ST. LOUIS — The Iowa wrestlers weren’t sent to the NCAA Championships with marching orders to keep it close and run at the end.
The mission for the Hawkeyes under coach Tom Brands has been consistent during the past six seasons: Score first, keep scoring and win big.
But the Hawkeyes — at least most of them — took care of only one prong of that equation during the opening day of the NCAA Championships at the Scottrade Center.
Iowa won 15 of its 17 matches Thursday, but most were too close for comfort — or at least too close for Brands. The Hawkeyes ended the day in fifth place with 26 points.
Penn State powered its way to the front, advancing seven wrestlers to this morning’s quarterfinals and racking up 38.5 points — 5.5 more than second-place Minnesota — after scoring four pins, a technical fall and five major decisions during the opening day.
Iowa didn’t need an accountant to tally its bonus. Junior Matt McDonough, the No. 1 seed at 125, rolled into the quarterfinals with two falls and Derek St. John notched a major decision in the opening round.
The Hawkeyes registered their 12 other wins by decision.
“We don’t want to win that way,” Brands said. “We have to let things fly more, we have to open up more. Did they respond? They would’ve responded if we would’ve said keep it close and run in the end, but we didn’t say that. We want to build leads, we want bonus points because that’s how you slam the door in these tournaments. That’s how you lock it up on Friday night, and we’re a long ways away from that right now.”
Six Hawkeyes advanced to the quarterfinals. They’ll be joined there by Northern Iowa’s Joe Colon at 133 and Iowa State’s Andrew Sorenson at 165.
Sorenson, the only Cyclone to win a match in the championship bracket, limped out of the arena Thursday night with an ankle packed in ice after a 4-2 victory against Cornell’s Marshall Peppelman.
“It’s never easy, it’s just not easy,” said Sorenson, who will wrestle Lehigh No. 11 seed Brandon Hatchett in the quarterfinals. “When I think everything’s going my way, I sprain my ankle against a kid I should be scoring a lot of points against. That’s just tough luck. It doesn’t matter because I’m going to have to go out and compete tomorrow. I’m just getting my mind ready to go to war tomorrow because it’s going to be a war now.”
Colon cruised into the quarterfinals with a 9-2 victory against Central Michigan’s Zach Horan. The sophomore improved to 28-2, but his string of bonus-point victories ended at 16. That streak began after a 10-1 loss to Illinois’ B.J. Futrell, his next opponent, at the Midlands Championships.
“(Wrestling Futrell) is a true test, a test I’ve been waiting for since the minute after that match,” he said. “I’m a different Joe. It’s an all new Joe — on the feet, on top and on the bottom.”
McDonough decked Eastern Michigan’s Jared Germaine in the opening round and stuck North Dakota State’s Trent Sprenkle with a headlock to run his career record to 97-4.
“It’s a good starting point,” McDonough said. “But there are definitely things to build on.”
St. John avenged a February major-decision loss to Oregon State’s R.J. Pena, scoring a late takedown to win 8-4 at 157. The Iowa sophomore will be joined in the quarterfinals by teammates Tony Ramos (133), Montell Marion (157), Ethen Lofthouse (174) and heavyweight Bobby Telford.
Iowa’s quarterfinalists never seemed in great danger, but they didn’t appear all that comfortable.
“I know I speak for the whole team, we all want to score big and we all want to get bonus points for that team title,” Lofthouse said. “We’ve just got to let it fly. Maybe it’s a little nerves, but that’s out the window now. We’ve got to go out and wrestle how you wrestle in practice.”