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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Iowa Coach Tom Brands analyzed the challenges that await his Hawkeyes.
Two have a chance to defend Big Ten titles, facing the team currently perched on top. Two more have shots at their own crown. A pair are in a fight for an automatic berth to the national tournament and two others are trying to rebound in the consolation bracket.
The Hawkeyes’ slim hopes of a team title rely on all of it.
Iowa has four finalists and is in third place after the first day of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships on Saturday at Indiana University’s Assembly Hall. The Hawkeyes had 95 points, 22 back of Ohio State and just 3 1/2 behind second-place Penn State.
“We have to be ready to go,” Brands said. “We have to be ready to finish this tournament off. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
The Hawkeyes have a couple familiar faces in the finals. Seniors Cory Clark and Sam Brooks will have a chance to defend their championships from last season. Both will wrestle Buckeyes for gold.
“I just love it,” Brooks said about returning to the championship match. “It doesn’t matter who is cheering for you or who is going against you. It gets loud and there’s a lot on the line. What else do you wrestle for? To be on the biggest stage and be in front of the loud crowds against a tough opponent, trying to kick your rear.”
Second-seeded Brooks (184) was impressive. He wrestled just two matches the first day, receiving a bye and then winning by fall. Brooks followed with a 13-6 victory over Indiana’s No. 3 Nate Jackson.
“There’s definitely room for improvement,” Brooks said. “I gave up a couple takedowns that I don’t think I needed to but people come ready to go at this tournament and this time of year. I have to be more ready to go. You do what you can and you have to do a little bit extra.”
Brooks led 4-3 in the second when he got in on a single-leg shot. Jackson attempted to counter with a roll and Brooks planted on his back for a takedown and nearfall points to break the match open.
“Just staying solid,” Brooks said. “Last time we wrestled he got me with one of those rolls while I was on his leg. It was something I keyed on. I knew he likes to go there, so when he tried it I was ready and I capitalized.”
The deep 184-pound bracket created quite the buzz with former national finalists meeting in the quarterfinals. Ohio State national champion and fifth-seeded Myles Martin advanced on the top side, beating Penn State’s Bo Nickal in a rematch of last year’s 174-pound NCAA final. Brooks beat Martin, 5-3, earlier this season but he will need something bigger and better on the bigger stage.
“He’s a gamer,” Brooks said. “Look at what he did last year and what he’s doing this year already. The guy gets up for this time of year, so I have to take it to another level.”
Clark, seeded third at 133, closed the day with another stingy performance. Clark earned a trip to the finals with a 7-1 victory over Minnesota’s Mitch McKee.
Clark outscored three foes, 24-4, dominating on his feet and on top, amassing more than 11 minutes of riding time Saturday.
“One thing I would maybe say is I wish I’d hit more leg attacks,” Clark said. “I’ve been getting to my Russian (tie). Usually, I do a pull down and when they fight back up that’s my shot.
“I’ve been doing a pull down, they’ve been dropping down and giving me a go-behind.”
Clark has battled a shoulder injury and wears a protective wrap. He hasn’t wrestled this much in one day since four matches at the Luther Open to start the season.
“I’m feeling good physically,” Clark said. “I felt strong and hard off the whistle.”
Clark faces Ohio State’s top-seeded Nathan Tomasello for the championship. Tomasello is a former NCAA and Big Ten champion. They have never wrestled but Clark has seen him battle teammate Thomas Gilman multiple times.
“I know he’s tough,” Clark said. “It’s going to be a good match. I plan on getting to my stuff and controlling the pace.”
Gilman is also making a return appearance in the conference finals, but his is after a year hiatus. He was the runner-up as a sophomore, finishing third last season. Gilman dominated his way to the final, thumping Michigan’s Conor Youtsey, 16-5, at 125.
“I’ve got to get it done,” Gilman said. “It’s just another match.
“I was here two years ago. I didn’t get it done, so right the wrong there. Just keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
Gilman built an 11-3 lead before getting a third-period fall in the quarterfinals. He picked Youtsey apart on his feet with seven takedowns in the semifinals. He said he could have created some better angles and cleaner finishes.
“Other than that I feel pretty good,” Gilman said. “I put a lot of points on the board.”
Red-shirt freshman Michael Kemerer’s semifinal ended with a little more drama. Kemerer scored a takedown for a 3-1 lead late, but gave up a tying reversal in the final 10 seconds. Kemerer composed himself and notched an escape right before time expired to beat Michigan’s Brian Murphy, 4-3.
“It was good to get that point after giving up that reversal, but have to have smarter wrestling obviously,” Kemerer said. “I’ve got the guy flat (and) have to be ready for stuff like that.”
He showed poise, keeping his mind on the next point and not worrying about the score or clock.
“The first thing is to wrestle until the ref pulls me off of him,” Kemerer said. “I knew I had to get an escape there. I knew I had to do something.”
Kemerer will face Penn State’s top-ranked Jason Nolf in the final. He lost a decision to Nolf in a January dual.
“I’m excited for a good opponent,” Kemerer said. “He’s undefeated this year. This is my chance to go out and have some fun. Let it all fly. This is a great stage and a great place to let my skills show.”
Iowa went 4-1 in the semifinals. The lone loss came at 149. Ohio State’s Micah Jordan avenged a loss to Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen, using a second-period takedown for a 2-1 victory. Sorensen had been runner-up each of the last two seasons.
Alex Meyer (174) and 197-pounder Cash Wilcke join Sorensen in the consolation bracket. Meyer rebounded from a quarterfinal loss with two straight wins, moving into the top six. Seventh-seeded Wilcke will wrestle for seventh.
Topher Carton was eliminated from the tournament at 141, but is still competing for an automatic berth. Carton remained alive for the last of nine automatic qualifying spots allotted to the Big Ten at his weight. He will face Michigan’s Sal Profaci.
The Hawkeyes did manage to accumulate much needed bonus points early. They racked up three pins, a technical fall and four major decisions for 11 1/2 extra points in the opening two rounds.
“Keep getting bonus points,” Brands said. “The biggest thing is to keep wrestling in your positions and wrestle how you want to wrestle.”
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