Hawkeyes' win restores order
Want to predict who's going to win the NCAA Division I wrestling team title in March? Really? OK, you're brave. But how sure are you of your pick?
In a sport that's known for its dynastic programs, this season is standing out because of how many teams seem to have a shot at the championship. In contention are programs that have won multiple crowns, those that haven't done it in a long time and those that haven't ever done it.
If you're an Iowa fan, you may feel order was restored -- at least to some degree -- with the No. 8 Hawkeyes' convincing victory Sunday over No. 1 Penn State. The Nittany Lions, whose only NCAA team title in wrestling came in 1953, were elevated to the top spot in the rankings last week and had a sold-out crowd on hand at State College, Penn., Sunday to greet Iowa.
But the Hawkeyes -- who have won 23 NCAA titles, including the past three -- looked like there was nothing they wanted more than this kind of challenge on the road. Iowa's dual-meet winning streak was snapped at 69 with a tie at Oklahoma State on Jan. 16, but that seems to have invigorated the Hawkeyes.
They won 22-13 Sunday at Rec Hall, which was stuffed with 6,686 fans for what was probably the most heavily anticipated dual in Penn State history. It was the kind of atmosphere the Nittany Lions will see again, because that's the way the program is developing under coach Cael Sanderson.
But on Sunday, Iowa's overall experience edge -- especially in a setting as highly charged as this one -- prevailed.
It also helped the Hawkeyes to have one of their top performers back in action. Montell Marion, who was national runner-up last year, returned at 141 pounds Sunday, and his tactical and gutsy 11-9 victory over freshman Andrew Alton seemed to be pivotal in cementing the momentum in the Hawkeyes' favor.
Defending national champion Matt McDonough had gotten Iowa off to the best possible start, winning by fall over freshman Nate Morgan, who was filling in for senior Brad Pataky at 125 pounds.
Iowa's Tony Ramos edged Andrew Long 3-2 at 133, then Marion got his win. With that, Iowa was up 12-0.
Subsequent victories by Penn State's Frank Molinaro (149), David Taylor (157) and Ed Ruth (174) got the Nittany Lions to within 15-10. But then the Hawkeyes shut the door with Grant Gambrall's decision at 184 and Luke Lofthouse's major decision at 197. That gave Penn State an insurmountable 22-10 lead.
Penn State's Cameron Wade won the heavyweight bout, but the Nittany Lions suffered their first loss as a team this season.
"Tonight, it really hurts because it was a big one," Penn State's Taylor said. "I think some people were trying to downplay maybe how good [the Hawkeyes] were, but they're good. There's no doubt about it, and they're always going to be good."
In the wake of that negative publicity from the hospitalization of 13 Iowa football players, the Hawkeyes' wrestling victory had to come as welcome positive news to Iowa fans. And to overall wrestling fans, too, as it was just further evidence during an intriguing weekend among the top eight ranked teams that the national-title picture is scrambled.
The Penn State-Iowa matchup wasn't the only Big Ten dual in front of a packed house Sunday. No. 4 Minnesota beat No. 3 Wisconsin before a sold-out crowd of 5,225 in Minneapolis.
There was another upset in the Big 12: Nebraska -- which will join the Big Ten next season -- edged No. 7 Missouri 17-16 on the Tigers' home mats. The No. 16 Huskers rallied from being down 10-3.
Cornell, which had been No. 1 until a loss to Lehigh on Jan. 20, defeated No. 15 Iowa State in Ithaca, N.Y., giving Big Red coach Rob Koll his 200th career victory.
Speaking of milestones, No. 5 Oklahoma State reached one Friday. The Cowboys blanked Northern Colorado for their 1,000th dual-meet win in program history. Oklahoma State followed that up by crushing North Carolina State on Sunday.
And as for the No. 6 team, Virginia Tech? The Hokies defeated No. 12 Lehigh -- yes, the team that's given Cornell its only loss -- Friday.
Still want to make a prediction for March?
Around the nation
• Bulldogs fall: It was a rough weekend on the road for the No. 1 men's ice hockey team: Yale lost two games in New York. No. 13 Union topped the Bulldogs 3-2 on Friday, and then No. 10 RPI downed Yale 5-2 on Sunday.
Yale was well aware those would be two dangerous games back-to-back. The Bulldogs can right the ship at home this weekend with matchups against Ivy League rivals Harvard and Dartmouth.
• Streaking cardinal: Stanford, the No. 1-ranked women's swimming and diving team, won its 30th consecutive dual meet Friday, defeating No. 21 UCLA. The Cardinal are seeking their first title in the sport since 1998.
Stanford's men's swimming team, which is ranked No. 2 behind Bay Area rival Cal, also is trying to win its first NCAA championship since '98. The Cardinal and Bears men's teams face off in a dual Feb. 19 at Cal.
Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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