ST. LOUIS — Iowa’s Spencer Lee was his usual dominant self on the opening day of the NCAA wrestling championships, and the Hawkeyes were well-positioned to end a 10-year team championship drought.
The Hawks, who qualified wrestlers in all 10 weights, had 26 points with second-round matches in five weight divisions still to be contested Thursday night. Penn State was second with 22 and Missouri third with 21.
All of the top seeds through 157 pounds had made it through to the quarterfinals Friday.
Lee, the 125-pounder who’s bidding for a third straight national title, needed only 1:33 to end his opening match against Virginia’s Patrick McCormick, and he won by major decision over West Virginia’s Killian Cardinale.
Jaydin Eierman, a three-time All-American who transferred to Iowa from Missouri, had a tougher-than-expected second-round match at 141, advancing with a 5-3 decision over Pittsburgh’s 16th-seeded Cole Matthews.
The Hawkeyes’ other two top seeds, three-time Big Ten champ Alex Marinelli (165) and two-time All-American Michael Kemerer (184), had late matches.
The Hawkeyes got valuable points from 12th-seeded Max Murin, who advanced to the 149 quarterfinals with a 5-3 decision over No. 5 Ridge Lovett of Nebraska.
Iowa’s lone loss came at 157, where No. 12 Brady Berge of Penn State won 5-2 over No. 5 Kaleb Young.
Penn State won 11 of its first 13 matches and has quarterfinalists in No. 2 Roman Bravo-Young (133), No. 2 Nick Lee (141) and Berge.
A couple of lower-seeded wrestlers advanced to quarterfinals. Northwestern’s Yahya Thomas, No. 25 at 149, won 10-4 over No. 9 Legend Lamer of Cal Poly, and Stanford’s Real Woods, No. 21 at 141, earned a 5-1 overtime decision over No. 5 Dom Demas of Oklahoma.
The biggest upsets of the opening round came at 197, where No. 31 Owen Pentz of North Dakota State pinned No. 2 Eric Schultz of Nebraska in 4:51, and No. 26 Jake Woodley of Oklahoma won a 4-1 decision over Missouri freshman Rocky Elam.
Pentz is the first North Dakota State true freshman to qualify for nationals. The Bison wrestle in the Big 12, and Pentz got an at-large bid after going 2-2 in the conference tournament.
He’s not a typical freshman, though. He was a member of Fresno State’s first signing class in 2016 and went on a two-year Mormon mission from 2017 to 2019 prior to enrolling. When Fresno State announced in October it was dropping wrestling, Pentz transferred to North Dakota State.
“Surprised I was able to go out there and stay in the fight pull off a pin on a kid that’s ranked,” Pentz said. “It helps me know I can compete with top-level kids in this tournament and makes me excited for the next matches.”
Wrestling continues Friday, with the finals set for Saturday night.