Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Best and Worst of the Iowa Hawkeyes at the 2016 NCAA Tournament

So the NCAA Tournament did not exactly work out how Hawkeye fans had hoped it would. Penn State was expected to win, and they went out and dominated. It seems as if there is nobody better than Cael Sanderson in prepping his team for the NCAA Tournament, and this year was no different. Even though there were some disappointments for the Hawkeyes, there were also things to celebrate. Let's break it down in chronological order to get through the muck early, so we can celebrate late.

141 - Brody Grothus - N/A
Iowa didn't qualify anybody for the tournament, and there was no Vince McMahon to bring in a brand new Iowa wrestler, Grody Brothus, to liven things up at the Nationals. So, yeah, nothing to note here.

165 - Patrick Rhoads - 0-2
Rhoads was unseeded, and he lived up to that in the tournament. He lost both of his matches. He just didn't have the necessary skills to generate any offense. He wrestled hard; it just wasn't enough.

Heavyweight - Sam Stoll - 0-1
I knew this was a possibility. Sam Stoll's injured knee just couldn't hold up. If he was healthy, I think he would have become an All-American as a freshman, which would have been an incredible accomplishment. Only his knee did give out, and it's a what if as opposed to what actually happened. Wrestling is a hard sport, and it always sucks to see a talented guy not be able to showcase what he has worked so hard for because his body simply can't perform (Brian Realbuto was another example from this year). I'm guessing he'll still struggle early in the season next year, but he will hopefully be back to 100% by the time the matches get meaningful.

157 - Edwin Cooper - 1-2
We knew Cooper was going to need some good matchups to do much damage in this tournament, and unfortunately, he did not get those matchups. He got to his offense early in his first round matchup and took care of business with an 8-3 win. After that, he got matched up with Ian Miller, who nearly beat Isaiah Martinez in the semifinals, and Miller just ran right through Cooper. After that, he was in a match against Austin Matthews from Edinboro, and he started off really well as he got into a shot immediately, but he couldn't finish his shots. After that, he lost some scrambles, ended up on his back repeatedly, and finally got pinned as he knew it was basically the end for him. Obviously, it would have been preferable for him to win another match or two, but he beat the guy he should have, lost to a guy he should have, and didn't find the breaks in his the match that was pretty even going into it. It happens.

174 - Alex Meyer - 4-3 - All American (8th)
Alex Meyer came much closer to having a bigger impact in the tournament. Unfortunately, he got off to a slow start where he was in a match that was seven minutes long, and about six minutes of that were scrambles. He lost 10-9 to Gordon Wolf in a match that he would definitely win the next time around, but that's what makes winning the NCAAs so tough. You face a mystery opponent and one slip up and you've lost your shot at a national title. After that, Meyer really started wrestling great. In the consolation round, he took out the 4, 6, 9, and 14 seeds on his route to become an All-American, and I think he may have trailed in each of those matches. He finally lost to Zach Epperly who took third place in the tournament. Even that was on Friday night after Meyer had a match while Epperly advanced by medical forfeit. On Saturday morning, he lost a hard fought match against Cody Walters from Ohio who pulled out the victory in the final seconds. It was disappointing to end with a couple losses, but considering how he battled back after his first match, it was a really strong performance for Meyer and gives Hawkeyes a reason for excitement for his senior year.

184 - Sammy Brooks - 3-3 - All-American (8th)
Where Alex Meyer bounced back to become a happy surprise as an 8th place finisher, it seems that 8th place is what happened for Sammy Brooks because everything went wrong. He won his first two matches, and then had his third match with TJ Dudley of Nebraska. It was an issue of falling behind early and then not having enough time to catch up. He did make it interesting though as he continually went for upper body throws and actually put Dudley on his back for a second, but he couldn't hold the position, and Dudley held on to win and eventually make it to the finals. That easily could have been Brooks going up against Gabe Dean, but alas, it was not meant to be. On the back half, things continued to get screwy. Brooks faced Dominic Abounader from Michigan and put him on his back in the first period. Right before he is about to complete the pin, the second ref stops the match because he thought there may be an illegal hold. There wasn't, but Brooks lost the position and an extra two points. On top of that, Iowa lost another team point because Assistant Coach, Ryan Morningstar, would not stop screaming at the officials. Iowa would have made the podium as a team with those points, but fourth place isn't really all that important to the Hawkeyes despite what the announcers were saying on Saturday night. Back to Brooks, instead of having a two minute match, he had to go seven hard minutes and then wrestle again later that night against Mat Miller who did get a two minute pin and got up early on Brooks. Sammy went for a big move but got put on his back and pinned. The next morning it was more of the same where Brooks got down and never came close to coming back against Nathaniel Brown from Lehigh. It was a disappointing end to what had been a very good season for Brooks. Still, I think he's a top competitor at 184 next year.

