Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hawks new No. 1

Iowa owns nation's top spot for first time since 2000

By Andy Hamilton
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Iowa's Joey Slaton reacts after beating Iowa State's Nick Fanthorpe in a 133 pound match Sunday at Hilton Coliseum in Ames. The Hawkeyes replaced the Cyclones as the nation's top-ranked team Monday. The Associated Press

Reader services

Iowa completed its seven-year climb back to the top of the college wrestling rankings Monday. Now the Hawkeyes are setting out to stay there.

Iowa's 20-13 victory Sunday against then-No. 1 Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum in Ames vaulted the Hawkeyes over Minnesota and Iowa State and put them on top of the national rankings for the first time since 2000.

"It's a nice tag to put on your program this early in the season, especially with the firepower (defending NCAA champion) Minnesota had coming back," Iowa coach Tom Brands said Sunday after the Hawkeyes won six matches on their way to their third straight dual victory against Iowa State. "Are we the No. 1 team in the country right now? We've got a lot of work to do, and I will challenge our guys right now. We are not going to rest on our laurels. We have to be more consistent. We have to build off this and springboard off it."

That's a challenge the Hawkeyes didn't meet last year after they handled Iowa State 24-6 in December in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and then spent the rest of the season looking up at the Cyclones.

"They whipped us at the Midlands by 50 points," Brands said. "They whipped us at nationals. They were nine points out of the title last year, (and) we were in eighth place. (Iowa State coach) Cael Sanderson said it. He was quoted as saying we were fighting for a top-10 finish. That's true.

"We were third in the Big Ten. We were fifth at the National Duals. We weren't in the league to win the National Duals. We weren't in the league to win the Big Ten. We were 60 points out of first at the Big Tens. We were in eighth-place at the nationals. We are not resting on this."

Sanderson and the Cyclones, on the other hand, were trying to get a grip on silver linings Sunday evening.

"You've got to take some positive out of a tough situation," Sanderson said. "Obviously, we wanted to win this match. It hurts that we didn't, but we've got the big picture. This is one of the big battles of the season. Now we've got to get ready for the next one."

So do the Hawkeyes.

Iowa will put its No. 1 ranking on the line Thursday night when the Hawkeyes wrestle Northern Iowa and Cornell College at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It will mark the first time Iowa has entered a dual meet ranked No. 1 since the Hawkeyes wrestled Oklahoma State on Dec. 2, 2000, in Oklahoma City and came away with a 21-14 loss.

Iowa was ranked behind Iowa State and Minnesota in the W.I.N. rankings entering Sunday's dual. Oklahoma State was also ranked ahead of the Hawkeyes in the USA Today/National Wrestling Coaches Association poll. But the Cowboys suffered their first defeat of the season Sunday when they lost at home to No. 5 Penn State.

"I heard it said somewhere that one of four teams could beat anybody at any time, and that's Iowa, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Minnesota," Brands said Sunday. "From the outside looking in, that may be true. You're not going to get any quotable from me on (whether) we're the No. 1 team or not."

Reach Andy Hamilton at 339-7368 or ahamilton@press-citizen.com.