual meet happens and just kind of reinforce the fact of how big dual meets are right now,” Sanderson told Centre Daily Times. “I don’t think you have to look too far to see that’s the case.”
The event was a collaborative effort between the Brands, Sanderson, Iowa and Penn State administrations, and Iowa athletics and academics. During the team's annual media day before the season, Brands said the tip-off for the Hawkeyes' women's basketball Saturday game was affected, as was Iowa's December graduation. He also praised Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta for his contribution.
"That means wrestling is important," Brands said at media day. "It means it's important to our administration for them to fight and do things. It's a battle because it's another thing on your plate when the plate is already full."
The dual's planning garnered a lot of attention when it moved to social media. Brands and Sanderson exchanged messages, teasing the fact they were hashing out a dual before the holiday break. They discussed the possibility well before Brands opened a Twitter account.
The possibility of scheduling issues emerged when Nebraska became the Big Ten's 12th program. Brands said talks began at last year's U.S. Open wrestling tournament and then occurred again at this year's U.S. World Team Trials in Stillwater, Okla. Things picked up during the summer.
“We were at training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., and that’s when it started to get traction," Brands said. "That’s when you started talking to your administration about the possibilities of it.”
The Big Ten adds Rutgers and Maryland for the 2014-15 academic year, adding to schedule headaches. According to Brands, conference meetings in May declared each program will have one protected rival. Although border programs remain important to Brands and the Hawkeyes, it seemed natural for Penn State to currently serve that role.
“Just because where both programs are at now,” Brands said. “If one of us starts to suck, then it probably doesn’t make sense. As long as both programs are where they are now, it makes sense.
“But, Minnesota makes sense, too, and regionally, Wisconsin and Nebraska make sense.”
Iowa wrestlers share a mentality to be the best you have to face the best, whether it is in practice or in competition. The Hawkeyes understand the opportunity in front of them, getting the chance to face the top-ranked team and defending champions in the regular season. It is good for all involved.
“Any chance we can get to line up a dual like this is, especially being at home, is exciting for our fans and that’s exciting for us,” said Moore, who will face No. 1-ranked and three-time NCAA finalist David Taylor at 165 pounds. “That’s what we want to wrestle. We don’t want to pad our schedule where nobody is coming to town to wrestle us.”
The wrestlers went about their business, preparing for the opponents on the slate. Ethen Lofthouse said he was "bummed" at first about the possibility of not facing the Nittany Lions. The change everyone had something to look forward to before the holidays.
“You deal with what’s there and then all of a sudden they get on the schedule," said Lofthouse, who faces top-ranked and defending national champ Ed Ruth at 184. "It was a little ways down the road but now it is here there is a lot of energy and a lot of good wrestling to look forward to.”
Iowa's sixth-ranked 174-pounder Mike Evans was open about his reaction when it was first released, but had faith in his coach that it would be rectified.
“A little angry about that,” Evans said. “We have a coach like Tom Brands. We know he’s not going to let that go.”
The efforts have brought together two potent lineups, including 21 of 28 wrestlers listed as a possible starters that are ranked in one of three national polls. Iowa has won five of the last six meetings between the two teams, including a 22-16 win a year ago at CHA.
“Nothing has changed in my mind from a complete team point of view,” Brands said. “We have to have output from 10 weights.
“We have to wrestle solidly in our positions for the entire match. Whatever makes that happen, we have to have that happen from our guys now.”
Bonus points will be vital for both teams. Success could hinge on how many a team earns, but how many are allowed. The Hawkeyes have to take advantage when the chances arise.
“Get the bonus points,” Brands said. “Get yourself in a position where you can get them and when you have an opportunity slam the door.”
There are a number of swing matches. At 125, Iowa's fourth-ranked red-shirt freshman Cory Clark, who replaces three-time NCAA finalist Matt McDonough, will face No. 3 Nico Megaludis, who has been a national runner-up the last two seasons. Tony Ramos said he thinks Clark is one of the best 125-pounders in the country, and that he could earn the key win.
Brands also said Nathan Burak and Sammy Brooks will both be ready to go for Iowa. Burak has yet to wrestle this system due to medical reasons and Brooks has won his last two dual matches. They would likely face undefeated Morgan McIntosh, who is ranked as high as third.
“This is going to be a time for him to show it,” Ramos said. “It’s a high-ranked opponent and two-time national finalist.”
Iowa's Josh Dziewa (141) has a tough battle with freshman Zain Retherford, who is coming off a 4-2 overtime win over two-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber of Ohio State. Evans, ranked sixth, and third-ranked Matt Brown will battle again at 174. They fought to a 4-3 decision won by Evans in this meet last year.“I’m excited to see where other guys on the team are at,” Ramos said. “It’s going to be interesting for a lot of us.”