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Missed opportunities cost Iowa the NCAA title

BY CODY GOODWIN | MARCH 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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ST. LOUIS — Frustration is watching a former teammate and longtime friend party with his first-place team in front of 19,715 die-hard fans inside the Scottrade Center. It’s seeing those clad in Scarlet and Gray roar and cheer while those wearing Black and Gold sit quietly.

For Tom Brands and the Iowa wrestling team, it is second place when a title was within their reach. The silver NCAA trophy they received for their finish at the national tournament is a symbol of that feeling, a reminder of how bittersweet those three days in March can be, the result of missed opportunities that will undoubtedly haunt them for a while.

“We definitely under-wrestled the tournament,” Brands said. “One that got away — you know, what’s getting away? To me, getting away is, like, you’re there and it’s a point or a half-point.

“This wasn’t close. That’s not getting away to me. They did more work than us.”

Indeed, Ohio State clinched its first-ever NCAA team championship with 102 points while the Hawkeyes placed second with 84. That 18-point margin is the largest since Penn State won the 2012 title by 25.5 over Minnesota.

There were points throughout the tournament, though, when Iowa was much, much closer. After Day 1, the Buckeyes only led by 2 points, and each team had five wrestlers in the quarterfinals. Only three Hawkeyes advanced to the semifinals, while Ohio State sent all five, extending its lead to 17.

Entering the tournament’s final day, the Hawkeyes trailed by 13.5 points but had the chance to stage a comeback with a near-perfect performance. Thomas Gilman, after being bounced from the 125-pound semifinals the night before, pinned Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett to close the gap to 8 points.

Brandon Sorensen brought the Black and Gold within 4.5 after winning his consolation semifinal at 149.

Iowa wrestlers then lost their next five matches while Ohio State’s two backside wrestlers sealed the deal. Going into the medal matches, the Buckeyes managed an 8-point lead. Bo Jordan scored a pin to take third at 165, pushing the lead to 11.

Kenny Courts’ 4-3 win over Hayden Zillmer earned him fifth at 184 pounds and clinched a share of the NCAA title for his team. Shortly thereafter, Nathan Burak’s 6-5 decision over Michigan’s Max Huntley for seventh at 197 gave the Buckeyes the title outright.

“Incredibly proud of this group,” Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said. “We talked about ‘be the change’ — you know, be the group that does it.

“… 1921 was the first year Ohio State started wrestling. 1921. How many years ago was that — 94 years since the beginning of this program, and we finally win our first championship.”

Though there were moments of a two-way fight, Iowa did, as Brands said, underperform. Only two Hawkeyes placed above their seeds — Gilman took fourth as the sixth seed, and Cory Clark was a 133-pound finalist as a third seed.

Sorensen held par with a fourth-place finish, but three others — Mike Evans, Burak, and Bobby Telford — placed below their respective seeds. Josh Dziewa failed to reach the podium at 141 after being seeded fifth. Even more, Michael Kelly and Nick Moore, while unseeded, contributed a combined 0 team points.

“We have a lot of work to do, toughness-wise,” Gilman said. “We came to this tournament, and we had a few first- and second-round losses. That can’t happen. Can’t happen. You have to keep those guys on the front side. You have to be tough.

“We can talk about talent. We can talk about people stepping up. But it’s all about just getting the job done. … We didn’t put things together, and [Ohio State] did. Props to them.”

Four Ohio State wrestlers placed well above their seeds, and that doesn’t include No. 1 Logan Stieber at 141, who became just the fourth wrestler ever to win four individual NCAA titles. He was interviewed by ESPN after his match, billed as the next legendary wrestler to achieve a once-impossible feat, the leader of the team that crushed Iowa’s dreams.

The Hawkeyes watched in frustration as the Buckeyes partied on the stage. They eventually disappeared underneath the Scottrade Center to find their stuff and head back to Iowa City, carrying the silver trophy in their hands and the thoughts of what could have been in their heads.

“As far as maybe some regret when you look back on it, for sure. But it’s not like we let it slip away,” Brands said. “We just didn’t do enough. We didn’t score enough match points. We didn’t score enough team points.

“It’s that simple.”

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa wrestling team.


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