197 - Nathan Burak - 4-2 - All-American (4th)
Burak did exactly what he was supposed to do. He was seeded fourth and he finished fourth. Really, there's nothing to complain about. He won his first three matches, went up against Morgan McIntosh and lost his sixth match to McIntosh. He couldn't generate any offense, and that's the way it has always gone against McIntosh. In what was the only match between Iowa and Iowa State wrestlers, Burak bounced back to beat Patrick Downey in sudden victory. He then lost to Brett Pfarr, a guy he had split with in their previous two matches. Burak was an incredibly solid wrestler for all four years, but he just never had the athleticism to take out the top guys. Iowa would be lucky to get anything close to Nathan Burak for their next starter at 197.

149 - Brandon Sorensen - 4-1 - All-American (2nd)
Brandon Sorensen came in as the #2 seed, and he lived up to that seed. Ultimately, it was a really good performance from Sorensen. The guy is not a point scoring machine, but he is solid everywhere, and he finds ways to win. After a major decision in the first round, he won by two points in his next three matches, one of which went to the second sudden victory period against Jake Sueflohn. It's not flashy, but it gets the job done, and it got him into the finals. That earned him a second match against Zain Retherford, and Retherford is just on another level right now. I think he deserves the Hodge Trophy for best wrestler at any weight class, and he completely overwhelmed Sorensen in the finals. Still, Sorensen did the best of any of his opponents as he was the only one to last all seven minutes. Retherford won by tech fall, pin, pin, and pin before the finals. I feel like second place was his ceiling, and he reached it. Unfortunately, Zain is only a sophomore, so I don't really see that ceiling changing in the next two years.

133 - Cory Clark - 4-1 - All-American (2nd)
Clark wrestled a smart tournament. And by smart, I am implying safe. He got a major decision in his first match and then just plugged along with enough offense to win each match. It got him to the finals where he met Nahshon Garrett, and Garrett is a different sort of wrestler. Technique wise, Clark can hang with anyone, but Garrett's athleticism gave him a lot of problems. Garrett did an excellent job of finding open spots to take his shots, and he was very successful in doing so. The match ended up 7-6, but it really wasn't that close, as Garrett took a large lead and played it safe to hang on to win in the end. Next year, this weight class opens up as the guys who have beat him the last two years (Garrett and Cody Brewer) both graduate. There's a good chance he opens the year as the top ranked wrestler in the 133 pound weight class.

125 - Thomas Gilman - 4-1 - All-American (2nd)
Although he was one of three Hawkeyes to be runner-up in his weight class, Gilman had the best performance of any Hawkeye in the tournament. He absolutely steamrolled his way into the semifinals with a tech fall and two major decisions. He then faced top-ranked Nathan Tomasello and battled for seven minutes. Tomasello almost got a takedown at the end, but Gilman managed to hold him off. Then in overtime, Tomasello looked pretty gassed, and Gilman was not only able to get a takedown, but he got the pin as well to give Iowa even more bonus points. Tomasello was the only top-seeded wrestler to not make the finals, so it was a great job by Gilman. As for the finals, Gilman had a good shot early on, but Megaludis was able to reverse the advantage and get two himself. It changed the whole dynamic of the match, and Gilman wasn't able to make up the deficit. Still, Gilman had a great tournament, and he'll be a co-favorite with Tomasello to win the National Title next year.

This was a disappointing season in many ways for Iowa. Not winning the National Title was not one of them, as Penn State was absolutely stacked, and it was going to take not only Iowa performing well but Penn State to perform poorly to rise to that standard. Still, fifth place is about as low as this team could have finished. The most disappointing part were all those even numbers in the All-American finishes. Every single Iowa wrestler ended his season with a loss. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but maybe it's just what they need to take a big step forward for 2017.

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