Minnesota and Iowa prepare for top dual

There is an old Minnesota saying that goes, “The only thing good to ever come out of Iowa is Interstate 35.”
Obviously, whoever was the first to crack that joke never heard of the University of Iowa wrestling team.
Over the past 26 years, the Hawkeyes have been the most dominating wrestling program in the country, collecting 25 Big Ten titles and 19 NCAA crowns.
“Iowa has been kind of an icon in college wrestling for a long time. They have a style and they have an attitude,” Minnesota coach J Robinson said. “You can go back and say they’re like UCLA basketball. They bring something in, they bring an intimidation factor.”
If Iowa is like UCLA, Minnesota is like the North Carolina State team that ended the Bruins’ seven straight basketball championships back in 1974.
Last season Minnesota (16-1, 6-0 Big Ten) ended the Hawkeyes’ (16-0, 6-0) streak of 25 consecutive Big Ten titles. The Gophers also defeated Iowa twice during the regular season. But when it came time for the NCAA tournament, Minnesota couldn’t complete the season sweep and the Hawkeyes raised their 19th national championship banner.
That was last year, this is now. And what better way can the two teams continue the rivalry than a showdown of No. 1 vs. No. 2 at The Barn on Sunday?
“If you look at the pageantry of it, it comes down to what could you ask for?” Robinson said. “The last dual meet of the year is going to decide the number one team in the country.”
For Minnesota senior Brandon Eggum, who will meet Iowa’s Jessman Smith at 184 pounds, it doesn’t get any better than Gophers-Hawkeyes in a battle for No. 1.
“Both teams really like to brawl and go hard,” Eggum said. “The intensity is up. I know we won’t back down to them and they’re saying the same thing about us.”
That intensity is growing down in Iowa City too. Hawkeyes wrestler Doug Schwab, who will take on Minnesota’s Chad Erikson at 141 pounds, said his team is ready for a fight on Sunday.
“We want to show everybody that we are the best team this year,” Schwab said. “We got to continue showing our dominance (that we have showed all year).”
But if it comes down to which team is more dominant, that will have to be settled on the mats.
Robinson said the two teams will head into the final battle with a similar style of aggressive wrestling.
And if one were to break down the matchup weight-by-weight, Robinson said it appears to be an even showdown.
“We know it will be a hard match. If you look at it on paper, they probably have three guys who are fit to win and we have three that are pretty sure winners,” Robinson said.
“There are four matches that are up for grabs in the middle, so it will be a pretty exciting match.”
And with this being the final dual meet before the postseason, Eggum said a win Sunday will give the Gophers the mental confidence that is so important heading into the postseason.
“As a team we are looking real positive,” Eggum said. “But if there is any doubt in anyone’s mind, by beating them here it will help us step it up at least another level.”
Feb. 20 has been circled on the calendars of the Gophers and Hawkeyes since well before the season started.
And come Sunday, No. 1 and No. 2 will get it on.
But no matter the outcome, Minnesota and Iowa will be seeing a lot of each other in the coming five weeks. After all, the Big Ten tournament and NCAA championships are still to come.
This Sunday is only the beginning.
Said Robinson: “It’s like stirring up a hornet nest.”

John R. Carter covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected]