Heading into this season there is no doubt that the University of Iowa definitely has more pep in their step coming off the back of a third place team performance at the NCAA tournament. Its not the fact that Iowa fans are happy, or even content with the third place finish, but last year’s preseason expectations had the Hawkeyes slated for a lower-end top ten finish, but thanks to some help from a true freshman, the Hawkeyes soared above that and were a convincing third place team.

While its true Iowa was pegged as finishing somewhere between sixth and eighth last season that was due in large part to the entire country believing Tom Brands wouldn’t break script and put a true freshman out on the mat. Looking back its hard to determine what is more surprising, the fact that Brands changed his philosophy for the first time in almost two decades, or the fact that Lee’s impact on the mat extended far beyond the 125 pound weight class.

The decision to let Lee compete last season made waves inside the program. The good kind. Lee’s teammates where excited to see him take to the mat. His dominance on the mat led to his fellow starters discussing the fact that they were feeding off his performance in their own matches, and how they felt the need to answer the bell to keep that team momentum going.

It also isn’t a big secret that Iowa is in the middle of highly successful recruiting run, with three top 25 recruits in the class of 2020 to go a long with the two in the class of 2019. Lee’s ability to step off the high school mat and enter the NCAA’s limelight has beefed up Iowa’s profile when it comes to the new age blue chip recruits. Many of Iowa’s recruits are hoping to emulate Lee’s success, which can account for the uptick in lightweight names headed to Iowa City.

Starter Spencer Lee (So)
Depth Perez Perez (Sr)
Redshirting Aaron Cashman (Fr)

Spencer Lee is a wrestler you can either spending a lot of time discussing how great he was or the fact that he is such a known quantity he really might not even require any sort of preview. He’s the highest returning point scorer at least year’s NCAA’s. Pretty much an open and shut case.

Two wrestlers figure to push Lee, and it’s more of a matter of whether or not these two are at 125 or if they bump to 133 pounds. NCAA finalist Nick Suriano (Rutgers) and Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) would be his chief rivals, but both have rumors surrounding them on which weight class would be optimal for them and their respective teams.

For depth we will see senior Perez Perez backup the NCAA champion who has yet to make a start for Iowa. Another name to watch is Aaron Cashman, who was a late addition to Iowa’s 2018 recruiting class. He’s a wrestler with Cadet World team experience with some good potential.

Lineup Austin DeSanto (So)
Battle Jason Renteria (So)

This offseason the Hawkeyes benefited from not one, but two impact transfers that will come in and be able to compete for the starting spot at 133 pounds. Both Jason Renteria (Nebraska) and Austin DeSanto (Drexel) were NCAA qualifiers at their prior institution, and both managed the feat as a true freshman. This of course means that both still have a redshirt on the table to use if they fail to make the starting lineup.

After a round of 12 performance last season, the preseason feeling is that DeSanto will be the early leader for the starting spot, followed by Renteria, and then Iowa’s 2018 starter, Paul Glynn.

The Big Ten conference has several heavy hitters at the top that will make title contention rather difficult. The two biggest returning names are Stevan Micic (Michigan) and Luke Pletcher (Ohio State), and All-Americans Suriano and Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) may be at this weight as well. Even the third place finisher in the Big Ten will be considered a contender to win NCAA’s come the last week of the year.

Lineup Vince Turk (Jr)
Battle Max Murin (RFr)
Carter Happel (So)

It’s October, so things are bound to be fluid, but right now 141 is a perceived three man battle for the starting spot in Iowa’s lineup. Last year the lineup battle was between Carter Happel and Vince Turk, of which the latter emerged as Iowa’s postseason starter. Turk managed a respectable finish, winning three matches at the NCAA tournament.

Coming off his redshirt is Max Murin, who managed to best Happel on two occasions during the regular season, which probably puts him ahead of Happel on paper heading into the season. In addition to that fans expectations of Murin were also buoyed this summer when the Pennsylvania native finished second at USA Wrestling Junior U.S. Open.

