Border Brawl Sunday

Feb. 20, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — First there was Iowa State. Then Oklahoma State and Penn State. Every time the University of Iowa wrestling team prepares for a dual meet, it seems to emerge larger than the one before. Later today, the No. 2 Hawkeyes (14-0-1 overall, 7-0 Big Ten Conference) take on No. 5 Minnesota (15-3-1, 6-0-1) with the regular-season conference championship at stake.

The folks up north are promoting and celebrating today’s event as another chapter in “Wrestling’s Greatest Rivalry.” UI head coach Tom Brands knows the meet will say a lot as the teams fine-tune their focus to the Big Ten (March 5-6) and NCAA (March 17-19) tournaments.

“It’s become a rivalry and there are some fireworks that happen even in addition to the wrestling, which is fun,” says Brands. “I’m a fan of (Minnesota head coach) J Robinson, but when it’s on the mat, then we’re going after the same thing.”

Iowa leads the series 67-24-1 and holds a 31-11-1 advantage in Minneapolis. The Hawkeyes have won the last five meetings, including a 28-9 decision a year ago in Minneapolis. Minnesota’s last win in the series was Feb. 18, 2007, when it posted a 29-13 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Since then, the Hawkeyes have gone 82-1-1 in dual meets (34-0 against Big Ten opponents).

The probable lineup features 18 wrestlers rated in the top 20 of their respective weight class. Brands preaches that all 10 matches are pivotal. He also emphasizes the pursuit of bonus points, which could determine the team winner. That attitude has rubbed off on redshirt freshman Tony Ramos, who puts his 17-3 record on the line at 133 pounds against Golden Gopher redshirt freshman David Thorn (12-8).

“I feel I have to get bonus points and at least get the major decision and go out there and score points and build leads,” Ramos says. “Bonus points are going to be a big thing and I need to go out and do whatever I can to get them.”

“Bonus points were the difference at Oklahoma State (a 15-15 draw Jan. 16) and it’s been the difference in us getting on a roll in other dual meets,” Brands says. “When (sophomore 125-pounder Matt) McDonough is oriented that way, he’s a better wrestler — when things are fast-paced, when he’s in-and-out.”

McDonough (19-1) is ranked No. 1 by Intermat and W.I.N. and No. 2 by Amateur Wrestling News; his opponent is junior Zach Sanders (24-2), who has a consensus No. 5 rating. McDonough was 3-0 against Sanders last season, winning 6-4 before posting back-to-back major decisions (13-2 in the dual and 8-0 at the Big Ten Championships).

Another interesting clash comes at 141 between Iowa’s defending NCAA runner-up Montell Marion (6-1) and Minnesota junior Mike Thorn (32-2). Thorn has won 2 of 3 previous meetings — once by fall and once by 12-3 major decision. Marion owns a 15-7 major decision over Thorn at the 2010 dual.

“One guy was ready and one guy wasn’t and that widens the gap automatically,” Brands says of the extreme variance in results a year ago. “I know we have to get our guy ready to go.”

As Brands says, “10 matches are pivotal” and there are marquee bouts at every weight.

Unlike 2008, Brands said today’s dual will not be an “ambush” like it was when the Hawkeyes went into Williams Arena and came away with a 20-13 victory.

“They’re going to have their team ready,” Brands says. “We may have ambushed them in ’08 when (Joe) Slaton went up there and beat Mack Reiter (8-3 at 133) and (Dan) LeClere beat (Manuel) Rivera (9-7 in sudden victory at 141).”

This is the third time in the last four seasons that the Iowa-Minnesota dual has been held in Minneapolis.

The Big Ten Network will provide same-day, tape-delay broadcast tonight beginning at 8:30 p.m. (CT).