ST. LOUIS — Team momentum is a mysterious force in a one-on-one sport like wrestling, but Iowa coach Tom Brands believes the intangible power exists.
Brands often addresses his team about keeping an individual string of success going or stopping a run in the wrong direction.
The Hawkeyes teetered back and forth Friday during the third session of the NCAA Championships at the Scottrade Center.
Iowa vaulted to the top of the team standings after winning its first four quarterfinal bouts. Then the Hawkeyes lost four of their last five matches during the session and Penn State blew past Iowa and moved closer to its second straight NCAA title.
Five Nittany Lions advanced to Friday night’s semifinals and Penn State increased its lead, finishing the morning session with 78.5 points. Cornell is 17 back in second.
Iowa moved to the front of the pack after Matt McDonough, Tony Ramos and Montell Marion punched semifinal tickets at the first three weights and Derek St. John scrambled for a 3-1 win in overtime against Penn State’s Dylan Alton at 157.
The Hawkeyes couldn’t sustain the run and finished the session in third with 58.5 points. Ethen Lofthouse surrendered a takedown in the closing seconds to drop a 3-1 decision to Minnesota’s Logan Storley at 174, a reversal in the second period cost freshman heavyweight Bobby Telford in a 2-0 defeat against defending NCAA champ Zach Rey of Lehigh and Mike Evans and Grant Gambrall got knocked out of the tournament with consolation defeats.
“Momentum is how you make it individually,” Brands said. “You keep it going if it’s going and if it’s not, then you’ve got to right the wrong on your own terms. It’s an individual sport, but there’s funny energies out there. But (a wrestler’s internal) energy is what’s going to get the payday.”
Northern Iowa’s Joe Colon and Iowa State’s Andrew Sorenson fell into the consolation bracket after semifinal defeats. Those two, along with Lofthouse, Telford and Northern Iowa’s Ryan Loder, entered Friday night’s round of 12 needing one victory to secure all-America status.
At least one Cyclone has earned all-America honors in every season since 1963, and Sorenson, wrestling with a sprained ankle, is Iowa State’s only hope to extend the streak. Lehigh’s Brandon Hatchett knocked off the third-seeded Cyclone 7-3 in the quarterfinals at 165.
“He wasn’t even 50 percent,” Iowa State coach Kevin Jackson said of Sorenson, who suffered the ankle injury Thursday night in the second round. “If it was any other situation he wouldn’t have even gone out there and wrestled. He wasn’t the same guy you’ve seen out there all year long.”
Colon’s quarterfinal ended quickly when Illinois’ B.J. Futrell whipped the Northern Iowa sophomore over with a move he calls the “rat trap” for a 44-second pin at 133. All four semifinalists at 133 advanced with falls.
Ramos whipped Harvard’s Steven Keith over midway through the first period for Iowa’s third pin of the tournament.
“You put a guy on his back, especially in the national tournament where a lot of things can happen, you’ve got to end it,” Ramos said. “He was fighting hard, but I wasn’t going to let him off.”
McDonough, the top seed at 125, rolled into the semis for the third straight year with a 13-3 major decision against Stanford’s Ryan Mango.
Marion brushed off an early takedown and a late reversal in the second period, scoring a takedown in the third and tacking on a point for riding time to win a 7-6 decision at 141 against Cal Poly’s Boris Novachkov, a returning NCAA finalist.
“Cool customer,” Brands said.
“I’m not sure how hard he’s working out there, but man, when he goes he goes.”