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IOWA CITY, Iowa — You could talk about Senior Night or point to the Big Ten regular season title, but the reason why Friday’s dual is a big deal is because it is the next date on the schedule.
“I’m thinking about a dual meet on Friday night that is going to impact the postseason and continue to find out answers at a couple different weight classes,” said UI head coach Tom Brands at Tuesday’s media gathering inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. “It’s also another opportunity for guys to see how they stack up against top 20 guys in the country.”
The second-ranked Hawkeyes host the 20th-ranked Hoosiers on Friday at 7 p.m. (CT). Indiana enters with a 3-3 conference record, tied for sixth in the conference.
Iowa is 8-0 in the Big Ten and has won 21 straight duals against Indiana. Another win Friday and the Hawkeyes will have completed the Big Ten regular season with a perfect 9-0 record, guaranteeing a share of the conference regular season title.
That title isn’t the end-all for Brands or Iowa, but it isn’t without meaning.
“We try to win every time we take the mat. Whether it is a big tournament, a little tournament, a big dual or not a big dual, if we do our job we’re going to be undefeated in the Big Ten dual season, and that’s what we strive for,” Brands said.
“Wrestling in front of our fans is a big deal. Any time you compete is a big deal. Wrestling only has 16 dates and these guys love to compete. That’s a big deal.”
The Hoosiers have had reason to celebrate this season. They upended Minnesota for the first time in 35 meetings. They have a pair of wrestlers with 24 wins; freshman 125-pounder Elijah Oliver is ranked 19th in the country, and junior Nate Jackson is ranked 11th with a win over Penn State’s top-ranked Bo Nickal at 174. Their 149-pounder, Luke Blanton, also has a pair of impressive decisions against Minnesota’s Jake Short (17-10) and Ohio State’s Hunter Steiber (6-2).
“You can’t wrestle reputation or past results of this team,” Brands said. “You have to wrestle in the moment. They’re going to put top wrestlers out there that are going to try to beat us.” After the dual the Hawkeyes will recognize six graduating senior — Nathan Burak, Edwin Cooper, Jr., Brody Grothus, Jake Kadel, Kris Klapprodt, and Patrick Rhoads.
Each senior has a unique story, and Brands says that’s what makes the program special.
“Embracing your role; not everybody does it, but most guys will see value in the program when they look back at their career,” Brands said. “If you haven’t learned anything in this program then we didn’t do our job.
“This sport is individual in nature, so there is probably a lot of wanting to be the guy, and then if I’m not the guy or don’t like the role that I’m in, I’m not sure I enjoy that too much. But the toughest guys we have, the guys that define our program the best, are the ones that embrace that role no matter what it is and we’ve had some great examples of that in the past.”