Injury-depleted Gophers wrestlers fall to Hawkeyes

by Allison Younge

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Upon entering Iowa City, the Hawk-I gas station lets people know they have entered Hawkeye country. On this night, a train of vehicles leads to the feature event of the evening, the wrestling match between rivals Iowa and Minnesota.
Wrestling in Iowa is like hockey in Minnesota — the premier sport. Since the teams’ first meeting in 1921, the Hawkeyes have dominated the series, totaling a 55-15-1 overall record against the Gophers.
Once again the Hawkeyes, ranked No. 2 in the country, claimed victory over the third-ranked Gophers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, this time by a convincing score of 29-12.
The Gophers knew that pulling off a road win against the Hawkeyes would be tough, but after four matches and 40 minutes, a Minnesota victory was nearly impossible.
The Hawkeyes were handed six points in the forfeited first match, because of Brandon Paulson’s ankle injury. That gave Iowa a solid foothold for the remainder of the match.
Minnesota sophomore Pat Connors set out to put the Gophers on the board in the 126 pound match, wrestling Iowa’s fourth-ranked Mike Mena.
Connors started off strong, earning a 3-1 lead after two periods. Mena came back in the final period with a one point escape and a crowd-pleasing two point takedown to claim a 4-3 lead.
With time running out, the win appeared to be Mena’s. An unexpected escape by Connors with one second left deadlocked the match at 4-4, sending it into overtime.
The crowd of 4,000 became restless, rising to their feet as Connors and Mena met for sudden death. Within seconds, the crowd erupted as Mena came through with a takedown, capturing a 9-0 Iowa advantage.
“Connors was right there in the first match,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “It came down to the last few seconds. The match could’ve easily gone either way.”
Iowa’s Mark Ironside (No. 1 at 134 pounds) used quick feet to add six more Hawkeye points to the board, pinning Troy Marr at the 2:33 mark.
By that time, the Gophers were down 15-0. A high score for Minnesota was necessary in the 142 pound match to give the Gophers a chance to come back.
The pressure was on Jason Davids (ranked No. 2 at 142) to pull Minnesota back into contention. The Iowa lead grew 18-0, as Davids was thrown the biggest upset of both the night and his college career.
“I got caught in a headlock during the first period,” Davids said. “I got behind, lost my focus and he stalled the third period away.”
Iowa’s Kasey Gilliss tied Davids up in the first period, putting him in position to be pinned. Davids wouldn’t give in, aggressively fighting to keep a shoulder up while the clock ran down. Gilliss won the match, 8-3.
“Davids is a high ranked wrestler,” Robinson said. “He has to know that people will stall on him if they get ahead. They aren’t going to go after him if they can help it.”
Chad Kraft, Zac Taylor and Brandon Eggum were the only Gophers who took home individual wins from Iowa.
Kraft finally put Minnesota on the scoreboard in the 150-pound match. Eric Koble replaced injured Lincoln McIlravy (ranked No.1 at 150) for the Hawkeyes. Kraft pinned Koble in a bloody battle to give the Gophers six much-needed points.
“Kraft’s match was positive,” Robinson said. “It was a situation where the No. 1 guy wasn’t wrestling, he (Kraft) had the opportunity to get a big win and he did it.”
Taylor used intensity and experience to down Mike Uker in the 167-pound match. “I like to win in Iowa,” Taylor said. “It’s the biggest place, next to a home match, to win at.”
Following Taylor’s lead, Eggum rallied for a reversal and four takedowns in the third period of the 177 pound match.
“I could feel during my match that my conditioning has improved. I went in expecting to win, but I didn’t think that he would break so fast,” Eggum said.
Along with Paulson, Tim Hartung (ranked No. 3) also took the sideline at Iowa due to injury.
“Hartung was banged up at the National Duals, so we wanted him to rest up and get back to full strength before we put him on the mat again,” Robinson said.
Paulson and Hartung are expected to be back for Friday’s match against Oklahoma State. That will be important for the Gophers if they intend to challenge the top-ranked Cowboys.
“The team needs to get healthy,” Eggum said. “(Friday) wasn’t a full team effort. I’m sure we’ll use this loss as a learning experience.”
As the loyal Iowa fans rose for the victory song for the 95th time in Carver-Hawkeye Arena history, Taylor could reflect on the loss with optimism.
“After matches like this, we just go back to the drawing board determined to work harder next time,” he said.