UNIVERSITY PARK - Getting to the top spot in the NCAA Division I wrestling rankings is difficult enough, but maintaining that spot can many times prove to be even a bigger and more difficult task.
Sunday afternoon in Penn State's Rec Hall, the top-ranked Nittany Lions fell short of passing their first big test in maintaining the top spot as they fell 22-13 to the Iowa Hawkeyes before a white-out crowd of 6,686 fans.
The Hawkeyes won six of the 10 bouts in the meet, picking up four bonus points along way for their margin of victory.
"They (Iowa) won all of the close ones. Basically that was the difference," PSU head coach Cael Sanderson said. "Really, the loss isn't that big of a deal although we hate to lose. We weren't at our best and I think it (the loss) will be good for us in the long run, but right now, it stinks."
The Hawkeyes set the tone of the meet in the first three bouts as they swept all three for a quick 12-0 lead.
As expected, defending NCAA 125-pound champion Matt McDonough manhandled PSU fill-in Nate Morgan for a 12-5 lead before decking Morgan at the 4:16 mark of their bout.
"I know as a team we were hoping that Nate wouldn't get pinned, but I am sure they (Iowa) expected that," Sanderson said. "McDonough is a real tough guy so I guess that wasn't much of a surprise."
However, on the heels of the Iowa deck job came two outcomes that might be labeled as surprises as Tony Ramos used a takedown and escape to narrowly edge Andrew Long 3-2 at 133, and at 141, Montel Marion, a former NCAA runner-up making his first appearance for the Hawkeyes, overcame a 5-0 deficit to down Andrew Alton 11-9.
Alton brought the Rec Hall crowd to its feet when he hooked up one of his patented upper body throws, taking Marion directly to his back. Had the official been in a little better position, Alton might have the fall, but Marion was able to roll out of trouble. Still leading 5-1 after one period and 6-4 after two, Alton went into a defensive mode that saw Marion rack up three takedowns en route to his come-from-behind win.
"I think at 133 they had a good game plan," Sanderson said. "I don't think it was a matter of them wearing us down, but rather letting us wear ourselves down. It was pretty obvious what they were trying to do by sneaking a takedown in there. And at 141, Andrew just has to wrestle. He had his big move and if the ref would have been there he could have called the fall and if that would have happened, it would have been a great night instead of a frustrating loss. Basically it looked like he (Alton) just wasn't ready to go."
Trailing 12-0, the Lions put themselves back in the dual meet with wins from Frank Molinaro at 149 and David Taylor at 157. Molinaro, a two-time All American used four takedowns, an escape and time point for a 10-3 decision over Mark Ballweg before Taylor, a redshirt freshman handled, Derek St. John for a 12-4 major.
With the Molinaro and Taylor wins, the Lions cut the Iowa lead to 12-7 at the midway point of the dual.
"Iowa is a tough team, there is no doubt about it," said Taylor. "I think some people tried to downplay it, but on the other hand, I don't think we went out and wrestled like we normally do and it showed up in the end."
Following the customary halftime break, Aaron Jenssen pushed the Iowa advantage to 15-7 with a 6-2 win over Jake Kemmerer, but Ed Ruth, although unable to turn his opponent for back points, had to settle for a 10-3 win over Ethan Lofthouse.
Although Ruth was one of the four PSU winners, he felt that the loss can be a learning experience for the squad.
"You can learn something from every single match that was wrestled out there today," Ruth said. "Some of the guys might have gotten caught up in the environment, but to be honest about it, I am not sure that happened. I am young and this was the first time I saw something like this, but you have to try and put that behind you. Once you get into the mix of things, that (nervous) feeling goes away."
As for the loss, Ruth was quick to point out that he is not about to let it change anything about his approach.
"When we get back into the (wrestling) room, I am going to go at it hard, just like I did before," he said. "If anything, this (team) loss just makes me want to work harder than before."
With three bouts remaining, the Iowa lead was again just five points, but the Hawkeyes were given a big boost at 184 when Grant Gambrall put together three takedowns, an escape and time point for an 8-3 decision over Quentin Wright. With the Gambrall win, Iowa led 18-10.
Holding the 8-point lead, the Hawkeyes needed only one win in the final two bouts to sew up the win, and Luke Lofthouse iced the Iowa victory with a 17-6 major decision over Justin Ortega at 197.
With only pride left to wrestle for, Cameron Wade sent the fans toward the exit when he set the final with a 1-0 win over Blake Raisins in the 285-pound tout.
"It is horrible to lose, but I know this team will learn from this and get better from it," Wade said. "We just have to push ahead and one thing is certain, we can't let this one match determine our season."
In addition to winning the meet, the Hawkeyes won the takedown battle by a 23-13 spread, while they also edged the Lions 4-1 in bonus points.
With the loss, Penn State falls to 13-1 overall, 2-1 in the Big Ten Conference, while Iowa improves to 10-0-1 overall, 4-0 in conference meets. With the victory, the Hawkeyes extended their unbeaten streak to 73 straight meets without a loss and just one tie.