The one thing we know for certain is that when Iowa opens their season in Ohio against Kent State and CSU Bakersfield they will be without Turk, who will be serving a suspension due to violating team policy and rules. That will give Murin and Happel the first opportunity to make a statement on this weight’s starter going forward.

Preseason expectations have Iowa fans hungry for an All-American at this weight class, but most recognize that all three wrestlers still have something to prove before they take the next step. While their ceilings’ are tough to peg this early on, the floor for whomever emerges is likely an NCAA berth and winning at least two matches.

Starter Pat Lugo (Jr)
Depth Jeren Glosser (Jr)

Its not going to be easy to replace the production four-time All-American Brandon Sorensen provided Iowa the past four years, but the good news in Iowa City is that they have a wrestler that is more than capable of stepping into the lineup and and doing so. After redshirt all of last season, Pat Lugo enter this season as the favorite to take of the 149-pound weight class backed up by his fellow junior Jeren Glosser.

Transferring from Edinboro the summer of 2017, Lugo enters the lineup already a two-time NCAA qualifier and will support a top ten ranking. Last year he managed to pin the eventual third place finisher, Matt Kolodzik of Princeton at the Midlands, and he backed that victory up in freestyle this summer.

While this season will be a year in which Iowa fans will be sad to be without Sorensen, one person they will not miss at this weight is Penn State’s Zain Retherford, who put a stranglehold on this weight class for the last three seasons. With Retherford now graduated this weight is definitely more interesting now that it lacks its clear cut top dog. Ohio State’s Micah Jordan and Kolodzik share that honor currently, but Lugo is capable of joining that group of title contenders.

Lineup Kaleb Young (So)
Battle Jeremiah Moody (Jr)
Redshirting Nelson Brands (Fr)

With All-American Michael Kemerer moving up it creates an unknown for what Iowa will do in the middle of the lineup. Both perceived options, Kaleb Young and Jeremiah Moody are cutting down from 165, and since neither has competed at 157 at any points, their production while cutting that much weight remains a mystery.

Until we see how the starter performs, right now an NCAA berth seems like a fairly reasonable expectation, especially considering the Big Ten’s depth at this weight. All-Americans Tyler Berger and Alec Pantaleo (Michigan) along with NCAA champion Jason Nolf (Penn State) anchor the top of the conference. New comers to the weight Ryan Deakin (Northwestern), Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State), and Steve Bleise (Minnesota) will likely be in the mix for that next tier of wrestlers in the conference.

Waiting in the wings is Nelson Brands, son of associate head coach Terry Brands. Nelson earned his spot on his team for reasons other than sharing a last name with the duo in charge of the Hawkeye program as the Iowa City West product was a top 100 recruit, and finished third in the country at Fargo.

Starter Alex Marinelli (So)
Depth Jeremiah Moody (Jr)

As we flip over to the second half of the lineup, Iowa finally returns to some consistency, as Alex Marinelli will be back after finishing a fantastic freshman year. Over the last few years the Big Ten has led this weight nationally and even with all of Marinelli’s hype his ability to crack the top group in his first season was not a forgone conclusion. Thankfully, Marinelli still manged to meet those expectations finishing sixth in the country and he was one of two wrestlers to defeat NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State).

The flip side of the conversation is despite how good Marinelli was last season, there is no question the season didn’t end to his liking. What many will hope that will lead to is a learning experience for him to grow from. In order to catch Penn State, Iowa will need to be able to beat Penn State – which Marinelli has already proven being capable of.

The backup at this weight will likely be whichever wrestler fails to secure the 157-pound spot in the lineup.

Starter Michel Kemerer (Jr)
Depth Myles Wilson (RFr)

The positive impact of Kemerer’s ascension up the lineup is that it should solidify an upperweight for the Hawks. Last year the duo of Young and the since transferred Joey Gunther tried to wrestle up a weight, and while Gunther managed to qualify for the NCAA’s, Iowa lacked a true All-American contender.

This should lead to Iowa having a more realistic shot of earning AA status with Kemerer up at 174, and one of Young and Moody manning 157. Leading this weight nationally is returning NCAA champion Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) and he is will be pushed by the weight’s former NCAA champion Mark Hall (Penn State). Right now the preseason consensus is that Kemerer will enter this weight in the second tier of wrestlers, and with his style he may be able to have an outside shot at giving the top two some fits.

