The 2015 World Championships is in the books now, and while not every wrestler was able to fulfill their potential, we can now start looking forward to the College wrestling season. We kick off our College previews with a quick look into what it will take for the Hawkeyes, a preseason #3 team, will need to do to finish in that top spot.
2015 was supposed to be the year it all came together for Iowa. For starters they had the #1 ranked recruiting class in 2010 and head coach Tom Brands complimented that class nicely with another #1 ranked 2012 just a couple years later. With virtually no overlap between recruits from each class, at the time it left a good feeling that Iowa would return to the top of the team podium in just a few short years.
Both classes had their anchors. For the 2010 class it was Mike Evans and Bobby Telford, two future three-time NCAA All-Americans who were worth 44 points over the last two seasons. For the 2012 class two lightweights emerged right away in Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark, who are already among the best of their weights after just their second season.
Despite the combination of two complimentary recruiting classes, Iowa fell short of Ohio State in Mid-March finishing runner-up to the Buckeyes, and with that the 2010 seniors will be leaving with a sour taste in their mouth – something I am sure the 2012 guys will be sure to want to avoid.
The quest to wash that out of their mouths will begin next season, and for the first time in the 2012 class will get their full core in the lineup. It will start at the bottom with Thomas Gilman at 125, who picked up his first All-American honor this year. Looking at the returning All-Americans Gilman will slot in the top three and he owns multiple wins (freestyle and folkstyle) against NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello, so the potential to win it all will be well within the soon-to-be junior’s grasp. For Gilman to be successful he will need to get to his leg attacks and avoid slow starts. If you watched any of his matches from last summer which led to him becoming a Junior World bronze medalist you would see that Gilman doesn’t sit back and wait, he stalks his prey.
Perhaps the biggest anchor in the lineup is two time All-American and NCAA finalist Cory Clark returning at 133 pounds. Clark burst onto the scene while redshirting at Iowa when he beat NCAA champion Jesse Delgado at the UNI Open, putting his stamp on the Division I wrestling world that he was ready. Clark came out and took fifth as a freshman and followed that with a second place performance as a sophomore. You can see the improvements that Clark is making, and there is no question that he is a hammer in the top position. He will need to avoid making mistakes on his feet, as was evidence in a few duals and against Cody Brewer in the NCAA finals.
Alex Meyer will enter his first year in the lineup at 174 after being something of a floater the last two seasons. Meyer has always been a tremendous backup behind Evans, and this year he showed off his athleticism by wrestling up two weight classes to beat Michigan State’s Nick Diarmid in their dual meeting. He also showed up at 174 beating two round of 12 finishers Blaise Butler of Virginia (now Missouri) and Zac Brunson of Illinois. Meyer has always enjoyed wrestling on the big stage, and he has already proven that he can win matches that others have already counted him out of. Now he will be given his first opportunity to be let off the leash as he tries to make his mark on this 174 weight class.
Returning starter Sammy Brooks had a disappointing finish to his season, but he nearly followed up the hype he built up as a freshman. In his first year fans fell in love with Brooks’s motor and constant attacking style and pegged him as an All-American as soon as Ethen Lofthouse graduated. Brooks narrowly missed that losing to third place winner Blake Stauffer in the round of 12, one match before reaching the stand. All of the All-Americans return at this weight, but Brooks holds victories over the #5 and #8 ranked returners, so there is no counting him out of an All-American finish next season. Brooks was a fairly consistent top 10 wrestler this season, and the Hawkeyes will need him to take it up a notch to get to the top.
Finally, Nathan Burak often gets forgotten to be a part of the 2012 recruiting class because he will be entering his final year of eligibility next season. Burak is the only wrestler to ever compete under Tom Brands to not redshirt, but the caveat is that he spent a year removed from high school training in Colorado at the Olympic Training Center. Burak has finished on the stand each of the last two seasons and has cemented himself as a wrestler who is clearly in the top eight, but it’s getting that win over the top guys that has been his issue. His lone victory over one of the top ranked (would-be) returning wrestlers was a controversial win over Kyle Snyder in the dual meeting where Burak got to choose the bottom position to start both the second and third period. If Burak can take the next step and finally start winning matches against the Kyle Snyder’s and Morgan McIntosh’s the Hawkeyes will be tough to beat.
So right there the Hawkeyes will return five legitimate starters who will all threaten to be All-Americans for Tom Brands. Freshman All-American Brandon Sorensen will be added to that mix too at 149, as he is the #2 ranked returning wrestler at his weight. That would push the total to six potential All-Americans and of that bunch both 125 and 149 have wins over the #1 ranked returning wrestlers at their weight.
If Iowa can put everything together they will have a good shot to challenge for the top spot next season. They won’t be able to do it on those six alone, they will also need new guys to step up at 141, 157, 165, and 285 as well, but they have plenty of talent in the room and just need someone to step up, take hold of the weight, and battle like crazy to keep it. Coach Tom Brands stressed this point a lot last season, but I still see how it will be relevant in 2016; consistency. It sounds so cliché, but in all honesty the Hawkeyes just need to put up consistent performances and they will put themselves in a good position.