IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa wrestling team accomplished both of its lofty goals on Saturday, thanks in large part to its fans.
The fourth-ranked Hawkeyes overcame a 3-point deficit in the second half of their historic meet against top-ranked Oklahoma State to prevail 18-16 before a record-setting attendance of 42,287 at Kinnick Stadium. Penn State held the previous record for attendance at 15,996, which it set in 2013.
Iowa was trailing 13-10 when junior Sammy Brooks took the mat for his match against Jordan Rogers at 184 pounds. The 12th-ranked Brooks dominated from start to finish and won by a technical fall at 17-2 in the second period.
Brooks’ victory gave Iowa five crucial points as a team, making the score 15-13 with just two matches remaining.
"I wouldn’t think I would flex like that or celebrate, but I couldn’t even stop myself," Brooks said of his victory pose after his match.
Senior Nathan Burak expanded Iowa’s lead to 18-13 with a 5-3 victory over junior Austin Schafer at 197 pounds.
"It’s probably the most exciting atmosphere I’ve ever been in," Burak said afterwards. "It was cool to be outside, too, just with the sun shining on you and having the fresh air. It was an awesome experience."
Oklahoma State’s only hope for a victory heading into the heavyweight match was for its fifth-ranked senior Austin Marsden to win either by a 5-point technical fall or by a pin, which would’ve earned six points for his team. Marsden failed to do, either, though as Iowa redshirt freshman heavyweight Sam Stoll only lost by a score of 6-1. That gave Oklahoma State just three points, securing Iowa’s victory on a historic day for wrestling.
For Brooks, it was agony watching the last two matches with the team score hanging in the balance.
"I was pretty confident after that," Brooks said. "But I usually don’t go and watch after my match, but I did. And I don’t really like it. I got pretty nervous out there, even though I have supreme confidence in Burak and Sam Stoll. I think I’m better off in the locker room."
On Tuesday, Iowa senior Thomas Gilman spoke confidently and candidly about his match at 125 pounds, saying he was ready to compete right then. He then proved it on Saturday by recording a major decision (9-1) over Eddie Klimara in the opening match, giving Iowa a 4-0 lead out of the gate.
Gilman scored the first of his three takedowns in the closing seconds of the first 3-minuten period. He controlled the match the rest of the way, enough that Klimara was penalized one point for stalling.
"This town is electric right now," Gilman said. "And when I stepped on that mat, those fans were electric and that mat was electric and I keep saying electric. Maybe I’m getting a little redundant and need a new word. But it was electric out there."
Iowa coach Tom Brands was asked afterwards if the meet went beyond even his high expectations.
"I mean, yeah, when you see the crowd and the way it went," Brands said.
In addition to earning a key victory, Brands hopes that Saturday’s historic event shows that the Iowa program is trying to help the sport of wrestling by setting the bar higher.
"I think it’s a mentality and it’s a commitment to the program from the administration as well," Brands said. "And it jives with what we want to do. We want to get better every day and we want to have better events every year."
Brands was asked if the product that fans saw on Saturday would help to attract some of the fringe fans.
"You can always do more," Brands said. "Wrestling is a sport that can be dry for people that don’t know what’s going on out there. I think it was a lot better than it could have been. Could it have been better? Absolutely."
Junior Cory Clark expanded Iowa’s lead to 7-0 with an 8-2 victory over sophomore Gary Wayne Harding at 133 pounds.
The Cowboys answered back at 141 pounds behind top-ranked Dean Heil, who defeated redshirt freshman Logan Ryan 7-1. Hawkeye fans still gave Ryan a nice ovation after his match for keeping the final score below the eight points needed for a major decision.
Iowa fans had more reason to cheer after the next match 149 pounds as third-ranked Brandon Sorensen defeated eighth-ranked Anthony Collins 6-1 in Sorensen’s first match of the season. The victory gave Iowa a 10-3 lead heading into the 157-pound match between Iowa senior Edwin Cooper Jr., and redshirt freshman Chance Marstellar.
Trailing 12-4, Cooper mounted a huge comeback in the third period before losing 14-11. Marstellar was called for stalling four times and was booed near the end of the match.
Iowa led 10-6 at the intermission, which came after the fifth of 10 matches.
The lead didn’t last long, though, as Oklahoma State senior Alex Dieringer pounded Iowa senior Patrick Rhoads 17-5 at 165 pounds, earning a four-point major decision to tie the score at 10-10.
Iowa junior Alex Meyer avoided an early pin at 174 pounds to tie his match against Kyle Crutchmer at 8-8 heading into the third period. The score was tied at 9-9 when Crutchmer scored a takedown with slightly more than 30 seconds left in the third period.
Meyer scored one point with an escape in the closing seconds, but it wasn’t enough as Crutchmer held on for an 11-10 victory. That gave Oklahoma State its first lead of the meet at 13-10 with three matches remaining.
The lead didn’t last very long, though, as Brooks helped to shift the momentum back in Iowa’s favor with his bonus-point victory.
"You should be looking for bonus points every time you go out there," Brooks said. "I think in some (matches) last year I was a little too reserved. I just want to open that back up and keep it going against whoever steps on the mat against me."
Oklahoma State coach John Smith said his wrestlers didn’t push the pace enough to be victorious.
"The one thing we can take from this is we aren’t ready," Smith said.
As for the future of outdoors matches at Kinnick Stadium, Brands said he has no plans to speak with Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz about staging another event next season. At least, not for now.
"What we say to football is keep doing what you’re doing because we know where our bread is buttered and you pay the bills," Brands said. "And that is the truth. And I’ve said that a lot. We’re very, very gracious and we’ve got the best coach in America. And I believe that, sunshine and not so much sunshine."
Even with his team losing, Smith spoke highly of Saturday’s event. He would like to have something similar at Oklahoma State.
"I think college wrestling needs those big events at the beginning of the year," Smith said.