IOWA CITY — Iowa Coach Tom Brands said this dual is highlighted, circled in red with a little asterisk by it.
The fact that it closes the regular season and is the toughest test to date is inconsequential.
This is Iowa and Oklahoma State, a battle between college wrestling’s most storied programs.
“A dual like this, no matter where it is on the calendar, you’re going to get up for it,” Brands said. “This is certainly one of those duals. This dual is important for both programs.
“The time of year makes momentum maybe more important as well, but it’s not going to define you either way. If you steamroll or get steamrolled, you’ve still got to get ready to go and we get ready to go the same way.”
Third-ranked Iowa and No. 2 Oklahoma State continue their rivalry, facing off in a battle of unbeatens Sunday at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla., beginning at 2 p.m.
The 53rd installment between the Hawkeyes (14-0) and Cowboys (14-0) promises eight weights with two wrestlers ranked nationally by trackwrestling.com.
The two smallest weights could produce the biggest matchups. Iowa NCAA champion and second-ranked Spencer Lee is expected to face No. 4 Nick Piccininni, who is unbeaten at 125. Austin DeSanto, ranked third at 133, is set to wrestle Oklahoma State’s No. 2 Daton Fix.
Brands anticipates those two bouts to open the dual.
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“That’s going to go a long ways in determining the dual,” Brands said. “We love our two guys there. We love them.”
Lee beat Piccininni twice last season, beating him by decision in a home dual and building a big lead before a second-period pin in the national quarterfinals.
“He’s always a great opponent,” Lee said. “He’s an All-American. You’ve got to be ready to go. He’s tough.”
DeSanto has logged big victories this season, including a decision over Rutgers NCAA finalist Nick Suriano. Fix presents another top-flight challenge.
“I’m excited to get to wrestle an opponent like him,” DeSanto said. “I’m excited like I was Suriano. I’ve just got to go out there and push the pace.”
DeSanto’s motor has run red-hot lately. He has scored 82 total points in his last four matches, tallying at least 18 in each with two technical falls. The pair has never wrestled, but have similar wide-open styles. It also will prove to be a good gauge entering the postseason.
“Just having this match, a tough opponent like him, it shows me what I need to work on before the big tournaments,” DeSanto said. “I’ve got to stay focused on this guy and worry about what I need to get done this match.”
Four other top-10 battles are possible. At 149, Iowa’s 10th-ranked Pat Lugo has No. 5 Kaden Gfeller, while second-ranked Alex Marinelli takes on No. 10 Chandler Rogers. The dual could come down to the final two matches between Iowa’s No. 4 Jacob Warner and No. 6 Preston Weigel at 197 and No. 9 Sam Stoll and No. 2 Derek White at heavyweight.
“Ten matches that are big,” Brands said. “I’m fired up.”
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The first two weights could be key in defusing what is expected to be hostile crowd. Marinelli was a redshirt when he traveled with the Hawkeyes on their last trip to Stillwater. He didn’t wrestle but he experienced the atmosphere.
“It was a very good environment and I love that kind of stuff and I know my teammates do, too,” Marinelli said. “We have a team that doesn’t crumble under the bright lights and the crazy crowd. We’ve got teammates that are ready for the fight. We’re having fun.”
The Hawkeyes have entered plenty of arenas as the bad guys. They have to approach it the same as any other dual.
“I hear that the crowd is going to be raucous and that’s great,” Brands said. “I hear they are going to try to break their attendance record and that’s great.”
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