INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Iowa Coach Tom Brands wasted little time turning his attention to the second day.
He is not one to dwell on the past and he was ready to move on to the tests ahead of his Hawkeyes instead of focusing on the ones they already passed.
Fourth-ranked Iowa has six quarterfinalists and all nine qualifiers left after the first day of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Thursday night at Scottrade Center.
The Hawkeyes won six of seven second-round matches, setting up some key matchups early Friday morning.
“I think there are a lot of big matches (Friday), not that any of them wouldn’t be a big matchup,” Brands said. “It’s going to be head-to-head with some teams that are in it for the team race. I can think of four off the top of my head right now. We have to be ready to go.”
The Hawkeyes seemed to be ready for the first day, going 16-3 overall and 8-1 in the second session.
Iowa received the production from its regular stalwarts. Thomas Gilman dominated in scored 41 total points, opening the tournament with two major decisions.
Two-time NCAA finalist Cory Clark (133) and returning national runner-up Brandon Sorensen (149) advanced as expected. Freshman phenom Michael Kemerer rolled at 157.
Alex Meyer turned some heads with an upset at 174. Meyer, seeded 11th, scored a takedown with five seconds left for a 7-5 victory over Lehigh’s Ryan Preisch.
“He was really on the guy at the end,” Brands said. “The guy ran out of bounds and then instead of coming back and being complacent, letting it go or the clock tick, he was on him again. Good job, Meyer, and now we’re on to day two with Meyer.”
As Meyer punched his ticket to the quarterfinals, 184-pounder teammate Sam Brooks was securing his spot in the next round. Brooks decked Edinboro’s Dakota Geer in 3:44 moments after Meyer’s victory.
“This is the big daddy and everybody is in the zone,” Brooks said. “Everybody’s got their best wrestling, so I have to take it one match at a time. Relax when I need to relax and come here ready to whip some tail.”
Brooks said he has wrestled in his strongest positions, dictating his matches. His persistence has allowed him to produce more points and bonus-point victories.
“I think the positions that I’m good tailor to a seven-minute match or a longer match,” Brooks said. “That can put pressure on a guy and when these guys open up that’s where I like to wrestle.”
Brooks finds himself in a familiar position. He has reached the national quarterfinals each of the last two seasons, but has fallen to an NCAA champion and eventual runner-up in succession. Brooks takes on Illinois’ Emery Parker, who knocked off Ohio State’s returning NCAA champion Myles Martin, 10-4, in the second round.
Brooks said he’s best when he stays relaxed and focused on the things he can control. He has a plan in place.
“Yeah, win instead of lose like I did the other years,” Brooks said with a laugh. “It’s just the same thing I’ve been saying.”
Kemerer was just behind Brooks in bonus points Thursday night. Second-seeded Kemerer scored a 22-6 technical fall over Edinboro’s Chase Delande. Kemerer broke things open in the last half of the match, ending it with 26 seconds left to spare.
“I was getting comfortable and getting my motor going once I got on the bottom (to start the third),” Kemerer said. “I started attacking and getting my shots. It was more of a feel thing. Time to pick up my pace. It led to me scoring a bunch of points at the end.”
Iowa has three in consolation matches. Topher Carton (141) and 165-pounder Joey Gunther won consolation matches to stay in it. Cash Wilcke moved to the consolations in a loss to Virginia Tech’s No. 4 Jared Haught.
The Hawkeyes were fourth with 24 ½ points. Penn State leads after the first day with 30 ½ points. Ohio State is second with 26, a half-point ahead of Oklahoma State.
Iowa has three quarterfinals against top-four teams. Gilman faces Oklahoma State’s Nick Puccininni. Sorensen has a rematch with Ohio State’s Micah Jordan, splitting the first two matches with him this season but losing in the Big Ten semifinals. Meyer takes on third-seeded Buckeye Bo Jordan. Carton has Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher in consolation action.
“You wrestle your best match,” Brands said. “This is the time of year where it doesn’t matter what happened. There has to be reminders if it went in your favor last time that it’s not going to be that simple.
“You still have to work hard. If it went against you, you have to right the wrong.”
Northern Iowa advanced two into the quarterfinals. Redshirt freshman Max Thomsen (149) and Drew Foster at 184 moved within a victory of All-American honors.
Foster, seeded 12th, recorded the marquee victory of the day, beating Virginia Tech’s No. 5 Zach Zavatsky, 4-3, at 184.
Foster scored the decisive takedown with 1:09 left in the third period.
“Really ecstatic but work is not done,” Foster said. “It is just one win so I just basically take the five seed and try to keep climbing.”
Seventh-seeded Thomsen watched Foster pull the upset. He is looking for Foster to carry it over into the following round.
“That’s big time,” Thomsen said. “You’re at NCAAs and anybody can get knocked off. It’s a huge win for Drew and I know he will keep it rolling.”
Thomsen needed even more dramatics for his victory. Thomsen trailed Lehigh’s Laike Gardner by a point with 30 seconds left. Thomsen escaped and scored a takedown with just four ticks left for a 6-4 victory.
“Every time you step on the mat you have to wrestle the full seven minutes,” Thomsen said, “because you never know what 10-second segment is going to be the difference.”
Thomsen had two tough battles to stay in the winner’s bracket. He used a two-point tilt in his first match, topping Drexel’s Matt Cimato, 2-1. He knows he is going to get everyone’s best shot.
“Right now, it’s the big dance,” Thomsen said. “When you’re wrestling upperclassmen, this is some of their last chances at this tournament, so they’re coming at me hard. I just have to keep wrestling.”
The Panthers have six remaining, including two-time All-American Dylan Peters. After a first-round loss, Peters won two straight consolation bouts to remain in the 125 bracket.
Iowa State has just one wrestler left in the field. All-American Lelund Weatherspoon remains in the 174 consolation bracket. The 14th-seeded senior scored a late takedown for a 3-1 win over Stanford’s Peter Galli in the opening round.
Weatherspoon fell short of the quarterfinals, dropping a 10-4 decision to Ohio State’s No. 3 seed Bo Jordan.
He was one of three qualifiers, but logged the only Cyclone victory.
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