Despite protests to the contrary, wrestling's showdown with Iowa State is a big deal


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For a minute, they were almost believable.

The Iowa wrestlers tried admirably on Tuesday to persuade reporters that Friday's showdown with Iowa State doesn't hold much extra importance.

Senior Luke Lofthouse cautioned against getting too hyped-up for a single match and suffering unneeded fatigue. Sophomore Matt McDonough was among the many Hawkeyes who said the meet is "like any other match."

But deep down, the wrestlers know what this rivalry — the most heated one in college wrestling — means and how many memorable moments have come from it.

Head coach Tom Brands spoke about the opportunity for Iowa wrestlers to positively define themselves with a big match against Iowa State. He referenced Hawkeye Royce Alger's victory over Iowa State's now-head coach Kevin Jackson in 1987 and Mark Perry's win over Travis Paulson in 2006 in which "Perry threw up in his mouth and swallowed the puke to go on and win the match."

For a more recent example of the power a big win can have over the Cyclones, one needs only to look to last year. As a redshirt freshman, McDonough used a 13-7 victory over Iowa State's Andrew Long as a springboard to a national-championship season. His opponent in the national final match: Andrew Long.

"That was the first time I had a serious test last year with someone who was also ranked," McDonough said. "Big stage, big event. It was a good win."

The Hawkeyes are young this year. In the same way McDonough's big win helped to establish him last year, several untested Iowa wrestlers have a chance to put themselves on the map on Friday.

Sophomore Matt Ballweg pinned his first three opponents this year. He'll wrestle No. 11 Chris Drouin at 141 pounds on Friday, giving him his first chance to prove himself against a quality opponent this season.

Redshirt freshman Derek St. John has a pin and two major decisions this season, and he beat his 157-pound counterpart Trent Weatherman twice last season. But Weatherman will bring a four-match winning streak into Carver-Hawkeye Arena. A win would help validate the strong start to St. John's Hawkeye career.

Ethen Lofthouse, a redshirt freshman, has been dynamic in his first four meets this year. He'll face 12-0 Jonathan Reader, a two-time All-American and the nation's third-ranked 174-pounder. Lofthouse could vault himself to national prominence with an upset.

But the team isn't thinking about any of that; the Hawks would rather play down the significance of the match. And for Hawkeye fans, that's probably a good thing — the results that approach has produced are impossible to argue with.

Junior Tyler Clark, a transfer from Iowa State, said ignoring the hype is a key to success.

"This is just the next step," Clark said. "Right now, it's the biggest meet we've had. But afterward, the next meet is the biggest. That's how you get your best results."

But Clark hinted at a different truth when asked about missing the match because of an injury.

"I've been trying everything I can to get this cast off me, but they're pretty strict," he said. "It's going to be a pretty big bummer to sit this one out."

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