PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The Steel City. it's an Iowa Hawkeye wrestling team kind of town.
Iowa brought its hard helmets to PPG Paints Arena on Thursday for the first-round of the NCAA wrestling championships, and they will keep on bringing them.
Using several workmanlike efforts, and garnering some gritty victories, the Hawkeyes sit in third place with seven quarterfinalists after the first two sessions.
"Two sessions in the books, seven of nine, seven in the quarters," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "We have to come back strong in the other two weights, we have to be strong in the quarters.
"Here is the thing. We have a lot of work to do."
Iowa did show a little flash, Thursday, too. The Hawkeyes got two bonus point wins from Spencer Lee at 125 and Kaleb Young at 157, and Alex Marinelli, top-seeded at 165, showed resolve in rallying from a 4-1 deficit to beat Joe Smith of Oklahoma State, 7-4, in his first match, and a bullied Thomas Bullard of North Carolina State, 12-4.
In all, Iowa was 16-2 on the day and scored 24 points. Defending champion Penn State leads with 32.5 points, and Ohio State is second with 25.5.
Silver linings were not in Brands' words, however.
"We don't look at it that way," Brands said of the teams 16-2 match record. "We get ready for every match, and we believe we are going to win every match and that is how you win titles."
Young, a sophomore, and one of four Pennsylvania natives on Iowa's roster, was definitely one of the Hawkeyes' catalysts. He won by technical fall in his opener over Dan Reed of Columbia, and he crushed Ke-Shawn Hayes of Ohio State, 12-4.
"It's a hell of a lot more fun wrestling than it is sitting in the bleachers watching," said Young, who was not a varsity regular for Iowa last season. "So, it's awesome. I Love it.
"I feel like we definitely feed off each other," he added. "Spencer Lee is a pretty good guy to start us. He goes out and gets big wins, and DeSanto (Austin) follows him up. He's a hammer himself. Those two start us off well each round and we just keep it rolling."
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Lee, the defending 125 champ, had a technical fall and major decision. DeSanto had a pin in the first round, and then beat Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young, 7-2.
But if there was a surprise, sophomore Max Murin provided it at 141. Seeded 22nd, Murin opened with a 3-2 win over No. 11 Tristan Moran of Wisconsin in his opener, and then for the second time in two weeks he knocked off Illinois' Michael Carr, this time he edged the six seed, 4-3.
"The whole year, I kind of felt like I could've done better, I could've done better and I kept on losing close matches," Murin said. "Finally found a win these closes matches.
"It is unreal."
Iowa opened the day with a perfect first round, going 9-for-9, highlighted by technical falls from Lee at 125 and Young at 157. Additionally, DeSanto high-energy, fast-paced style was too much for Appalachian State's Codi Russell, as he scored a first-period disqualification over Russell, who was flagged for stalling five times, which is an automatic DQ.
"Nine wins," Brands said after the first session. "It is as good as we could've done. We left some points out there, maybe, but we will get better as the tournament goes on."
Pat Lugo at 149 and Sam Stoll at heavyweight also made the quarterfinals for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa State managed to go just 4-5 during the opening session, but the Cyclones rebounded in session two and have all nine of their wrestlers still alive.
"We got nine guys scrapping still, so it is still too early to get too high or too low," Cyclone head coach Kevin Dresser said. "I was really excited and proud of our fight tonight. Especially in the wrestlebacks. We had five guys lose this morning, and five guys came back and two of them bonus pointed. We got to keep doing that because that is ultimately what is going to get you on the podium."
Returning national qualifier Jerrett Degen at 149 and sophomore Samuel Colbray at 184 are the Cyclones quarterfinalists.
Degen decked Justin Oliver of North Carolina State 11-8 in the second round, and Colbray moved on with a 7-4 win over Dakota Geer of Oklahoma State.