Top-ranked Iowa coming to the Barn for much-anticipated Friday matchup

This season the Hawkeyes returned to No. 1 for the first time since 2000.

Trevor Born

On March 12, 2000, Iowa narrowly edged the Gophers to win the Big Ten title. They would run away with the national championship six days later.

It was Iowa’s sixth straight NCAA wrestling championship, and their 26th Big Ten title in 27 years. It was also the last day of Iowa’s quarter-century reign over college wrestling; they have won zero national championships and just one Big Ten title since.

This year could mark their return. The Hawkeyes (14-1, 3-0 Big Ten) come to Williams Arena at 7 p.m. Friday on a seven-meet winning streak and ranked first in the country for the first time since 2000.

“Everybody knows who Iowa is, but they haven’t been the same the last couple years,” Gophers head coach J Robinson said. “This year they look a lot more like the Hawkeyes of old.”

They are led by fiery second-year coach Tom Brands, who has a 28-6 record since taking over for Jim Zalesky.

Seven of the 10 Hawkeyes expected to wrestle Friday are ranked in the top 10 nationally.

“They’re pretty much airtight,” third-ranked Manuel Rivera said. “We have ranked guys, and they have ranked guys, and there isn’t going to be any boring matches. They have a killer lineup this year.”

For years, Iowa dominated what is one of the most storied rivalries in college sports, beating the Gophers 58 out of the first 74 times they met, starting in 1921. But Minnesota has gradually taken over as the nation’s elite wrestling team and has won nine of the past 14 meetings, highlighted by a 25-9 win in 2005.

With a win over the fourth-ranked Gophers (12-3, 2-0 Big Ten) in their own arena, Iowa could prove they are again the team to beat in college wrestling. A win for the Gophers would likely mean taking over the No. 1 ranking in the country.

“We know that a whole lot is on the line,” senior Mack Reiter said. “Every year this is a huge match for us, but with them being No. 1, it might even be a little more intense this year.”

Iowa connections

Robinson coached for 12 years at the University of Iowa as a graduate assistant, assistant coach and briefly served as an interim head coach in 1984 before becoming the Gophers head coach the next year.

Robinson assisted under wrestling legends Gary Kurdelmeier and Dan Gable during his time with the Hawkeyes, and he credits much of his success as a coach to them.

“I’ve worked with a lot of great people in my career in wrestling, but I felt like a lot of people at Iowa really complemented what I was trying to do as a coach,” he said. “Obviously you make your own style, but I’ve definitely gleaned a lot from those guys at Iowa.”

Iowa went 189-13-7 while Robinson was there, and he has gone 329-105-3 as a head coach with the Gophers.

Reiter, from Gilbertville, Iowa, was a four-time state champion in high school. He made a splash in wrestling circles when he became the first blue-chip wrestler to leave the state and join the Gophers.

Reiter said he felt a lot of animosity the first time the Gophers wrestled against Iowa, but it has died down over the years.

“After five years here, I basically think of myself as a Minnesotan,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I don’t want to beat them, though.”

Noteworthy

• Things won’t get much easier for the Gophers as they travel to Stillwater to wrestle No. 3 Oklahoma State at 1 p.m. Sunday. Robinson said that the difficult scheduling was intentional, as he wants to prepare the team for NCAA tournament conditions.

• Sixth ranked senior Roger Kish, who hasn’t wrestled since Dec. 6, has been cleared to wrestle the match. No. 2 Dustin Schlatter is still questionable, but didn’t practice early this week.

• The athletics department has sold around 5,000 tickets for the event, but expects a large walk-up crowd. The largest attendance for a wrestling match in Williams Arena was in 1998 against Iowa when 11,284 viewers showed up.