Wrestlers know Iowa trip no vacation

Brian Stensaas

The last time Minnesota’s wrestling team boarded a bus for Iowa City’s Carver Hawkeye Arena, all 10 team members came home as All-Americans and brought a gold NCAA championship trophy to boot.

That was two years ago when the storied arena – home to 17 Big Ten championships and 13 NCAA team titles for Iowa since its 1983 opening – held the grand event, only to have the Gophers come in and shock the amateur wrestling world by taking the crown.

Despite warm memories of stunning the Iowa faithful, Minnesota’s wrestlers are not in a hurry to return to the arena.

“It’s never fun to go in there,” Minnesota heavyweight Garrett Lowney said. He took third at the 2001 NCAA championships in Iowa City. “Their crowd is as bad as anyone’s. Anytime you go there, you know something crazy is going to happen.”

Lowney and his nine teammates will return to the site of their team’s first national championship Friday night for a Big Ten dual with the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes (13-3, 3-1 Big Ten). And there’s no doubt crazy will be a severe understatement when all is said and done.

The team then heads to Madison, Wisc., for a Sunday afternoon dual with the 25th-ranked Badgers (9-4, 1-4).

The 15,500-seat Carver Hawkeye Arena has never sold out for a dual meet, but the five-figure norm for Minnesota/Iowa meets speaks for itself.

“Since we started competing better with them and beating them, it’s just increased the rivalry,” said Gophers’ assistant coach Joe Russell, an eight-year Minnesota coaching veteran. “They were so dominant in the conference and now we’ve won three of the last four. They were the top dogs and now we’ve taken that from them. They’re fighting like crazy to get it back and that part has been fun.”

The continued talk of craziness gives the uninitiated – like Minnesota 125-pounder Bobbe Lowe – an idea of what to expect Friday night.

A native of Oak Grove, Mo., Lowe has never competed on Iowa’s home surface but he’s no stranger to the Hawkeye dominance of the 1980s and 90s.

His high school assistant coach went to Iowa and Lowe attended Iowa Central Community College before transferring to second-ranked Minnesota (15-4, 5-0).

“Just being there is going to bring me a lot of intensity,” he said. “But I can’t think about anything but my match. I have to work on my actions and go with what I feel. I’m feeling good; I’m ready.”

This will be the third time the two teams square off this season. The Hawkeyes embarrassed Minnesota 24-11 at the Xcel Energy Center to open the season nearly three months ago, and the two met again at last month’s National Duals tournament. Iowa won that match based on the fourth criteria, most technical falls (1-0).

But in recent weeks, Iowa has been on a bit of a downward slope while the Gophers are finally wrestling at full strength after dealing with injured wrestlers all season.

For wrestlers like senior Jared Lawrence, the time is now to put one last hit on the Hawkeyes.

“They try all kinds of things to intimidate you when you’re there,” he said. “But it’s just another match. Each guy has to go out and capitalize on their match just like it’s against any other team. We might not have the team we did two years ago, but neither do they.”

Iowa – whose coach, Jim Zalesky, did not return several messages for this story – lost its first match to Michigan State since 1971 last Friday in East Lansing. Minnesota, meanwhile, is the lone undefeated team in Big Ten competition.

The stage is set for another crazy dual.

Brian Stensaas covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected]