U braces for hostile confines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena

by Allison Younge

Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson calls it “the lion’s den.” With a 94-1 match home record — dating back to 1983 — Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena engulfs its opponents with intimidation.
“Teams fear Iowa so much that they let it get in the way of how they perform,” Robinson said. “It’s just a mental game.”
The mystique that surrounds Iowa wrestling becomes immediately apparent upon entering Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It’s the only university arena specifically designed with wrestling in mind. It’s compact enough to produce the effect of Hawkeye fans hovering above the mat, breathing down the opponent’s neck.
“It’s a very intimidating place,” Robinson said. “Six thousand fans will be there. We need to be able to handle the pressure.”
Tonight will be a battle of the rankings. Iowa, ranked No. 2, posts a 10-1 record. Minnesota is No. 3 and holds an 11-2 overall record.
For the Gophers, a focused mindset is critical, especially with the factors involved in this particular match.
Minnesota will give Iowa a quick 6-0 lead by forfeiting the 118-pound match while Brandon Paulson is out with an ankle injury suffered at the National Duals tournament last weekend.
This certainly is not ideal for the Gophers. But Iowa may be in trouble at 150 pounds. The No. 1-ranked Lincoln McIlravy is questionable, while recovering from a recent concussion. If McIlravy doesn’t wrestle, Chad Kraft (ranked No. 4 at 150) will be looked upon to make up for Paulson’s forfeit at 118.
Minnesota met Iowa last weekend in the semifinal match of the National Duals. The Gophers were knocked off 23-12, but went on to beat Penn State (ranked No. 4) in the third place match. Robinson is confident that tonight’s matchup against Iowa will be different.
“This team is beginning to believe in themselves,” Robinson said. “They gave up six points against Penn State and beat them. Why can’t we do the same to Iowa?”
Oklahoma State snapped Iowa’s 42 dual meet winning-streak by downing the Hawkeyes in the championship match of the Duals, 21-13. In the process, the Cowboys earned the No. 1 ranking and reduced Iowa to No. 2 — its lowest rank of the season.
The thought of Iowa coming off a loss wouldn’t seem too promising for most teams, but Minnesota took advantage of a similar situation in 1994.
The Hawkeyes sustained their first loss of the 1994 season to Oklahoma State, 15-17. Upon returning to the mat against the Gophers, Iowa was stopped again, 23-11. This victory marked Minnesota’s first win over Iowa in 21 years.
“The ’94 team paid no attention to fear, they were very mentally tough,” Robinson said. “This year’s team has much the same attitude. If you want to be a champion, you have to think like a champion.”
That victory was very significant in Robinson’s coaching career. Besides marking his 100th Minnesota career win, the Gophers shattered, for a moment, that infamous Iowa wrestling invincibility.
In his 21st season with the Hawkeyes, Coach Dan Gable has been the leader of this Iowa dynasty. Robinson was an assistant coach at Iowa under Gable from 1976-84. This makes every Minnesota vs. Iowa meeting a little more personal.
Gable underwent hip surgery Thursday putting his assistant coaches in charge for this year’s rival matchup. It’s hard to know what kind of impact this will have on the Hawkeyes. The Gophers are using it as motivation.
“(Gable) doesn’t even think enough of our team to show up for the match,” Robinson said. “We need to go down there and wrestle hard.”
Tonight, the Hawkeyes wrestlers, coaches and fans expect to gain their 95th home victory in 96 meets. If the Gophers come out focused, aggressive and mentally tough, they might just surprise the Hawkeyes in their own den with a long-awaited road upset.