Iowa-OSU Wrestling Preview

Although J Robinson's Minnesota squad is the reigning NCAA champions, the two best programs in college wrestling meet in Iowa City this Friday. Second ranked Oklahoma State visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena to take on the fifth ranked Hawks. Iowa is 5-0 with wins over #6 Iowa State, #8 Pennsylvania, #11 Northern Iowa, and #24 Hofstra, but the Oklahoma State meet will be the biggest challenge so far this season.

Iowa State and Oklahoma have always had very good programs, but Iowa and Oklahoma State are the two consistent powers of college wrestling. Schools like Minnesota and Penn State have also had their moments (or in Minnesota's case, moment), but they all pale in comparison to the Hawks and OSU. The Cowboys have won 30 team titles over the years, which is the most of any team in college wrestling. Although I am not a fan of their wrestling style, it is a great program.

Iowa only has 20 NCAA team titles, but they have all been won in the last 27 years. Before starting the greatest run the NCAA has seen in any sport, Iowa was always a solid program, but was not a consistent power. In the last 27 years, they have dominated in both dual meets and tournaments against everyone except Oklahoma State. The Hawks owned the Cowboys at most NCAA meets, but the dual meets have traditionally been very even. Oklahoma State leads the all-time series, 17-16-1, and won the last meeting between the two teams in a 21-14 dual victory in Oklahoma City last season.

The Hawks hold a 9-5 series lead in Iowa City, and the crowd and atmosphere could be the difference in the meet. Iowa is only a significant favorite in two matches, while the Cowboys are slightly favored in many of the others. OSU has more upperclassmen with experience in the their lineup, which could be the deciding factor. Although inexperienced, Iowa has talented wrestlers who performed well during the Midlands Championships. Not only did the Hawks win the team title, but they easily outdistanced Iowa State and Minnesota in the process. None of the three teams had their full squads there, as Iowa had eight starters at the meet while Minnesota had seven starters present.

Here is a weight-by-weight breakdown:

125 - Iowa's Luke Eustice missed time early in the season while coming back from an injury, but has been solid in posting an 8-3 record against good competition. The sophomore is ranked anywhere from 9th to 15th in the polls, but that should go up as he gains experience. Luke recently placed 5th in the Midlands as he lost to Leroy Vega of Minnesota, 5-3. He followed up that loss by losing to Ty Malia of ISU in a 6-5 decision even though he beat Ty in the ISU dual meet. On a better note, Eustice avenged an earlier dual meet loss to Hofstra's Tom Noto by beating Noto 5-3 at the Midlands.

Junior starter Skyler Holman of OSU is the favorite on paper as he is 13-2 and ranked either 6th or 7th in the three mat polls. Matt Brown was the returning starter for the Cowboys and is 4-2 this season. He finished 6th in the NCAA Championships last season.

133 – This is the best match up on paper. Sophomore Johnny Thompson is ranked either 1st or 2nd and is 14-2 this season. In addition, the Cowboy was a 2001 NCAA finalist and wrestled very well in a 10-7 loss in the title match against former Hawk Eric Juergens. Senior Marc Juergens was wrestling very well in the 133 spot for Iowa, as he was 18-3 while sophomore Cliff Moore was recovering from an injury. There was some question over who would claim the 133 once Moore came back, but Cliff put those questions to rest over the last ten days. Moore won a loaded 133 bracket at the Midlands, and looked very solid in doing it. Moore also beat Juergens in a team wrestle-off this past week. Ranked 5th with a 13-0 record, Moore has already beaten Arizona State's David Douglas, who handed Thompson one of his two losses. This match should be worth the admission price.

141 – Both teams are expecting improvement at this spot, as neither wrestler is ranked very high. OSU's Ronnie Delk is 11-6, but the freshman should improve as he gains experience. Junior Luke Moffitt of Iowa was withheld from the Midlands tournament for injury reasons, but the former junior college national champion was already struggling in recent meets before that. Luke is 11-3 on the season, and wrestled very well in the Central Missouri State Open and the Kaufman-Brand Open in Omaha. However, since that time, Luke's weaknesses in wrestling from the bottom position have been exposed, and he lost by major decision in both the ISU and UNI dual meets. Hopefully he has made significant strides in practice.

