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No. 1 Hawkeyes finish strong, maintain command of lead at NCAA Championships

Iowa’s Ryan Morningstar celebrates his win over Oklahoma State’s Alex Meade in the second round. Photo by Darren Miller, University of Iowa.

OMAHA, Neb. " Iowa heavyweight Dan Erekson sunk in a power half nelson, cranked Navy’s Scott Steele to his back and the Iowa crowd erupted.

Erekson’s fall capped a superb second round for the top-ranked Hawkeyes as he became the eighth Iowa wrestler to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.

Iowa senior Ryan Morningstar, wrestling with torn ligaments in his right knee, earned a gritty 3-1 win over Oklahoma State’s Alex Meade in the second round at 165 pounds.

Top-ranked Iowa, winner of this event the past two years, moved another step closer to a three-peat as Day 1 of the NCAA Championships concluded on Thursday night at the Qwest Center. The second session drew a sellout crowd of 16,358 fans.

“I’m going to sound like a broken record, but we have to keep a good thing going," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “We have eight in the quarters and that's good, but we have to keep a good thing going. We have a lot of work to do.

“I like that we're taking control of situations and positions. I feel like we wrestled better tonight than we did this morning. Phil Keddy comes to mind. And Jay Borschel. And Dan Erekson. (Brent) Metcalf, especially, scoring 20 points in that match."

Iowa has amassed 34.5 points entering Friday morning’s quarterfinals in Omaha. Oklahoma State is second with 26 points. Iowa State is third with 24 points.

“We have a lot of fans here,” Erekson said. “It feels good to get the crowd behind you " especially when you almost have a pin. You hear them and you want to press that shoulder down.”

Iowa’s fans were still cheering after 10 p.m. local time when senior Chad Beatty scored a reversal in the closing seconds to rally past North Carolina’s Dennis Drury in a wrestleback at 197. That kept all 10 Hawkeyes alive in the tournament.

Oklahoma State has five wrestlers in the quarters and eight still alive overall. Iowa State also has five in the quarters and nine still alive overall.

The Hawkeyes are seeking their 23rd national title. Oklahoma State has won a record 34 titles.

Erekson, fourth in this tournament last year, missed much of this season with an injury. But he’s come on strong when it matters most, winning Big Tens and adding two more wins on Thursday. He will face returning runner-up Konrad Dudziak of Duke in the quarters.

“Our philosophy is to wrestle our style and force our will on them,” Erekson said. “It is a continuation from last year. It is the same philosophy, the same mindset, to continue to get better.”

Six past champions remained alive to win titles. That group includes Metcalf (149), Indiana’s Angel Escobedo (125), Michigan State’s Franklin Gomez (133), Edinboro’s Jarrod King (165), Iowa State’s Jake Varner (197) and Missouri’s Mark Ellis (285).

“It’s definitely different this year, the way guys wrestle me isn’t the same,” King said. “They try to keep it close and pull something out. It’s about winning and moving on, just get through. I’m not super pleased with how I wrestled. I’d really like to put some more points on the board, get to the legs more and just be a little more dominant with my wins. I feel I have improved this year, if anything else, with more experience.”

Returning champion Troy Nickerson of Cornell surrendered a last-second takedown in a 2-1 loss to Boston sophomore Fred Santaite at 125. Nickerson has placed first, second and third in three previous trips to the NCAA meet.

“I was trying to get what I could there,” Santaite said. “He is a good wrestler. He blocked me out of everything. At the end, I just went for it, to get whatever I could. I got an opening and I wound up getting it.”

The quarterfinals are set for 9:30 a.m. Friday with the semifinals to follow Friday night.

The finals are set for Saturday night at 6:30.
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