By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa is no longer the undisputed king of college wrestling and hasn’t been for nearly a decade.
But there were reminders and signs of its former dominance on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
From the raucous and near-sellout crowd dressed mostly in black to living legend Dan Gable sitting in row two to freshman sensation Spencer Lee inspiring hope and optimism, Iowa wrestling still has a standard of excellence that deserves respect.
The seventh-ranked Hawkeyes proved it by defeating No. 3 Oklahoma State 20-12 before an announced attendance of 13,485 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Lee came out firing at 125 pounds and scored a takedown almost immediately, much to the delight of the fans.
He led 8-1 after the first period and then held on for a 10-5 victory against sixth-ranked Nick Piccininni. Lee is now 2-0 since having his redshirt pulled, but his presence goes beyond just being victorious on the mat.
The fans seem to feed off Lee’s energy and vice versa.
“I just love having these fans,” Lee said. “They’re the best fans ever.”
The only negative to take from Lee’s match is that he lost his aggressiveness and only scored one point in the third period.
“I just got to keep moving my hands and my feet,” Lee said when asked if fatigue was a factor. “It’s a hard sport. It’s a very tough environment.
“Obviously, it was awesome having 13,000 fans. So I guess it’s a new environment and I’ve just got to keep working on everything really, conditioning, wrestling and moving forward.”
The ovation that Lee received upon being introduced and after his first takedown showed just how popular the Pennsylvania native is with the Iowa fans. There was a buzz when Lee took the mat that continued to build as he wrestled.
“It was a tough match and there were some tough calls,” said Oklahoma State coach John Smith. “It got started off well at (125 pounds for Iowa). In big matches like this you really need certain people to step out and get us going and I thought that 25-pound match was going to help either one of us.”
Lee can’t do it by himself, though, as fans were reminded in the next match when Oklahoma State’s Kaid Brock defeated Phillip Laux 16-6 for a major decision at 133 pounds.
Unranked junior Mitch Bowman recorded one of the biggest victories in the dual at 184 pounds, defeating 19th-ranked Keegan Moore 10-6 and expanding Iowa’s lead to 17-9 with just two matches remaining.
The fans showed their appreciation by giving Bowman a standing ovation as he left the mat.
Third-ranked heavyweight Sam Stoll secured the team victory by defeating Derek White 6-4 in overtime. Stoll recorded a takedown in the closing seconds to prevail.
“That was guts performance by Stoll,” Bowman said of his teammate. “Getting that takedown there at the end was huge. He had to fight for that.”
Iowa won six of the 10 matches and collected five critical team points with Brandon Sorensen’s technical fall (23-8) at 149 pounds.
“It wasn’t one of our better matches,” Smith said. “Actually, I don’t know if we’ve wrestled a good match yet. I think the tight matches, the ones we needed to win, we didn’t win. I thought we might get some bonus (points) somewhere and we didn’t get bonus. And we gave up bonus, just not enough.”
Iowa coach Tom Brands was pleased with the victory, but he also kept it in perspective with top-ranked Ohio State up next on the schedule next Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
Ohio State and Penn State are considered the two heavy favorites to win the NCAA team title in March. Penn State has won five of the last six NCAA Championships.
“You don’t congratulate yourself many times in January,” Brands said. “Maybe this one time where you take a little bit of a breath because we did point to this dual. This was a dual about two teams that are in the same category and two teams that are trying to get to the next category, meaning to Penn State, Ohio State.
“They’re both one and two and they’re close and everybody seems to be on the outside. And in order to get there, you’ve got to take steps and we took a step and we’ve got to keep moving forward.”
The meet was stopped after the 133-pound match for a special ceremony in which Mike Duroe received the Lifetime Service Wrestling Award.
Duroe’s life has revolved around the sport of wrestling, including being the long-time head wrestling coach for Cornell College. He has coached wrestling in some capacity for nearly four decades, influencing the lives of countless young wrestlers.
So it sent shockwaves through the wrestling community when Duroe revealed that he is battling brain cancer. He received a rousing ovation from the fans on Sunday and he sat next to Gable throughout the dual.
Former Iowa wrestler Mark Perry also was recognized between matches and that helped to energize the fans because Perry grew up in Stillwater, Okla., but chose to be a Hawkeye. He now heads the Iowa Wrestling Club and is considered a key piece in helping to restore Iowa’s dominance.
Iowa trailed 7-3 when Sorensen, ranked second at his weight, took that mat at 149 pounds to face 14th-ranked Boo Lewallen, who had a respectable 17-2 record. Sorensen dominated the match from start to finish and had five takedowns in the third period alone.
Redshirt freshman Alex Marinelli also won a highly competitive match at 165 pounds, defeating eighth-ranked Chandler Rogers, 5-2.
Brands was ecstatic with Marinelli's victory and thanked assistant coach Ryan Morningstar for recruiting the four-time state champion from Ohio
"I love Marinelli," Brands said. "Every time I watch Marinelli wrestle I thank Ryan Morningstar for going out and getting that recruit. That's Morningstar's baby, like a shiney red ferrari except that he's a workhorse and a work truck and a lunch-pale guy and whatever you want to call it."
Brands wasn't pleased with Iowa's performances at 133 and 141 pounds where it lost both matches by a combined score of 20-6.
"We're not looking good," Brands said. "There's some silliness out there. We need to grow up in a hurry."
Oklahoma State was penalized one team point for a second violation for failing control the mat area, and second-ranked Michael Kemerer defeated Jonce Blaylock 9-2 at 157 pounds to give Iowa an 11-6 lead at intermission.
The Hawkeyes improved to 9-0 overall, while Oklahoma State fell to 6-1.
Iowa 20, Oklahoma State 12
125 - Spencer Lee (I) dec. Nick Piccininni, 10-5
133 - Kaid Brock (OSU) maj. dec Phillip laux, 16-6
141 - Dean Heil (OSU) dec. Vince Turk, 4-0
149 - Brandon Sorensen (I) tech fall Boo Lewallan, 23-8
157 - Michael Kemerer dec. Jonce Blaylock, 9-2
165 - Alex Marinelli dec. Chandler Rogers, 5-2
174 - Jacobe Smith (OSU) dec. Joey Gunther, 3-1
184 - Mitch Bowman dec. Keegan Moore, 10-6
197 - Preston Weigel (OSU dec. Cash Wilcke, 6-0
285 - Sam Stoll (I) dec. Derek White, 6-4