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A Long Simmering Feud: Penn State - Iowa Wrestling

There is much more to this battle than just the last three years.


When new Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany announced via conference call to his shocked athletic directors that Penn State would be joining the conference in 1993, he received a 10-second pause of dead air before Michigan's Bo Schembechler picked up his jaw and stated pointedly, "you're sh**ting me." Delany had ignored his ADs and coaches during the expansion process, and instead worked only with the university presidents, who were happy (relatively speaking) to endorse Penn State's membership. The ADs and coaches, though, threw such a fit that the entire deal was nearly cancelled. The presidents won out, but Penn State was off to a rocky start in its new home, and Delany had learned a valuable lesson before he pursued expansion again.

Football always gets the headlines in expansion, but you can be certain that Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable took note of his new conference foe. The Hawkeyes had won the Big Ten wrestling championship every year from 1974 through 1992 - 19 straight, with their 1992 margin of victory standing at a whopping 81 team points over 2nd place Wisconsin. But his Hawks, despite winning the National Championship in both 1991 and 1992, were just 4-3-1 against Penn State in dual meets the last five years. And there was already some bad blood.

The Lions began wrestling Iowa in the 1982/1983 season, and lost the first four years - only one of which was all that close. But in December 1986, Penn State, led by lightweights Jim Martin, Ken Chertow, and Tim Flynn, beat the Hawkeyes at Rec Hall 27-15, on their way to a 3rd place finish at NCAAs (Iowa State won, Iowa was 2nd).

The following year Penn State visited Carver Hawkeye, and won again, 19-18, becoming the first team ever to beat the Hawks at Carver. Then, for a 3rd straight year, in 1989 the Lions beat Gable's Hawkeyes 18-16, with Jim Martin and Tom Brands finishing their bout tied at 3 (Martin would finish 3rd at Nationals, and Brands 4th).

Three straight losses was just about enough for Gable. In 1990, Iowa was looking for a fight when the Lions came to Iowa City. Predictably, that's what happened. Jeff Prescott (a 2x NCAA Champ) and Terry Brands (a 2x NCAA Champ) were both disqualified from their opening 118-lb match - the rare double disqualification. Iowa won at Carver Hawkeye 5-22, and six weeks later, they put the wood to Penn State at National Duals, 3-31.

Iowa took the next season's dual as well, 6-32 at Rec Hall. But the Lions and Hawks met again that season in the semi-finals of National Duals. Prescott tech fall'ed Chad Zaputil, a 3-time national runner up. Troy Sunderland and Tim Wittman beat Iowa's Steiner brothers, Troy and Terry, and Penn State won on criteria, 18-18 to advance to the finals. There, they beat Oklahoma State 21-18 to win the National Duals title.

Losing never sat well with Dan Gable, of course. So when Penn State officially became a Big Ten member for the 1992/1993 season, Gable knew he had a legitimate challenger to his Big Ten conference reign. Who would be Penn State's first opponent as a member of the Big Ten, to welcome them to the conference? Gable's Hawks, of course. They were already on the schedule. Iowa traveled to Rec Hall in early December and the two squads tied, 18-18.

Weight PSU Iowa Result PSU Iowa
118 Jon Kallen Zaputil L TF 0 5
126 Sanshiro Abe Streicher W 9-3 3 5
134 Cary Kolat Zadick, B. WBF 4:04 9 5
142 Russ Hughes Steiner, Terry L MD 1-10 9 9
150 Troy Sunderland Steiner, Troy L 3-6 9 12
158 Josh Robbins Catalano W 3-2 12 12
167 Dave Hart Trammel W 4-2 15 12
177 Matt White Nerem W 7-6 18 12
190 Kerry McCoy Sharratt L 10-14 18 15
275 Greg Troxell Oostendorp L 2-4 18 18

A tie was no better than a loss for Gable. And the 18-18 result at Rec Hall put his paranoia for the Big Ten title at a fever pitch. It forced Gable into something previously unthinkable - burning a redshirt. Bill Zadick, a future NCAA champ, was bumped out of the Hawk's lineup. Troy Steiner cut from 150 down to 134 during the season to match up with Kolat. Terry Steiner bumped up to 150 to wrestle Sunderland. And, most surprising of all, Lincoln McIlravy, a true frosh phenom slated to redshirt until that December tie, was inserted at 142 to go against Russ Hughes.

Gable's lineup juggling worked, but only just barely. Iowa won its 20th straight Big Ten title in 1993, besting Penn State by 4.5 team points (with Troy Steiner beating Kolat in OT in the 134lb final) - the closest modern Big Ten team race in history (until 2011, when Penn State beat Iowa by 1 point). And Iowa won the NCAA title two weeks later, outpacing Penn State again (who finished 2nd, again).

Cary Kolat beat Troy Steiner in the NCAA semi-finals, 8-4, but lost the final. McIlravy won an NCAA title, beating Gerry Abas in a wild 16-15 match. That's the one everyone remembers. But the 150 lb championship match that followed it was even more heartbreaking. Troy Sunderland went into the 3rd period with a 5-2 lead over Terry Steiner, and lost on a (controversial) last second takedown and back exposure, 8-7.

Earlier this summer, coaches, wrestlers, and fans in State College and Iowa City were alarmed to learn that the Lions and Hawks were not scheduled to wrestle - an unfortunate side effect to being in a 12- and soon to be 14-team conference. Many pointed to last year's awesome dual at Carver Hawkeye Arena, and wondered, with Olympic wrestling still fighting for its life, how could the Big Ten - the nation's premier wrestling conference - let this happen? Tom Brands and Cael Sanderson got it figured out, of course. And so for the first time since 1992, Penn State and Iowa will wrestle a non-conference dual at CHA.

This one won't count in the conference standings. No one cares about that. And Penn Staters aren't the only ones eager to see the showdown this Saturday night (broadcast live on BTN at 9pmET; quote pulled from Hawk Talk):

"We can start looking ahead now," said Iowa's 133-lber, Tony Ramos, immediately after coming off the mat against Buffalo last Thursday.   "There are some guys still wrestling but I’m done. I can start looking ahead. [The Penn State dual]’s real big."

"You don’t look ahead in sports or life, but now we’re here," Brands said last Thursday after the Buffalo dual. "Let’s get ready for now and let’s get ready for Penn State."

The party's about to begin. It's been building every year since 1982. With the two teams splitting the last six national championships, 3 each, this simmering feud feels like it's ready to boil over.