IOWA CITY — Mike Evans recycled the phrase “picking ‘em off” a couple of times Sunday afternoon.
As the Iowa sophomore went through his gauntlet of opponents — seven top 11 opponents in the last nine duals — the list didn’t impress him.
“Picking ‘em off man,” Evans said. “Working hard and picking ‘em off. I may not have gotten the two that I wanted, but still working toward it.”
Sunday Evans’ latest top-five foe was Nebraska’s Robert Kokesh, ranked No. 2 at 174. Evans fell behind 3-0, but three takedowns and an edge in riding time led to a 9-6 decision, which led to a 31-7 Hawkeye win.
“I kept my cool and kept wrestling through positions, that’s a big part to my firepower,” Evans said. “Just keeping my head, controlled fury.”
Iowa kept its cool, as well, after an opening match loss when No. 11 Jake Sueflohn scored a major decision win at 149. The Hawkeyes closed the dual winning eight of the last nine, including pins by No. 13 Nick Moore at 165 and Tony Ramos at 133. No. 1 Matt McDonough bounced back at 125 after his loss to Illinois Jesse Delgado with a technical fall win. At 157, No. 1 Derek St. John emerged victorious via a 6-4 decision over No. 6 James Green after trailing 4-1 after one period.
The dominance allowed Iowa to capture its fifth Big Ten dual title in the last six years. But again, the accolades didn’t impress.
“You’re not focused on winning the Big Ten dual season,” Evans said. “You’re not focused on the amount of duals you’ve had. You’re focused on the dual at hand and the dual after. Picking ‘em off one by one by one”
Whether it’s duals or individually, Evans has stepped up in both. The red-shirt sophomore began the season at 165 after finishing second in the Big Ten championships a year ago. Since moving up to 174 and the start of the conference season, Evans battled three top-two opponents. Sunday marked the fourth in Kokesh. He owns a 2-2 record in those matches.
“He’s becoming a cool customer,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “That’s what may be the difference from last year or a year ago. He’s really doing a good job of being a cool customer and nothing really rattles him.”
The two wins came against No. 2 Nick Heflin of Ohio State — a 9-4 decision — and Kokesh. The losses, the only two this year, came by a total of two points. He fell to No. 1 Chris Perry of Oklahoma State and No. 2 Logan Storley of Minnesota, both by 4-3 decisions.
His body of work makes him the fourth ranked wrestler in the country at 174.
But the Hawkeyes don’t concern themselves with regular season achievements, ranking or even that Sunday marked the end of the Big Ten season.
“None of them (knew),” Evans said.
After some more thought, he corrected himself, “Maybe McDonough, or Ramos.”