With both Young and Moody cutting down to 157, that opens the door for another wrestler to move his way up the depth chart, and that wrestler is Myles Wilson. As a redshirt Wilson competed exclusively at 184 pounds where he went 16-2 in all competitions. He managed Open titles at Luther and the Flash Flanagan and his potential at this weight could be very intriguing.

Lineup Cash Wilcke (Jr)
Battle Mitch Bowman (Sr)

More weight changes to the Iowa lineup, this time two year starter Cash Wilcke will come down to 184 pounds to challenge Mitch Bowman, who was a 2018 NCAA qualifier. Two years ago these two battled for a lineup spot at 197 pounds, with Wilcke coming out as the eventual winner where he went on to qualify for the NCAA’s. While Wilcke will be favored on paper, its worth noting that Bowman is better suited to compete at 184 with Wilcke than he was when he was trying to go all the way up to 197.

The result is Iowa will have two more than solid options at a weight where there are several openings for a new wrestler to emerge in the top group. If it is Wilcke that emerges as the starter, he should have little issue with strong opponents after competing up a weight for the past two seasons. During that stretch Wilcke had to rely on his slickness to overcome his opponents, but now that he will be at a more ideal weight we will see if he is able to diversify his offensive arsenal.

Starter Jacob Warner (RFr)
Depth Steven Holloway (Jr)

Spencer Lee wasn’t the only big ticket name in Iowa’s 2017 recruiting class that fans were itching to see. Lee and Illinois native Jacob Warner combined to be a pair of top ten recruits for the Hawkeyes, which was the first time Iowa had brought in two consensus top 10 wrestlers since 2012. Warner had a very good true freshman season that was overshadowed for a couple of reasons. The first being Lee’s debut being so high profile his name found its way into everyone’s mouth. Second was the fact that Iowa already had a legitimate starter ahead of him on the depth chart, which put the “need” for Warner much lower on last year’s totem pole compared to Lee.

The highlights include an early season dismantling of Willie Miklus (formerly of Missouri, now at Iowa State), NCAA qualifier Jake Smith (West Virginia), and a sixth place showing at his first Midlands. Even though his Midlands experience is more known for his three straight losses to end his weekend, Warner spoke on the tournament earlier this summer, and how he didn’t get mentally prepared to battle back.

Severing as depth for Iowa is former starter Steven Holloway, and former top 100 recruit Sam Cook.

Starter Sam Stoll (Sr)
Depth Aaron Costello (RFr)
Redshirting Tony Cassioppi (Fr)

Spencer Lee also isn’t the only Hawkeye entering this season with a #1 rankings. The lone senior in Iowa’s lineup combines with Lee to bookend the lineup with preseason #1 rankings. Last year marked the first time that Stoll was actually healthy enough to compete in the postseason, which led to the Minnesota native’s first All-American honor. The Big Ten has no shortage of talent, which will make holding on to that top spot a major challenge for Stoll, especially considering true freshman Gable Steveson (Minnesota) is predicted by many to enter the NCAA scene as a title contender.

Of course we should also mention that in addition to Turk being suspended for Iowa’s season opener in Ohio, the team will also be without Stoll for the same incident. After that the All-American should return to the lineup.

The good news is that Iowa actually has the depth to absorb the suspension, as Aaron Costello will come off of redshirt and be a more than capable fill in. Given the amount of injuries Stoll has suffered in his career it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see Costello receive a number of starts this season and with this lineup spot opening up the following year he will be looking to make the best of the opportunities given.

Knocking on the door will be Iowa’s top recruit in the class of 2018, Illinois prep Tony Cassioppi. Last year was an unusually strong heavyweight class in terms of elite recruits, but Cassioppi racked up his fair share of accolades. In fact, Cassioppi became just the second wrestler to win two USA Wrestling Triple Crowns. The only other time the feat was accomplished was back in 203 when Adam Coon (Michigan) did it.

By Ross Bartachek (@rossbchek)

Lead Editor of IA Wrestle

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