IOWA CITY — Oh, the volume level here Friday night. On a scale of 1 to 10, it really was an 11.
Carver-Hawkeye Arena has been around a while, but even Dan Gable was hard-pressed to name a louder moment in the gym than the last minute of Iowa wrestler Michael Kemerer’s 11-6 174-pound win over Penn State’s Mark Hall Friday night.
Gable recalled a 1988 night here when 190-pounder Brooks Simpson pinned top-ranked, defending national champ Eric Voelker of Iowa State, helping the Gable-coached Hawkeyes to a 22-15 win over the then-No. 1 Cyclones before about 13,000 fans and keeping Gable’s record at Carver unbeaten.
Gable said there was more roaring that night “per capita,” more noise “per mouth,” admitting “I’m not gonna give up that easy. I don’t roll over and get pinned.”
Neither did the 2020 Hawkeyes Friday before a sellout crowd of 14,905. The seats were all snapped up two months ago. Tickets on StubHub were going Friday for $200, $300, even more. No one in attendance acted like they didn’t get every penny’s worth of drama and excitement.
It was an uphill fight, this 19-17 win for No. 1 Iowa over No. 2 Penn State. Kemerer virtually had to topple Hall in their meeting of unbeatens for the Hawkeyes to have the chance to win the dual, and he pulled away in the third period for the win that had everyone from mat level to the upper concourse hopping around and hollering.
“It was tense,” Gable said of that match. “It was tense.”
It was two hours of tense. It was Iowa falling behind 11-4 after three matches. Second-ranked 133-pounder Austin DeSanto had to take an injury default after hurting his knee against unbeaten Nittany Lion Roman Bravo-Young. Not good.
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It was tense when Hawkeye 165-pound junior Alex Marinelli lost for the first time in his career at Carver, 7-5 against Penn State’s top-ranked Vincenzo Joseph.
Kemerer responded by winning, and was congratulated by Marinelli immediately after the match. Iowa 197-pounder Jacob Warner won a 4-2 decision to pull Iowa within 17-16, leaving the fate of the dual with freshman heavyweight Tony Cassioppi. His dominant 7-0 decision over Seth Nevills in a clash of unbeatens sent everyone home delighted.
“I love it! I love it! You live for it!” Iowa Coach Tom Brands told Cassioppi before the wrestler entered the interview room after the dual.
“Cassioppi lives for that,” Brands told reporters later. “I don’t think we had to find out he could handle that. He lives for that.”
Asked if he enjoyed having the weight of the dual on his considerable shoulders, the seemingly easygoing Cassioppi said “It’s just another wrestling match.”
Another wrestling match? Not in front of 15,000 screaming fans clamoring for him to knock off the defending national champs, and he knew it.
“It was awesome,” Cassioppi said. “We have great fans. Loud. They were awesome.
At the team’s media day last fall, Brands said Iowa fans would enjoy Cassioppi, who redshirted last season. That has turned out to be an understatement.
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“We knew that when we started to lean on him in his training that the response that he gave us was exactly what is going to get you to where you can win very consistently at the highest level,” Brands said. “I’m talking about the highest level. I’m talking about Division I and I’m talking about internationally. He’s that way.”
What did we learn from this night? Well, Iowa won six of 10 matches against Cael Sanderson’s dynasty, but prying the Big Ten and national titles from Penn State will be no small feat. Plus, now DeSanto is hurt.
But this was a big night for the Hawkeye program’s psyche. We’ve heard a thousand times that duals don’t matter in the big picture. It’s all about the postseason. Yet, this moment against the NCAA champions of 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 was something neither the coach, his wrestlers, nor 14,905 fans could stomach going the wrong way. Iowa hasn’t won the NCAAs since 2010, and this is the most-promising squad Brands has assembled since then.
Brands thumped the table he sat at before after entering the interview room, then proclaimed “That’s a dual meet. A heavyweight boxing match. A fistfight.”
He was a freshman wrestler on the Hawkeyes in ‘88 when Carver went cuckoo for Simpson’s pin. But he gave Friday the nod for noise because of the extra 2,000 fans. Brands doesn’t roll over and get pinned, either.
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