By Richard Podhajsky
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Maybe it's a sign Iowa wrestling is back where it wants to be. Maybe it's just Tom Brands proving he's still the same coach he's always been.
"Why do I feel like it was even?" the Iowa head coach asked rhetorically following his team's 24-10 win over fourth-ranked Ohio State on Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. "That's what I mean - I gotta chill out. I got to learn to enjoy 7-3 (in matches) against the number (four) team in the country.
"I'm not changing, though."
Brands was in a self-reflective mood after his top-ranked team rolled by the Buckeyes. The Hawkeyes won six of the first seven matches, picking up bonus-point wins from Spencer Lee and Austin DeSanto at 125 and 133 pounds, respectively.
In a dual that featured 13 ranked wrestlers - including seven ranked in the top two of their respective weights - Iowa left little room for doubt, jumping out to a 9-0 lead and securing the dual after second-ranked DeSanto picked up a technical fall over #18 Jordan Decatur 27-12 in a little less than six minutes.
"Usually I have Spencer Lee starting off a dual, so it's kind of like the same thing," DeSanto, whose bout was seventh after the dual started at 165 pounds, said of watching his teammates rack up a big lead before he took the mat. "I know my teammates are going to do their job and when they're doing their job right it makes my job a little bit easier."
Alex Marinelli, ranked second at 165 pounds, got things started for the Hawkeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten). He piled up a 13-7 lead in the third period but couldn't get another takedown to secure a major decision against #13 Ethan Smith. Senior Michael Kemerer, ranked second at 174 pounds, followed that with another near-miss on bonus points, scoring a 7-1 win over #8 Kaleb Romero.
After the teams traded wins, #3 freshman heavyweight Tony Cassioppi also was within a takedown of getting a major in the third but settled for a 9-3 over Gary Traub. That would have given Iowa a 12-3 lead heading into the break but the Hawkeyes lost a team point for loss of control of the mat when Brands went onto the mat early to shake Cassioppi's hand.
"There's certain things I need to be better at," Brands said. "And one of those things is just being like political and trying to win the political battle. And not trying to take on the whole world maybe."
However, while Brands said he "needs to be more of a professional" while coaching, he emphasized he's not changing who he is.
Nor is the top-ranked Lee, the two-time national champion who quickly dispatched of the Buckeyes' Hunter Lucas. Lee rolled up four 4-point nearfalls in the first period, scoring an 18-0 tech fall in a little more than two-and-a-half minutes.
"Every dual's a statement dual for our team," Lee said of both his team's win and an upcoming dual with #2 Penn State. "We're just going out there, wrestling our hardest and proving that we can be the best in the country. Right now we are. We just have to keep it going. We haven't won nationals yet, have we?"
The tech fall was Lee's seventh of the year and his tenth bonus-point win in ten matches. He's outscored his last five opponents 84-1, all first-period technical falls. DeSanto has been almost as good, scoring five tech falls and nine bonus-point wins in 13 matches.
"He's awesome," Brands said of his junior 133-pounder. "I said (to DeSanto after the match) 'That's how it's done.' You want a definition of how to wrestle a dominating wrestling match, that's how it's done."
It wasn't a perfect dual for Iowa, however. The Buckeyes (7-2, 3-1 Big Ten) won what ended up being the marquee match of the night when #6 Sammy Sasso rode out #1 Pat Lugo in the first tiebreaker to score a 2-1 win. Sasso had escaped in the first half of the tiebreaker and was the beneficiary of three reviews, getting a Lugo takedown with five seconds left overturned and having two other calls - a near takedown for Lugo and a locked hands call - remain unchanged during the match.
"There were some things that were frustrating," Brands said after having pointed out there were adjustments his wrestler could have made. "And, you know, the referee in Lugo's match but that's not the referee, that's Lugo. And Lugo knows that and that's the thing, that's a great starting point."
Ohio State's two top-ranked wrestlers, Kollin Moore at 197 pounds and Luke Pletcher at 141 pounds, also each ended up with victories against unranked opponents after sophomore 197-pounder Jacob Warner - ranked sixth - and #9 141-pounder Max Murin sat out the dual. Brands said Murin is a little nicked up and is questionable for the next dual while he called sitting Warner the right thing to do.
The schedule doesn't get any easier for Iowa with the Nittany Lions, winners of eight of the last nine NCAA titles, coming to Carver on Jan. 31.
"It's a test every week," DeSanto said.
#1 Iowa 24, #4 Ohio State 10
165 - Alex Marinelli (IA) dec. Ethan Smith (OSU), 14-10
174 - Michael Kemerer (IA) dec. Kaleb Romero (OSU), 7-1
184 - Abe Assad (IA) dec. Rocky Jordan (OSU), 3-1
197 - Kollin Moore (OSU) dec. Cash Wilcke (IA), 8-3
285 - Tony Cassioppi (IA) dec. Gary Traub (OSU), 9-3
125 - Spencer Lee (IA) tech. fall Hunter Lucas (OSU), 18-0, 2:32
133 - Austin DeSanto (IA) tech. fall Jordan Decatur (OSU), 27-12, 5:58
141 - Luke Pletcher (OSU) maj. dec. Carter Happel (IA), 14-5
149 - Pat Lugo (IA) dec. Sammy Sasso (OSU), 2-1 (TB1)
157 - Kaleb Young (IA) dec. Elijah Cleary (OSU), 4-1
*Iowa was deducted one team point following the 285-pound match for "loss of control of the mat"