Dennis no longer wrestling in Kennedy's shadow

Jan. 25, 2009

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — It has been four years since Daniel Dennis and Jimmy Kennedy were Bulldog teammates at Fox Lake Grant (Ill.) High School. On Sunday, Dennis and Kennedy were not only representing opposing wrestling programs, but they competed head-to-head for the second time in a month.

Dennis is a student-athlete at the University of Iowa and Kennedy competes for the University of Illinois. Both wrestle at 133 pounds. Both are juniors, although Dennis, who red-shirted during the 2006-07 season, is a year older.

“After we graduated, we kind of went our separate ways a little bit,” Dennis said. “I don’t hold anything against him and I hope he doesn’t hold anything against me. We don’t avoid each other. We hang out with similar friends in the summer when we’re home. We’ll run into each other occasionally.”

Despite winning 153 matches in high school and finishing second at state twice, Dennis always appeared to be wrestling in Kennedy’s shadow. As a prep, Kennedy compiled a career record of 187-3 with two state championships. He was runner-up as a freshman and third as a junior. Last season Kennedy was second in the Big Ten championships and fourth in the NCAA championships to become an All-American. That might explain why he entered Sunday’s dual ranked No. 3 in the nation and Dennis was No. 4, even though Dennis defeated Kennedy 5-3 in the semifinals of the Midland’s Championship in December.

“I slipped up in two of my matches earlier in the season,” Dennis said. “I think I’m better than that obviously, but I’m not upset at the rankings. I’m doing everything I can to not let that happen again. I’m moving on and getting better.”

Dennis (18-2) dropped 4-3 decisions to Steve Bell of Central Michigan and to Mike Grey of Cornell.

“We wrestled on and off a couple times in high school,” Dennis said. “I think the first time we competed in live match competition was at Midlands.”

The Dennis-Kennedy rematch was played out in front of 6,946 spectators inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Dennis dominated with 3 minutes, 13 seconds of riding time and blanked Kennedy, 5-0. Top-rated Iowa went on to defeat No. 7 Illinois, 32-4. Kennedy is now 18-2 this season with both losses to his former high school sparring partner.

“It’s always good to get a win over someone who’s supposed to be better than you,” Dennis said. “I knew I could create more scoring opportunities than I did in the first match. I was trying to keep more pressure on him in a more solid manner. It ended up working well for me.”

UI junior Brent Metcalf, the defending 149-pound national champion, knows what it’s like to face a former high school teammate. One of Metcalf’s teammates at Davison (Mich.) High School was Jon Reader, now a 165-pounder at Iowa State. Although they have never faced each other on the mat, Metcalf understands when bragging rights are on the line.

“There’s a little extra competition when you come from the same high school,” Metcalf said. “You want to prove that your school’s better than another and that your choice of school coming out of high school was better than another. That makes for a great rivalry. Dennis went out and performed and did a great job being smart and wrestling where he’s strong.”

It is safe to assume Dennis-Kennedy III will take place in March — either at the Big Ten Championships on March 7-8 in State College, Pa., or March 19-21 at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis.