Tempers flared and fists flew as the MSU wrestling team fell 27-12 to No. 3 Iowa on an emotion-filled Sunday afternoon.
Twice during the meet, both teams received an unsportsmanlike point for fighting, forcing the referee to separate the wrestlers.
“Iowa is a tough team, and we knew it was going to be a fight, and that’s what it was,” head coach Tom Minkel said. “It’s kind of the nature of wrestling. We’ve had some other matches with them over the years that have been pretty dramatic, so I don’t think we’ve settled very well with them.”
Of the 10 wrestlers in the Iowa starting lineup, nine of them were ranked in the top 20 of their weight class, including two ranked No. 1 in the country.
The three wins the Spartans had were from No. 7 junior heavyweight Mike McClure, who won on forfeit, sophomore 184-pounder John Rizqallah and senior 149-pounder Dan Osterman. Minkel said he was proud how they responded in a physical way to the stout competition.
“It’s a huge bright spot,” he said. “John’s a sophomore and it’s his first year as a starter. He’s been wrestling really, really well and making great strides. Danny had a heck of a match, too.”
Minkel said senior 157-pounder David Cheza will be out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. Senior Ryan Watts will take his place in the starting lineup.
With a 10-4 upset win over No. 17 Michael Kelly, Osterman said the win gave him confidence for the rest of the season.
“Aside from my body being sore, I feel really good,” Osterman said. “I did a lot of extra things this week just realizing that I only have two months left in my career. To have that reward of putting in the work, and seeing it pay off, is a really good feeling.”
Earlier in the week, Rizqallah said regardless of the outcome, he wanted every member of the team to have a good showing, a feat he said they accomplished.
“A lot of our kids are young, but I do believe every single one of us went out there and fought, whether it was literally fighting physically or just fighting,” Rizqallah said. “Our 157-pounder, Ryan (Watts), literally fought the kid, and that kid is No. 1 in the country. (Ryan’s) not ranked, but he didn’t give up. It doesn’t matter who you are, we’re going to fight.”
Along with Watts, 197-pounder Luke Jones also got into a fist-fight with his opponent, Nathan Burak, before losing, 7-4.
The Hawkeyes came to East Lansing after defeating Michigan, 33-10, on Friday.
Rizqallah, who beat the No. 11 wrestler at his weight, said Iowa came in with the attitude that they were the alpha-males, and MSU was just regular guys.
“We’re going to go out there and fight, it’s not going to happen like that, that’s not how we roll,” he said. “If you want to play within the rules, we’ll play within the rules, but if you’re going to be cheap, we’re going to be cheap as well. Sometimes it becomes more than a wrestling match.”
The Spartans still are winless in Big Ten competition, but Minkel said the result against Iowa is a step in the right direction after a 41-0 trouncing by No. 1 Penn State a week ago.
“We’re a fairly young team and we need to learn from these,” Minkel said.
“You can’t go week after week and just expect to get better. You have to learn from this environment and you have to learn from wrestling this caliber of competition. I think we are, I think we’re learning a lot.”
Next up for MSU is No. 15 Northwestern at 6 p.m. on Friday in Jenison Field House.