Fireworks Guaranteed

Dec. 6, 2009

Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in the Dec. 3 edition of the Official Sports Report (OSR) for the University of Iowa. OSR is a daily e-newsletter exclusively about the Iowa Hawkeyes. Click HERE to learn more.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — When Florida and Alabama convened yesterday in a much-anticipated No. 1 versus No. 2 tussle on the gridiron, few realized that in reality, they were watching the undercard to a much more significant No. 1 against No. 2 battle for state of Iowa bragging rights.

In these parts, it doesn’t get any more electrifying than Iowa-Iowa State on a wrestling mat. This season the epic encounter takes place in Hilton Coliseum in Ames tonight (Sunday, Dec. 6), with a 6 p.m. start. Two-time defending NCAA champion Iowa (7-0 overall this season) is ranked No. 1; the second-rated Cyclones are 1-0.

“We like our team and wouldn’t trade it for any other team,” UI head coach Tom Brands said. “They feel the same way about their team. Fireworks…that’s a good combination for some fireworks.”

Iowa leads the all-time series 56-16-2, including four consecutive victories. As the Hawkeye head coach, Brands has never lost to Iowa State, winning 24-6 in 2006, 20-13 in 2007 and 20-15 a year ago in front of 15,955 fans inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The last win for the Cyclones was 19-16 in 2004.

“The ante’s up and this is for in-state bragging rights,” Brands said. “It’s important to our wrestlers and our programs. It’s important to family and it’s important to fans. Fans get into it and they want supremacy. We have to be on our top-notch game to please what our fans have come and known and that’s hard, physical wrestling that gets the job done.”

Absent from the annual challenge is former Iowa State competitor and head coach Cael Sanderson, who left Ames in the offseason for the top position at Penn State. In his place is Kevin Jackson, who as a senior in 1987, was a captain on the last Cyclone NCAA championship team. Brands once served as a volunteer assistant for Jackson as the national team’s coach for USA Wrestling.

“There’s a mutual friendship there,” Brands said. “Maybe now the nature of the relationship changes where you’re not quite as conversationally motivated. Before it was more like you were on the same team. Now you’re pitted against each other. It’s Iowa-Iowa State.”

Both programs enter the dual with marquee individuals. Brent Metcalf headlines for Iowa at 149 pounds; Iowa State counters at 197 with defending NCAA champion Jake Varner. Phillip Keddy is ranked No. 1 at 184 pounds, as is UI 174-pounder Jay Borschel and Cyclone 141-pounder Nick Gallick. In all, there are 17 nationally rated wrestlers scheduled to take the mat. They could collide at 125, 133, 141, 149, 165, 174, 184 and 197.

“Every weight is a key weight,” Brands said. “On paper there’s not much difference, so every weight’s a key weight. Even the ones where you favor them heavily or you favor us heavily — it’s important to be ready for those as well. Funny things happen in these dual meets and we just have to get 10 guys ready to go.”

College football waited until the 14th week to get its No. 1 versus No. 2 clash. College wrestling gets it within the first month.

“The way the schedule is, it has to be this early,” Brands said. “A tough opponent in early December isn’t a bother. If it wasn’t Iowa State in early December it would be someone else where you’re testing yourself. It’s a target on the calendar.”

Iowa is putting its school-record 45-match winning streak on the line. The last time the Hawkeyes were defeated was 19-14 by Oklahoma State on Jan. 5, 2008.

“Those streaks ending or continuing don’t cross the mind,” Brands said. “There have been some pretty good teams in the history of this program that put together some pretty good strings as well. What’s most important is getting 10 individuals to represent 10 weight classes at a high, high level.”

Ten individuals representing at a high, high level. If that happens tonight, conditions are more than conducive for those proverbial black and gold fireworks.