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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    Five Things We Learned About the Big Ten in Week Five

    141 lb Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational champion Brock Hardy (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    This week was the busiest and most action-packed for Big Ten teams so far this season. Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Northwestern and Purdue were all competing out west at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, while Michigan State, Wisconsin, Rutgers and Indiana were busy competing against EIWA teams on the opposite side of the country at the Garden State Grapple in New Jersey.

    Meanwhile, Iowa and Penn State both faced intrastate foes in Iowa State and Lehigh, respectively. Minnesota earned an upset win over Oklahoma State on the road and Illinois held its home opener, splitting duals with Chattanooga and Pittsburgh.

    Here are five things we learned from Week 5:

    Iowa is nearing in on two decades of beating Iowa State.

    Iowa's win streak over their in-state rival, the Cyclones of Iowa State, is now old enough to vote. We just recently celebrated my nephew's 18th birthday, and he's only been alive in a world where Iowa has never lost in wrestling to Iowa State. That's not to say that some of these duals haven't been close over the years, but the fact remains that when these two teams have wrestled over the last 18 years, Iowa has ended the day as the better team. Iowa, coming off of a nice dual against Penn, had to bring out the big guns for ISU, and they had to bust them out right away. Spencer Lee made his season debut after missing most of last season to get surgery on both knees. Despite a bit of a slowdown midway through the match, he really looked great. Spencer has spoiled us over the years, looking more like a machine than a mortal man, but you could tell that he wasn't quite in peak Spencer Lee condition for this match. Regardless, he got the major decision, which helped the Hawkeyes gut this one out. Of note, Spencer mentioned after the dual that this was really the first time he's gotten the full Carvery Hawkeye crowd experience since before March of 2020. Glad he had a chance to get out there and get to work.

    Another Hawkeye debut came from Real Woods, who had to dig deep to get the win over Casey Swiderski. The match got a little heated at the end, but thankfully both of these teams like tough wrestling, so it was to be expected at some point. Cobe Siebrecht was super impressive to me in this one. He had a huge win in their previous dual against Penn, pinning Anthony Artalona in the second period. He showed an aptitude for big moves here when he was able to use a body lock to launch Jason Kraisser and really break open the match. Patrick Kennedy and David Carr was a match I had been looking forward to, especially since Carr got the nod at U23 Worlds this year over Kennedy. The result was in Carr's favor, and he looked good in doing so, but these are the sort of matches and feels you need to get if you're Kennedy.

    Nelson Brands got the other win for the Hawkeyes with a hard-fought 13-5 major decision over MJ Gaitan at 174. Brands was thought to possibly miss more time after a car accident earlier this year, but he's looked as dangerous as ever, and it was great to see him out there competing. He's looked great competing full-time at his natural weight so far, and you could tell by the smile on his face after that win, he's relishing these experiences. Next, the Hawkeyes will have their first home dual of the year this weekend as they travel south to take on Chattanooga.

    Minnesota takes out Oklahoma State in Stillwater

    The Golden Gophers snapped a six-dual losing streak, and got their first win in Gallagher-Iba Arena since 2013. They did so on the backs of several upset wins, which were gritty and truly impressive wins. They really looked great wrestling on top, creating action and scrambling in key situations, and finished each match strong. Especially at 197 and Heavyweight where Michial Foy gets a late escape and takedown, followed by Garret Joles getting an escape in OT rideouts to win 2-1. It helps when you're constantly getting extra battles in your room and have a tremendously deep lineup. Minnesota has 20 guys on the roster that currently have NCAA-ranked wins, so iron is continuously sharpening iron in that room.

    Patrick McKee gets another win over Mastrogiovanni, now being 2-1 over the Cowboy 125. Oklahoma State made a run winning three of the last four matches, including upset wins for Carter Young over Jake Bergeland at 141 and Kaden Gfeller over Brayton Lee at 157. Despite those two losses, this is an impressive win for Minnesota on the road, and will keep them rolling into their next dual this Friday night against former Golden Gopher, Roger Kish, and his North Dakota State Bison.

    Wisconsin, Rutgers, Indiana, and Michigan State go a combined 8-0 at the Garden State Grapple.

    The Big Ten sent some teams, the EIWA sent some teams, and this venture was decidedly won by the Big Ten. This event featured four teams from the Big Ten (Wisconsin, Rutgers, Indiana, and Michigan State), and four from the EIWA (Drexel, Penn, Princeton, and Binghamton), and they matched them up so that the teams should ideally get some challenging matches. Some duals were closer than others, but this was largely a one-sided affair and a statement by these Big Ten teams. Rutgers beat 15th-ranked Penn with the help from some upset wins at 125, 133, 197, and Heavyweight. Mean Dean Peterson started the dual off with a major decision over 17th-ranked Ryan Miller, which set the tone for the rest of the dual.

    Michigan State looked solid in their two wins. Most notably, Cam Caffey got the OT win over 7th-ranked Lou DePrez of Binghamton, then fell to 19th-ranked Luke Stout of Princeton. Layne Malczewski (184), Rayvon Foley (133), Tristan Lujan(125), Peyton Omania (149), and Jordan Hamden (141) were undefeated this weekend for the Spartans. Indiana's two wins at this event has them 4-0 on the season, with wins over Drexel, Binghamton, Princeton, and SIUE. This is the first time that Indiana has been 4-0 since their 2015-2016 season. Jacob Moran (125), Henry Porter (133), Caydon Rooks (141), Graham Rooks (149), Derek Gilcher (157), DJ Washington (174), and Jacob Bullock (HWY), all went undefeated for the Hoosiers at this event.
    Next up for the Spartans is a dual against Brown this Saturday (12/10), and for the Hoosiers, they will be competing next on 12/18 in the Reno Tournament of Champions.

    Wisconsin came to party, and party they did. They got wins over Princeton 38-3, as well as over Penn 27-9. They also walked away with the Big Ten's Outstanding Wrestler of the event in Braxton Amos (197), getting two ranked wins over the weekend over Luke Stout (19) of Princeton, and Cole Urbas (27) of Penn. Braxton was ranked 20th heading into this event. The rest of the cast of characters did what you'd expect. Eric Barnett (125) walked away with 12 team points and a combined :22 seconds of wrestling. Sure, he took a forfeit against Princeton, but the point remains the same. Austin Gomez got a nice win against 9th-ranked Doug Zapf of Penn, as well as a pin against the Tigers of Princeton. He joins Barnett (125), Hamiti (165), Tyler Dow (184), Amos (197), and Hilger (HWY), as the undefeated Badgers from this event. Wisconsin competes next against Drexel at home as part of the Wisconsin Wrestling Showcase on December 11th.

    Nebraska proves it's still king of Las Vegas

    We're in the fourth week of this column and have yet to feature Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have had a bit of a slow start to the season, dropping a tight slugfest against North Dakota State, 20-16, in its opener.

    With losing four All-Americans this season – Taylor Venz, Eric Schultz and CJ Red running out of eligibility and Ridge Lovett redshirting – it was fair to question whether Nebraska would be able to hold onto its reign as king of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.

    But, they did it.

    Not only did the Huskers pull off the three-peat, but they also did so with more points (137.5) and more champions (three) than the previous two years. Brock Hardy (141), Peyton Robb (157) and Mikey Labriola (174) each won crowns, three more finished in the top five and another made the medal stand.

    The highlight of the tournament for the Huskers had to be Labriola's sudden victory win over 2019 NCAA champ Mekhi Lewis, of Virginia Tech, in the finals to give Nebraska the three-for-three championship sweep. But there were plenty of other high points, as well. They include:

  • Sophomore Brock Hardy's breakout performance, going from eighth seed to champ – pinning top-seeded Cole Mattin, of Michigan, in 39 seconds, along the way at 141.

  • Bubba Wilson going to work in the consolation bracket after losing in the first round to finish fourth at 165.

  • Unseeded freshman Lenny Pinto's two ranked wins, including a 5-4 decision over InterMat's then-No. 6 Trey Munoz, of Oregon State, at 184.

  • No. 6-seed Silas Alred's 5-2 win over Ohio State's No. 3-seed Gavin Hoffman at 197.

    The Cornhuskers should be riding a new wave of confidence and momentum heading into their Dec. 18 dual at South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits also had an exceptional tournament in Las Vegas, placing third with eight medalists, setting up what's sure to be a can't-miss dual meet.

    While Nebraska still has some developing to do, the pieces of the puzzle became a little more clearer this weekend.

    Both Robb and Labriola have ascended to the No. 2 spot in their respective weight classes this week in the InterMat rankings and several others moved up – including Pinto, who vaulted from unranked to No. 12. Hardy also cracked the top 10.

    They should be making a lot more appearances in this weekly column.

    Intrastate rivalries are special and shouldn't be taken for granted

    Two of the oldest and most storied intrastate rivalries involving Big Ten teams were on display this past weekend when Iowa and Iowa State met up in Iowa City for the 86th official time in 110 years and Penn State and Lehigh battled for the 110th time.

    Prior to the Cy-Hawk match, Iowa coach Tom Brands tried to downplay this dual as being any more significant than any other dual on their schedule. But he couldn't quite help himself.

    “Is it significant? You're doggone right it is. You're doggone right it is,” Brands said in his weekly press conference. “It's a great opportunity for our guys. It's in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Great opportunity.”

    Both duals delivered on the hype. Nearly 15,000 fans filled Carver-Hawkeye and more than 6,000 packed a sold-out Stabler Arena in Bethlehem.

    Penn State coach Cael Sanderson has said several times in the past about how important it is for his team to be able to compete in front of their fans in different parts of the state. The brown and white at Stabler on Sunday was also speckled with a healthy mix of blue and white.

    Both duals lived up to the hypes when it came to action, too.

    Iowa vs. Iowa State was a back-and-forth battle that came down to bonus points and Penn State vs. Lehigh brought the drama when reigning national champ Max Dean was taken out by his former teammate Michael Beard, of Lehigh, in a high-scoring, action-packed battle. This marked Dean's second loss of the weekend.

    Wrestlers on both benches were on their feet throughout the bout and the crowd exploded when the clock ran out with Beard on top, 11-9. This performance gave credence to all the reports that had come out of Penn State's wrestling room last year about the two wrestlers being razor close in wrestle-offs.

    While recent history has been kinder to the Big Ten teams in these rivalries – Iowa is riding an 18-dual win streak in the series and Penn State has won 13 straight – there's always an extra level of drama and excitement when programs with as much history and that value the sport as much as these programs do get together.

    Even Brands didn't have to think long when asked about his favorite memory of the series – his teammate Brooks Simpson's fall over NCAA champ Eric Voelker, of Iowa State, which swung the match back in Iowa's direction to set up the win in 1988.

    Sometimes, traditions can be taken for granted, especially as time goes on and things change. But here's to hoping that these century-old rivalries continue to create memories for years to come.
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