OKLAHOMA CITY – Persistence powered Nathan Burak to a new achievement.
Burak found a way to break through a stingy opponent on a day that seemed like everything was a battle and a struggle for the University of Iowa.
The Hawkeyes stumbled early, but rebounded to advance a tournament-best six into the quarterfinals and climb back into a fourth-place tie with Oklahoma in the team race after the first day of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Thursday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Hawkeyes and Sooners have 20 ½ points, trailing leader Penn State by 6 ½.
Burak scored a takedown with two seconds remaining for a 4-3 win over Bloomsburg’s sixth-seeded Richard Perry, and reach the national quarterfinals for the first time.
“It felt good,” Burak said. “I had to keep going.”
Burak overcame a tendency to be tentative and released a strong offensive attack. The sense of urgency kicked in the final minute, resulting a number of consecutive shots before the winning score came on the edge of the mat.
“Just keep wrestling the whole time,” Burak said. “Just attacking and flowing into the next attack. I was just staying on him.”
“It’s big,” Burak said. “It really solidifies what my coaches have been telling me to keep going and stay after his legs and it will be in my favor.”
The flurry that produced the decisive score showed progress from Burak, who hadn’t pulled through in similar situations previously. He even demonstrated improvement in being able to finish quickly after initiating a takedown. Burak was better, but more work remains.
“That is probably the most work I’ve seen Burak do to score in a situation like that,” Brands said. “There were some positive things.”
Burak (18-5) is a win away from all-America honors. He faces Virginia Tech’s Chris Penny (27-11), who upset Penn State’s Morgan McIntosh, 3-2. Burak beat Penny, 9-7, in sudden-victory overtime at the Midlands Championships in December. He’s excited for the “tough” opponent, but will try to maintain his momentum in the quarterfinals.
“Stay positive and get after it,” Burak said. “Focus on what worked. It worked because I kept going. I have to keep attacking and get after it.”
The Hawkeyes will have to secure more scores tomorrow. In most matches, every point was a challenge. For Brands, why is irrelevant, and the Hawkeyes need wrestle to their capability.
“Let’s not try and figure it out,” Brands said. “Let’s go out with some action. Go out and do action. We have a lot of ability.”
Mike Evans (27-4) powered through for a pair of decisions. He advanced to the quarterfinals with a 7-3 win over Bloomsburg’s Mike Dessino.
“It was average,” Evans said. “My opponents were withholding points from me. I’m going to have to do more to break open that barrier, but this time of the year it’s about winning, making it to the next day and the next match.”
Evans had a little more success when the Hawkeyes scored 5 ½ bonus points, posting a 16-4 overall mark, which included a 9-1 Thursday night. He answered when opponents attempted to strategize against him.
“I think some of our guys are waiting,” Evans said. “They’re not used to guys holding points from them. Not used to guys having a game plan every single match.”
Tony Ramos (29-2) posted two two-point wins, scoring a takedown 28 seconds into the one-minute sudden-victory overtime period for a 4-2 win over Illinois Zane Richards to reach the quarterfinals. He got behind Richards, locking up a cradle for a takedown after Richards played the edge most of the mat.
“He knew he had to go or he was going to get hit soon,” Ramos said. “I was pressuring and pressuring. When you pressure a guy, you can feel it coming. I felt it coming and went behind.”
Ramos appeared annoyed by the lack of aggressiveness by his opponents. It will be up to him to dictate the action at a higher pace. He faces Lehigh’s sixth-seeded Mason Beckman in the quarterfinals.
“If they’re going to run, I’ve got to do something about it,” Ramos said. “Guys don’t want to wrestle. Hopefully, I’ll get somebody who wants to wrestle.”
Iowa’s red-shirt freshman Cory Clark (19-2) opened with a technical fall and then beat Wyoming’s No. 9 Tyler Cox, 8-5. Brands said he liked Clark’s effort to score, but needs to be in more control.
“We want him to be reckless in a good way,” Brands said. “There were times when he was a bit reckless in a not-so good way.”
Defending NCAA champion and second-seeded Derek St. John (27-4) is looking for his third straight finals appearance and moved within a win of becoming Iowa’s 18th four-time All-American. Heavyweight Bobby Telford (24-5) also moved into the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win over Maryland’s Spencer Myers.
Iowa suffered two big upsets in the opening round when No. 5 seeds Nick Moore (165) and 184-pounder Ethen Lofthouse lost. They rebounded with major decisions in the consolation, as did Josh Dziewa at 141.
“Any time you’re getting bonus points, that is what you want,” Brands said. “We have to keep putting that nail in the coffin every time we get a chance. Line those coffins up”
Iowa State made a push for its second straight top-10 finish, sitting in ninth with 15 points after Day 1. The Cyclones have three in the quarterfinals and all six alive.
“We’re doing really well for what we had,” said 165-pound All-American Michael Moreno, who beat Hofstra’s Joseph Booth, 8-5, to go 2-0. “We weren’t getting the best draws.”
Moreno (28-7) is making another push to the awards podium. He has been able to relaxed and wrestle when it comes to the national tournament the last two years.
“Let’s be real, no one expects anything from me so what is the point of worrying yourself with expectations that don’t exist,” Moreno said. “It’s just wrestling. We do this because we love to. I love this sport and do it because it’s fun.”
Earl Hall (125) provided a big win for Iowa State. He handled Air Force’s No. 4 seed Josh Martinez, 8-1. Hall (20-12) also opened with a 7-3 win over Stanford’s No. 13 seed Evan Silver.
“The kid is a monster when he wants to be,” Moreno said of Hall. “That is the thing, getting that turn. You have to find that switch somewhere so you can wrestle like that all the time.”
All-American Kyven Gadson (27-2) advanced to the quarterfinals. He beat Oregon State’s Taylor Meeks, 5-3. Gadson entered the tournament as a consensus No. 1 ranked 197-pounder, but received the fifth seed.
In his opinion, he is the best and tries to compete like it. Gadson is unfazed.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” Gadson said. “It’s just a number, someone’s opinion, so whatever.”
Iowa State’s Gabe Moreno (141), Tanner Weatherman (174) and 184-pounder Lelund Weatherspoon are competing in the consolation rounds.
UNI was tied for 19th with 9 ½ points. Dylan Peters (125), top-seeded Joe Colon (133) and 141-pounder Joey Lazor reached the quarterfinals for the Panthers. All-American Ryan Loder (184), Cooper Moore at 165 and 174-pounder Cody Caldwell are alive in consolation action.