No. 1 grapplers beat Iowa and set attendance mark

by Anthony Maggio

Iowa wrestling coach Jim Zalesky found the words best describing Minnesota’s grip on the college wrestling world following the Gophers 22-15 win over his second-ranked Hawkeyes on Friday at the Target Center.

“Right now (Minnesota’s) in the drivers seat,” Zalesky said. “They’ve been the team to beat all year, and I don’t see it any different right now.”

Zalesky’s gesture of respect has been a long time coming for defending NCAA champion Minnesota – but is still not evident when it comes to the Iowa wrestlers.

Top-ranked Gophers coach J Robinson cited the introductions during Friday’s Border Brawl I as an example.

“Instead of coming out there and standing and being gentlemen in the middle, they’ve got to come out and try to intimidate us,” Robinson said.

“It seems like (they don’t respect us). They’ve got to be hard asses about everything.”

With or without second-ranked Iowa’s respect, Friday night’s Border Brawl I served as the perfect stage to display Minnesota’s dominance and continued quest for esteem both in and for college wrestling.

The Gophers pulled out all the stops for the event – using fireworks, live interviews, an elevated stage, and even Gov. Jesse Ventura to draw wrestling followers from Minnesota and Iowa alike. As a result, the two teams broke the record for most fans at a dual meet with 15,646 – eclipsing the old mark of 15,291 set at Iowa in 1992.

Former Gophers heavyweight Brock Lesnar was one of the fans in attendance, and reflected on the event’s overall meaning.

“Wrestling is evolving,” Lesnar said. “The coaches need to understand that the evolution of amateur wrestling – promotions and the other things – needs to take effect. You can’t just sit back and hope things take care of themselves. They need the venue, they need the promotions, and obviously they’ve done a great job. J’s done a great job with this.”

Robinson’s squad also performed as advertised on the mat, though Iowa kept the meet close most of the way.

A stunning pin by unranked Luke Moffit over sixth-ranked Chad Erikson at 141 pounds erased the 6-0 Gophers lead gained on wins by Leroy Vega and Ryan Lewis. Top-ranked Mike Zadick gave the Hawkeyes a brief 9-6 lead in the dual with a win at 149 pounds.

Then Minnesota’s Luke Becker scored a major decision – one of four on the night for Minnesota – giving the Gophers a 10-9 lead they would not relinquish.

Minnesota and Iowa split the next two weight classes to give the Gophers a 14-12 edge. The narrow margin made the 184-pound showdown between third-ranked Hahn and fourth-ranked Smith critical.

“That was one of those matches we had to win to win the dual meet,” Zalesky said.

But Iowa didn’t.

Hahn turned in a dominating performance, earning a 13-2 major decision and virtually sealing the victory for the Gophers. As the final whistle blew, Hahn pumped his fists to the crowd. Fans rose to their feet in celebration of Hahn’s victory, but more importantly, Minnesota’s now certain victory over Iowa.

Friday’s loss to the Gophers aside, the fierce rivalry is historically in Iowa’s favor. The Hawkeyes hold a 53-21-1 lead in the series with Minnesota, which dates back to 1926. And Iowa has won 20 of the last 26 NCAA titles. But the Gophers showed Friday a new NCAA powerhouse is emerging.

Though the Gophers remain undefeated on the season, respect from their neighbors to the south is a work in progress.

“It’s like (Iowa’s) living in the past,” Becker said. “They’ve been dominant for so long and they think they can still do that.

“But once you put the pressure on them, you come back in their face, they’ll fold in the third period, just like everyone else in the country.”

Anthony Maggio covers wrestling and
welcomes comments at
[email protected]