Penn State Wrestling: For Cael Sanderson, It's Still 'I Iowa One'
It was supposed to be changing of the guard, a passing of the torch, the top-ranked and undefeated Penn State wrestling team eliminating evil powerhouse Iowa and emerging as the preeminent power in the sport.
At least that was the accepted storyline in Happy Valley early Sunday afternoon before the Iowa-Penn State dual meet started at Rec Hall.
Nobody told Iowa, though.
Just three matches into the event, the three-time defending national champion Hawkeyes had torn that script to shreds.
Unbeaten and eighth-ranked Iowa (10-0-1, 3-0 Big Ten) won the first three matches of the afternoon -- with a fall at 125, a hard-fought 3-2 decision at 133 and an arena-deflating decision at 141 -- and that set the stage for a 22-13 victory and another repeat chapter in the Penn State-Iowa series.
Think Yankees-Red Sox in singlets, with Iowa as the Yankees and Penn State as the Sox, and you get the idea.
This year’s Penn State squad (13-1 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) was supposed to spark a change.
Instead, Iowa improved its series record against the Nittany Lions to 25-6-2, including an 11-3-1 record at Rec Hall.
Iowa’s victory also extended its dual-meet unbeaten streak to 73 matches. That dates back four years, to a 2007 loss at Penn State.
While Sunday’s match was different in many ways from the Hawkeyes’ previous 10 wins at Rec Hall, the final result ended up the same. And the reasons for the oh-so-familiar result were the same as always, too.
ANYTHING BUT IOWA SHMIOWA
“Iowa is Iowa. They win,” said Penn State freshman David Taylor, who produced a 12-4 major decision for Penn State at 157 but was one of just four wrestlers who won matches for the Nittany Lions.
“They had all 10 of their guys wrestle hard for all seven minutes of every match. I’m not sure we did.”
In fact, Penn State coach Cael Sanderson almost choked on his response, and even requested a clarification, when asked about the effort of his team when compared to that of Iowa.
“You think we had 10 guys wrestle hard every minute?” Sanderson asked as he arched a disbelieving eyebrow.
“Oh…Iowa. Yeah, every one of their guys went hard the whole time. They wanted it a little more than we did. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but they did.”
With 6,686 mostly white-clad Penn State fans packed into Rec Hall, the match was a potential season highlight and special event.
Penn State President Graham Spanier had a mat-side seat. Almost every member of the athletic fundraising staff was in attendance to schmooze donors. Former Nittany Lion quarterback Todd Blackledge drove to campus from his home in Ohio. And former wrestling All-Americans were scattered throughout the gym.
Plus, the partisan throng of fans was a wrestling-savvy bunch.
Maybe that’s what made the outcome sting so much. Those in the stands knew just as well as Sanderson what they had seen. Iowa is still Iowa, and Penn State is not. Yet.
“We could wrestle this same match tomorrow and the results could be different; that’s what we think,” Sanderson said. “But you have to seize the moment.”
That’s the most difficult part for Sanderson to handle.
While the loss might just be a bump in the road -- the national championship will not be determined until March (and the Nittany Lions might be a stronger tournament team than they are in dual meets) -- the inability to capitalize on opportunities bothers him.
Losses by Andrew Alton at 141 and Quentin Wright at 18 -- both central Pennsylvania natives and fan favorites -- put an added damper on the big crowd that was at its loudest early in Alton’s match.
But the Rec Hall crowd never reached that crescendo again.
The lackluster performance of several of wrestlers also bothers Sanderson. Maybe some of the younger wrestlers in Penn State’s lineup got caught up in the emotion and energy of the afternoon and were flat late in their matches. It looked that way at times.
Maybe it’s just a mostly young team that will be better at the right time in March. That could be the case, as well.
Still, the nagging concern for Sanderson must be the team’s mentality. That always-aggressive, go-hard-for-every-minute approach remains missing.
ALWAYS OFF-CAEL VS. IOWA STATE
It’s especially gnawing for it to surface against Iowa, which continues to provide the only blemishes on Sanderson’s illustrious career as a wrestler and coach.
Sure, his 159-0 collegiate record and four national championships as a collegiate wrestler will likely never be matched. He even has an Olympic gold medal, and ranks as one of the best college coaches in the country.
He’s 0-9 against Iowa, though.
Translation: A team on which Sanderson was a member or coach has never beaten the Hawkeyes.
As an undergrad at Iowa State, he was often the only member of the team to score points in his team’s dual meets, but his team still went 0-4 against the Hawkeyes. Then, he lost three more times to his in-state rival as a coach at Iowa State. And Sunday’s loss was his second as the coach at Penn State.
That’s 0-9, and one thing has remained the same during all of those losses -- Iowa’s approach. The Hawkeyes compete hard every minute. They never stop.
They’re Iowa. And you’re not.
It’s a simple approach that Iowa coach Tom Brands simply perpetuates.
As he was accepting victory hugs, receiving two homemade bags of peanut brittle for the ride home and signing autographs, he was also done worrying about Penn State.
“We want to go hard in all 10 matches every time,” he said. “It was good that we came in and beat the No. 1 team in the country, but we have Indiana next -- and 10 more matches.”
Iowa 22, Penn State 13
125: Matt McDonough, Iowa, pinned Nate Morgan, 4:16.
133: Tony Ramos, Iowa, dec. Andrew Long, 3-2.
141: Montell Marion, Iowa, dec. Andrew Alton, 11-9.
149: Frank Molinaro, Penn State, dec. Mark Ballweg, 10-.
157: David Taylor, Penn State, maj. Dec. Derek St. John, 12-4.
165: Aaron Janssen, Iowa, dec. Jake Kemerer, 6-2.
174: Ed Rush, Penn State, dec. Ethan Lofthouse, 10-3.
184: Grant Gambrall, Iowa, dec. Quentin Wright, 8-3.
197: Luke Lofthouse, Iowa, maj. Dec. Justin Ortega, 17-6.
285: Cameron Wade, Penn State, dec. Blake Raising, 1-0.