ISU Pins the Competition at The Midlands

Cyclone Nation had big expectations for new wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, even in his first year on the job. And it hasn't taken long for him to deliver, as his Cyclones delivered the team title at The Midlands.

Evanston, Illinois - On the silver anniversary of its last Midland Championships team title, the Iowa State wrestling program turned a new page Saturday under first-year head coach Cael Sanderson. 

Travis Paulson claimed his first Midlands title at 165-pounds by defeating Iowa's Mark Perry and the Cyclones tallied 154.5 team points to win its first Midlands team championship since 1981. Iowa was second with second with107 points. Northwestern (102), Central Michigan (96.5) and Indiana (96) round out the top five.

"We are getting better and the people who were here this weekend would back me up," Sanderson said. "Winning the team title is good for the program and I think it shows the progress we are making. Wrestling is an individual sport and as coaches that is how we look at what we have to do. Our job is to get 10 guys wrestling at their best and we are a solid team.  We dictated the pace in almost every match in this tournament. We have to keep that going."

Travis Paulson avenged an early December loss to Iowa's Mark Perry to take the 165-pound title with a 5-2 decision over the Hawkeye. The match remained scoreless until the third period until Perry scored on an escape, but was then called for stalling, tying the match at 1-1. Paulson got in deep on Perry several times but did not score after each ensuing scramble resulted in neither wrestler being in control, forcing a funky stalemate. With less than a minute to go, Paulson broke through, scoring a takedown with 50 seconds left, going up 3-1. Perry tacked on another escape, only to be taken back down onto the mat by the third-ranked Paulson with three seconds remaining to seal the Cyclone's victory. The senior claimed his first Midlands title in dramatic fashion and improves his season mark to 15-1.

 "You have to keep the pressure on against (Perry) because he is one of the best scramblers I have ever wrestled," Paulson said. "He likes space and I did my best to keep close and force the action. The other key is to not get frustrated when you get in on a good shot but end up with no points. (Perry) has long arms that help him in scramble situations, so I wanted to be the last one moving in the scramble and that is where I got my takedowns."

Nick Fanthorpe was unable to overcome the overhooks and wiry frame of Indiana's third-seeded Angel Escebedo as he fell 3-1 in the 125-pound title match. The redshirt freshman had an auspicious performance in his hometown as the only unseeded wrestler to compete in the finals. Fanthorpe's record currently stands at 14-5.

"I've always worked hard on technique conditioning," Fanthorpe said. "(Being runner-up) is a great confidence builder and it shows that there is a lot more to wrestling than being the biggest or the strongest.  (Escebedo) has always been bigger than me but I hadn't wrestled him since we were eight years old."

Trent Paulson had to come back from an 8-4 second-period deficit against third-seeded Mike Poeta of Illinois and suffered a 9-8 loss in the 157-pound championship bout. Paulson scored a reversal to close out the first period of action narrowing the score to 4-3. Paulson is 13-2 in his senior campaign.

Kurt Backes took an early edge at 197 pounds against Northwestern's Mike Tamwillow in the second period with an escape during the 197-pound title match, but could not hold off a late shot by the Wildcat and was denied his first Midlands title, 3-1. The two wrestlers were tied up in the center of the mat looking for a good shot for nearly the entire match when Tamillow countered a Backes takedown attempt and scored the winning takedown with 13 seconds left. Backes is 14-2 in his senior season.

Iowa State redshirt freshmen Jake Varner (184) Nick Gallick finished fourth and Mitch Mueller placed sixth at 133 and 141-pounds, respectively. At 157-pounds, Jason Knipp took fifth-place honors.

The Cyclones will travel to Cedar Falls, Iowa, Jan. 13 – 14 to take part in the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals. Iowa State will return to Ames Jan. 26 to play host to Oklahoma at 7 p.m.

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