The opening half of wrestling — typically the Gophers’ forte — proved to be their kryptonite against Iowa on Sunday.
The No. 3 Hawkeyes (10-2, 6-1 Big Ten) took down No. 10 Minnesota (6-4, 5-3 Big Ten) 27-11 at the Sports Pavilion.
“They’re tough wrestlers,” said redshirt senior Brett Pfarr. “They battle; they wrestle through every position, which is something we need to get better at.”
The Hawkeyes bolted to a 19-0 lead before halftime and didn’t look back, dropping just three matches on the day.
Things didn’t look good for Minnesota from the get-go, as the Gophers gave up two major decisions in the first two matches to fall in an early 8-0 hole.
Matters were made worse with No. 15 Nick Wanzek upset by unranked Joey Gunther at 165 pounds — a match the Gophers desperately needed to contend with the highly-favored Hawkeyes.
“We had opportunities at 165,” said Minnesota head coach Brandon Eggum. “That’s one that we needed to win.”
Iowa kept rolling and earned two more major decisions to shut the Gophers out in the first half.
Minnesota began to show some life out of the break when Brett Pfarr’s technical fall cut the Hawkeye lead to 14.
Fellow redshirt senior Michael Kroells followed that up with a decision, and Minnesota was back in the dual, setting up a pivotal match at 125 pounds.
Minnesota’s No. 6 Ethan Lizak came out firing against No. 1 — and unbeaten — Thomas Gilman, using early near-falls to take an 8-0 lead.
The potential of a major upset brought the Sports Pavilion crowd to life — Hawkeyes and Gophers fans alike.
Gilman refused to quit, however, and after escaping Lizak’s grasp, he began to take over. After multiple takedowns, Gilman was able to completely turn the tide of the match, earning a pin 48 seconds into the third period.
“That [would have been] huge, especially in a dual like this,” Eggum said of a potential upset. “That’s a nine point swing the way things ended up.”
The two teams split decisions in the final two matches to give Iowa the 27-11 victory.
The Gophers certainly showed some youth in the loss, and Pfarr said the younger team members need to focus on enjoying the sport.
“I think that’s a big problem that we’re having,” he said. “Our guys put too much pressure on themselves, and I’m just trying to show them that you can have fun and wrestle at the same time.”
The Hawkeyes own a 73-28-1 all-time record in the rivalry against the Gophers and have won eight of the past 11.
Minnesota concludes the Big Ten season at home against No. 4 Ohio State, a team which can take away some of the Gophers’ strength in the upper weights.
No. 8 Kroells, who will wrestle the top-ranked heavyweight in the country when the Buckeyes visit Minneapolis, isn’t backing down.
“I’m not going to go out and wrestle the guy scared; I’m not going to change any of my preparation,” Kroells said. “All I can do is trust in what I’ve done.”