Iowa sophomore Austin DeSanto bounced on the mat, waving his arms up and down before putting his hands to his ear to encourage the Maturi Pavilion crowd’s boos.
It was either that or the apparent trash-talking to the Gophers’ Ethan Lizak that earned him the penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after his upset victory Sunday. But the point deduction didn’t make much of a dent in the Hawkeyes’ 24-10 beating of the Gophers in front of the Gophers’ first sellout crowd (announced at 5,238) in nearly five years.
The Gophers wrestling team hasn’t beaten Iowa since 2014. And the admitted hatred between the teams is only mounting, as the No. 7 Gophers dropped to 8-2 (1-1 Big Ten) while the No. 4 Hawkeyes improved to 7-0, 2-0 Big Ten, after a dual that could have a big impact on rankings and postseason seedings.
Lizak, as a redshirt senior, said this loss to Iowa stings even more because it’s his last year, and he went his entire college career without winning the border battle. Lizak, ranked No. 7 at 133 pounds, lost 6-1 to No. 10 DeSanto.
Lizak said he wasn’t sure what DeSanto, a fellow Pennsylvania native, said to him before they shook hands to officially end the match after DeSanto’s robust celebration. But it could have been in response to a tweet Lizak sent back in August, when he “double-dog” dared DeSanto to choose the bottom starting position. Spoiler alert: He did.
While the upset of Lizak — as well as Iowa’s No. 2 Alex Marinelli pinning Carson Brolsma in 5:55 at 165 pounds — was a blow, Gophers coach Brandon Eggum said this was mostly a dual where the close matches made the difference. If No. 6 Sean Russell hadn’t lost 5-0 to No. 2 Spencer Lee at 125 pounds, or if No. 9 Steve Bleise hadn’t given up a last-second takedown to No. 5 Kaleb Young at 157, or if No. 2 heavyweight Gable Steveson had managed the pin instead of the major decision, the Gophers would have won the dual.
At least there is learning material, especially when it comes to Steveson’s match.
“He wanted to put up big points. He wanted to get a pin,” Eggum said. “I love that competitiveness, but he came out against a guy whose job was to not get turned. The job was not to try to win. It was to try to slow things down. … He used a lot of energy and a lot of emotion to try to close it quickly, when all he needs to do is be himself … and then there would have been opportunities.”
Besides Steveson’s 12-3 major decision, which kept him undefeated at 20-0, two other Gophers won their bouts. No. 11 redshirt junior Devin Skatzka took down Iowa’s Mitch Bowman 11-9 at 174 pounds, and No. 6 junior Mitch McKee defeated No. 15 Max Murin 5-3 at 141.
Steveson’s overeager start might have been spurred by a matchup that never was. He was hoping to wrestle Iowa’s No. 1 Sam Stoll, but as expected, Stoll sat out with an injury. On the Big Ten Network broadcast right after his victory, Steveson said he was “very disappointed” to miss out on that chance.
But after Steveson had some time to marinate, he said after the dual he wasn’t disappointed in Stoll’s absence “at all.”
“I’ll see him in March,” the freshman said, referring to the Big Ten and NCAA championships.
Steveson — another wrestler known for his on-mat personality that teeters the line between confident and cocky — didn’t mind DeSanto’s display or the overall hostile environment of a Minnesota-Iowa dual.
“DeSanto, he’s a character. I mean, I like what he does. He’s physical. He loves doing things that will get the crowd into it,” Steveson said. “Next time, we need somebody to go out there and give it to him.”