IOWA CITY – Cael Sanderson exited the Carver-Hawkeye Arena late Friday evening appreciating a win, but the Penn State wrestling coach was far from satisfied.
Down the hall and around the corner, Iowa coach Tom Brands expressed similar feelings.
The Nittany Lions smashed the Hawkeyes’ 29-streak double-win streak, ending the country’s longest double-win streak with a 19-16 win over Iowa in front of a sold-out crowd of 14,905.
Penn State have won six games, including two that went into overtime, in the highly contested kind of voice acting you’d expect among the best Nittany Lions and second Hawkeyes.
“We showed some tenacity, won some tough and close matches against a really good team,” said Sanderson. “Every time you win in Iowa it’s a good win, but we have to improve.”
Bonus points were hard to get.
Both teams claimed a major decision – Drew Hildebrandt at £ 125 for Penn State and Alex Marinelli at £ 165 for Iowa – in a doubles that would otherwise have been filled with close matches including four decided by one or two points.
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“Bonus points are key,” said Brands, citing Marinelli’s 10-2 win over Brady Berge.
But the Iowa manager was quick to refer to Hildebrandt’s 9-0 win over Jesse Ybarra, back in training due to Drake Ayala’s injury and a match in which four points at the end of the third period gave the Nittany Lions an extra point for the team.
“It went against us too. We have to finish,” Brands said. “We need to finish games better and be a little tougher in those situations. We need to keep doing the things we need to do to make progress as we go into February and the end of the season.”
“We weren’t very happy with our performance and I know their boyfriend probably isn’t either,” Sanderson said. “We will get better, but we have a lot of little things to work on.”
The only lower-ranking wrestler to win on Friday was fifth-ranked Tony Cassioppi from Iowa, who forsaken an early takedown but used a couple to claim a 7-2 win over third-placed and previously undefeated Greg. Kerkvliet.
“He hit me right away with that double and I made an adjustment to stop his next one, which was important to me,” Cassioppi said. “I can’t let the first one take me down. I have to make the adjustment before I have to make the adjustment. I have to be ready, ready, ready, but I’m back and I fought for my match.”
Sanderson felt that his team lacked energy in many of his games.
He acknowledged that the Hawkeyes’ readiness may have created that perception in a doubles in which six games go goalless after a period and saw the teams have a total of 18 takedowns, eight from the Hawkeyes and 10 from the Nittany Lions.
Penn State has won four of five matches between wrestlers ranked in the top five nationally, including both rematches of 2021 NCAA championship games.
Nick Lee of the Nittany Lions beat second-placed Jaydin Eierman 6-4 with a sudden victory at 141 and Carter Starocci beat Michael Kemerer 2-1 in the first tiebreak after a bout of sudden goalless victory.
By handing Iowa its first double defeat since a 27-12 setback at Oklahoma State in 2019, Penn State also scored wins from the other two top-tier fighters.
Roman Bravo-Young beat Austin DeSanto, third in the standings, 3-2 at 133 and Aaron Brooks took an 8-3 win over Abe Assad, seventeenth in the standings, at 184.
“We lose one of those games and we lose double,” Sanderson said. “Iowa does a really good job of scouting and preparing for the games. They worked a lot and it shows. We can watch what they were doing with it and learn from the experience.”
He reiterated that it starts with better finishing work.
The Iowa coach used Kemerer’s game as an example.
“Kemerer is there at least twice and we are pretty good there. We will have opportunities in the future there as well, but we just need to get better at finishing,” said Brands.
Both teams understand they will meet again in March, when the stakes will be highest at the Big Ten Finals in Nebraska and the NCAA Championships in Detroit.
“In a lot of these games, we know we’re going to see these guys two more times,” Sanderson said. “This was just the first round.”