149 – This is one weight that Iowa is favored at, as senior Mike Zadick is 14-0 and ranked 1st in the nation. Mike claimed his 2nd Midlands title as he beat both Jared Lawrence of Minnesota and Billy Maldonado of ISU among his six wins at the tourney. It was the 6th straight time Mike has beaten Maldonado, and the 3rd straight over Lawrence.

Junior Jarrod Sanders of Oklahoma State is currently 13-2 and ranked either 5th or 6th nationally. It will be interesting to see if he comes out and wrestles aggressively against Mike, or plays the OSU game of stalling and then exploding.

157 – Junior Matt Anderson has been consistent in pushing his record to 18-3. The Iowa grappler is ranked anywhere from 7th to 9th nationally, and has performed well for the most part and placed 3rd at the Midlands. However, in two matches this season against #2 Yoshi Nakamura of Penn, Anderson has been defeated soundly. He has beaten #6 Gray Maynard of Michigan State, but needs to get a big win under his proverbial belt.

Junior Shane Roller is 16-1 for the Cowboys, and is currently ranked 4th in the nation. He finished 3rd at the 2001 NCAA Championships.

165 - This is a matchup of returning all-Americans. Iowa's Ben Shirk faces Tyrone Lewis of the Cowboys. Lewis was an all-American at 174 last season, but is 12-0 and ranked 2nd or 3rd in the polls after dropping weight to 165 this season.

Even though he is also a returning all-American after finishing 8th at 165 last season, Ben Shirk has not had a good senior campaign to this point. After finishing strong to finish his 29-16 junior campaign, Ben is only 8-5 this season and not ranked in the top ten in his class. An inconsistent wrestler who is good in tumbling situations, Ben has also been fighting the injury bug and has missed the last two dual meets and the Midlands Championships.

Shirk's inconsistencies combined with missing time due to injuries does not bode well for this match. He can still have a good season if he can get healthy and back to practicing on a consistent basis, but facing Lewis in his first match back is a tall order.

174 - Sophomore Tyler Nixt has been solid in the Hawk lineup so far this season. Another first year starter, he is 16-5 and ranked between 11th and 14th in the country. Tyler finished 4th at the Midlands.

Oklahoma State will start either Chad Reid or Ty Wilcox against Nixt. Wilcox is a senior who is ranked either 7th or 8th in the nation to go with his 14-2 record. Reid is a junior who is 18-4. One of Reid's losses was to Nixt by a 3-1 score at the Central Missouri Open earlier in the season.

184 - Pat Popolizio is a senior that replaced graduated 2001 all-American Daniel Cormier in the Cowboy lineup. He is 15-2 this season and is ranked anywhere from 2nd to 5th in the latest polls. Hawkeye junior Jessman Smith is ranked anywhere from 5th to 7th in the polls, but he should be the favorite in this match. After just missing all-American status the last two seasons, Jessman has been very good so far as he is 15-2. He seems to be more aggressive and confident than last season, and is starting to wrestle the Iowa way. Although he only placed 3rd at the Midlands, Jessman ended a long streak of close losses to Damion Hahn of Minnesota by beating Hahn in the 3rd place match.

197 - Neither wrestler is ranked in the top eight at this weight. Cowboy sophomore Will Gruenwald has the better record of the two, at 14-2. Hawkeye sophomore Ryan Fulsaas is 7-4 after splitting four matches at the Midlands. Fulsaas is much stronger than last season when he was 6-17, but his confidence could still use a big win in a big dual meet like the OSU meet. Gruenwald is replacing 2001 NCAA champ Mike Munoz in the Cowboy lineup.

Heavyweight - Although Iowa freshman Steve Mocco has not been scoring bonus points in many matches as of late, he has lived up to his recruiting accolades as he is 19-0 and currently ranked #1 in the nation. He became the youngest wrestler to win a Midlands title two weeks ago, and defeated NCAA runner-up Tommy Rowlands of Ohio State at the meet. Besides already beating returning all-American Paul Hynek of Northern Iowa twice this season, Mocco also defeated two tough former NCAA heavyweights at the Midlands.

OSU senior James Huml is 14-4. An experienced wrestler, it will be interesting to see how Huml intends to wrestle Mocco.

If you have any comments or questions for Dan Cagley about this story or any other wrestling issue, please free to post on the Wrestling Forum.

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