Small College Sports

Wrestling Weekend That Was: Upper Iowa produces strong start on the mats

Alber claims UNI Open title, Iowa freshmen win gold, Cornell's Hewson wins battle of ranked foes

Upper Iowa’s Maleek Williams drives back Seton Hill’s Vincent Distefanis during their 125 lbs. quarterfinal match at the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships at the U.S. Cellular Center in northeast Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 9, 2018. Williams won. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Upper Iowa’s Maleek Williams drives back Seton Hill’s Vincent Distefanis during their 125 lbs. quarterfinal match at the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships at the U.S. Cellular Center in northeast Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 9, 2018. Williams won. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Upper Iowa has continued its success, while a handful at UNI were able to impress. Ranked foes battled and the Cowboys wrangled Sooners like cattle in the Wrestling Weekend That Was.

Peacock Power

Upper Iowa has picked up right where it left off a year ago, when it placed fourth at the NCAA Division II Championships at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.

The Peacocks are ranked fifth and opened the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference dual season last Thursday with a dominant 33-11 victory over Minot State. Upper Iowa won seven of 10 weights and recorded bonus points in five, improving to 2-0 overall this season.

Five Peacocks are nationally ranked, including national runner-up and top-ranked Maleek Williams at 125 pounds. He is 10-1 with five technical falls and two major decisions. Former North Fayette Valley prep Nick Baumler is third at 197 and joins Williams as the only other returning All-Americans. Baumler, a sophomore, placed seventh a year ago and has started with an 8-0 mark.

Upper Iowa’s Damion Hahn is ranked fifth at 184. Hahn, also a sophomore, is 15-2 with eight pins. He leads the Peacocks with 73 team points. Brock Benitz (157) and Jordan Gundrum (174) are both ranked 12th, giving the Peacocks a strong nucleus.

They return to tournament competition this week with the two-day Midwest Classic at Indianapolis, Ind., starting Friday.

Josh Alber wins UNI Open

Northern Iowa’s Josh Alber claimed an individual title and was one of three Panther finalists at the UNI Open on Saturday. Alber went 4-0 with a technical fall and a pin. He defeated Iowa NCAA qualifier Vince Turk, 4-0, in the final.

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UNI Coach Doug Schwab said fifth-year seniors were given the choice to compete and Alber is not the kind to turn down the chance to wrestle.

“He competed incredibly hard,” Schwab said during his weekly news conference. “Very focused (but) focus with an edge, though.

“When Alber’s wrestling with an edge, that’s really good for us. I liked how he competed. He didn’t give guys anything. He made guys earn every single position.”

Two of Iowa’s top true freshmen continued their impressive start to a redshirt season. Nelson Brands (165) and heavyweight Tony Cassioppi won titles. Cassioppi pinned his way through the bracket, wrestling in a combined 3:10. Brands scored a reversal in overtime to top Minnesota’s Jake Allar in the finals.

Interestingly, the American Rivers Conference was represented on the podium. Wartburg NCAA champion Brock Rathbun placed fifth at 133. Rathbun, a sophomore from Center Point-Urbana, is ranked first in NCAA D-III. Luther’s Austin Hansen was sixth at 184 pounds.

Ben Hewson wins ranked battle

Cornell College’s Ben Hewson earned an impressive victory Friday, topping Wartburg All-American and third-ranked Mike Ross, 3-1, at 165 pounds.

The ninth-ranked Ram, who placed seventh at the 2018 NCAA Championships, scored a penalty point in the third to tie the score, adding the decisive takedown with 30 seconds left. Hewson improved to 11-2 this season. Second-round Wartburg won eight bouts for a 38-6 victory.

Buckaroos take Bedlam

The rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, known as the Bedlam Series, hit the wrestling mat Sunday in Stillwater, Okla. For all the talk about the Cy-Hawk Series between Iowa and Iowa State wrestling being on life support before this year’s close dual, the same can be said of the Bedlam Series receiving Last Rites.

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Oklahoma State’s 41-2 victory was the largest winning margin in the last 26 years of the rivalry. Cowboys Coach John Smith improved to 50-6-3 as head coach against the Sooners, giving Oklahoma State a 141-27-10 all-time advantage and a 78-12-2 edge at home. Oklahoma has beaten the Cowboys just three times since 1995, including the most recent in 2013.

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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