Win streak on the line
The streak has reached a level that hasn?t been topped in nearly six decades, and yet that might not even be the most remarkable feat of Iowa?s recent run of dual success.
The Hawkeyes have gone 1,105 days without a defeat. They?ve won 69 consecutive meets. They have just one rung left to climb to claim ownership of the longest winning streak in college wrestling history.
?Now being a coach, it almost seems impossible to be where they?re at and basically go three or four years without losing a dual meet,? said Cal Poly coach Mark Perry Jr., a senior on the 2008 team that started the run for Hawkeyes. ?That?s a dynasty. That?s what they?ve created. It?s one of those things where people at the end could say, ?It might not ever happen again.??
Even at the peak of Iowa?s dominance under Dan Gable, the Hawkeyes never set foot in this territory. Only one other program has ? the last program to beat Iowa, the program standing between the Hawkeyes and 70.
No. 10 Iowa (8-0) takes on sixth-ranked Oklahoma State (7-2) Sunday in Stillwater.
?This is important,? Iowa coach Tom Brands said. ?I don?t pay any attention to those numbers (with) the streak. But I?m aware of it now because we?re on the threshold.?
Oklahoma State previously held the top three spots on the chart for consecutive wins until the Hawkeyes pushed their way into a tie for second Jan. 7 with a victory against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. Oklahoma State won 76 consecutive duals during a 14-year undefeated run that ended in 1951. The Cowboys won 69 straight from 1921-32 and again during a three-year stretch that ended with a 1999 tie against Oklahoma.
One thing was noticeably missing during Oklahoma State?s most-recent run: a championship. The Cowboys posted three consecutive dual wins against Iowa during that period, but Iowa capped each of those seasons with national titles.
?Those were not some of my better teams,? Oklahoma State coach John Smith said. ?We won some dual meets during that streak that I don?t know how we won them. We won some Iowa meets where after we won they were still favored by 70 points over us going into nationals.
?The difference was that I didn?t really have the teams that should have been running off that many victories in a row. We would always find a win somewhere. Something would go crazy in a dual meet because we would make something go crazy in a dual meet.?
Something similar to what occurred during Iowa?s last defeat.
The Hawkeyes were 7-0 and ranked No. 1 going into the Jan. 5, 2008, meeting against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys won four matches by a takedown or less, including Jake Dieffenbach?s stunning 5-3 upset against Perry, the defending NCAA champion. Oklahoma State won the dual 19-14.
?It should?ve never happened,? said Perry, who finished that season with his second national title. ?I didn?t do things right with my weight management. Even though there were four our five other guys that could?ve won, I should?ve never lost. I should?ve scored bonus points. I put that dual meet on myself. But it happens. That?s sports and there?s nothing I can do about it now. But this streak should be longer if I would?ve done a couple things better.?
Since then, the Hawkeyes have scored 2,275 points in duals. Their opponents have scored 459. Iowa has posted 19 shutouts during the streak and won at least nine matches in 30 of the duals.
The Hawkeyes scraped by a few times, too. Chad Beatty?s last-second takedown rescued the Hawkeyes from defeat against Michigan in 2008 and extended the streak to 13. Iowa won the last four matches to come from behind for a 23-13 win in 2009 against Cornell in the finals of the National Duals. The Hawkeyes posted three victories by a combined 14 points No. 1 vs. 2 showdowns against Iowa State.
?(There were) a lot of wins we had with fractured lineups and situations where we had to be tough to win and we persevered,? Brands said. ?We used a lot of guys along the way.?
And therein lies perhaps the most impressive part of the streak. The Hawkeyes have been without at least one starter in 54 of the wins.
They lost Perry for the last 11 duals of the 2008 season after he underwent knee surgery. They won the National Duals in 2009 without Charlie Falck and went through stretches that season without Jay Borschel and Dan Erekson.
They ran the table last year without ever assembling their best lineup for a dual. Erekson missed the first two months of the season with a pectoral tear. Beatty missed the last two months with a broken foot. Daniel Dennis missed six weeks in the middle of the season with a sprained ankle. Yet the Hawkeyes won the National Duals without three starters, beating second-ranked Iowa State in the finals.
?Until the end of last year, I don?t even think we knew (the streak) existed,? said two-time NCAA champion Brent Metcalf, who went 61-0 in his matches during the streak. ?Those sorts of records don?t matter. The things that mattered to us and matter to these guys is winning those national championships.?
The winning streak barely registered on Iowa?s radar at the start of last season. They blew by the school record of 42 set by Gable?s teams from 1994-97 and passed it off as no big deal.
?I don?t know anything about that,? Brands said at the time. ?The string of dual meet wins? That?s not important. It?s kind of goofy we even know that.?
The Hawkeyes know now. The school record might not have been important. The all-time record is.
?It?s important to our program,? said Ryan Morningstar, a senior on last year?s team and a four-year starter for the Hawkeyes. We?re all about breaking records, and this is just another one we?re going after.?
The Hawkeyes are well aware of the history now. They know they?re one victory from sole possession of second place on the list. They know the record would be Iowa?s property in February if the Hawkeyes can get through their dual season unscathed.
?It means a lot to keep it going,? Iowa freshman Derek St. John said. ?Nobody wants it to fall in their hands. We?ve got to keep a good thing going.?