We have reached the lull portion of the wrestling season, as college athletes look to finish out their fall semester classroom finals and of course get some deserved time off for the holiday season. While in reality it is just a short stretch of time between competitions, for the fans it can feel like a lifetime. The University of Iowa wrapped up their 2018 dual schedule with a win at home over Lehigh and will spend the next three weeks resting, recovering, and preparing for the Midlands Championships in Evanston, Illinois.
So with actual wrestling for the Hawkeyes on the far horizon, we took a moment to reflect on the first two months of Iowa’s season and recap what we have learned. Overall the preseason expectations for this team where very high. The Hawks started the year as the third ranked tournament team, with many in the industry considering Iowa to be in a prime position for second come postseason time. Bolstered by four returning All-Americans, two #1 ranked wrestlers, and a host of young talent looking to break through this team is packed with potential.
And while for the majority we can still say that most of that potential is still true. At full strength, the Iowa team is solid from top to bottom. This consistent strength in the lineup makes it difficult for opposing teams to first find an opening to steal a match, and even if they do they are often times hard pressed to sustain their momentum.
The challenge thus far has been the question of health and how it impacts Iowa. The big blow of course was the announcement that came just prior to December that All-American Michael Kemerer would miss the season due to injury. It is a little on the nose to say that Kemerer was important to this squad. Obviously losing a wrestler that has placed twice at the NCAA tournament, ranked in the top ten, and one of the team’s most consistent performers week in and week out is detrimental to Iowa’s chances going forward. The team is now having to search the roster for a replacement, which is less than ideal circumstances already a month into the season.
But even if we discount the fact that Kemerer never appeared in the Iowa lineup this year, injuries have taken their toll at other places on the team. To date Iowa has competed in six duals and in those contests Iowa was without at least two of their key contributors for five. For the most part of those duals that has been due to Jacob Warner (197) and Sam Stoll (285) who have each appeared in just one dual (coincidentally the same dual).
The good news is things should get better. This time off between the Lehigh dual and the Midlands should give the starters dealing with minor setbacks a good chunk of time to get back to a level of full strength as they enter the meatier part of their schedule. After the Midlands the Hawkeyes will open the new year with five straight duals against top 25 teams, kicking off with #8 ranked Minnesota and ending the stretch against #10 Nebraska. All but one of those five duals take place on the road, with #15 Rutgers coming to Carver in mid-January.
With the Midlands taking place on December 29th and 30th, and Iowa’s next compeition after that not scheduled until the 13th of January we decided to recap Iowa’s season this far to view how the team’s expectations have shifted. This review should set the table for the team as they head into one of their biggest competitions on the year.
125: Spencer Lee is human. It sounds strange, but it’s true. For the past couple seasons Iowa has done a good job shedding the robot label that outsiders have placed on the program, but Lee is a different kind of robot. We are all so used to Lee being automatic against his competition. Known for how tough he is on top more often than not fans have come to expect either a fall or technical fall from Lee anytime he is facing someone outside of the top 20. You don’t finish your true freshman season as the highest scoring individual at the NCAA tournament by not being a bonus scoring machine.
But as I said this year we remembered that Lee is in fact a human being. That he is still susceptible to forces outside if his control that can cause him to be at less than one hundred percent. After missing the dual against Purdue it was obvious that something was holding back the Iowa sophomore, and in his first match back against Iowa State it was clear holding Lee out of the Purdue dual was the right decision. Anyone that has watched Lee over the past five years can easily spot that he wasn’t at full strength against Alex Mackall of Iowa State, and right now you can’t convince me otherwise. His next match out against Lehigh reaffirms that belief and the Midlands can totally erase the blip from everyone’s radar.
133: One wrestler with seemingly unchanged expectations is that of Austin DeSanto, who emerged as Iowa’s 133-pound starter. In his first four duals DeSanto looked the part of a Hawkeye going 4-0 with two bonus victories. He took his first loss to Iowa State’s Austin Gomez in the dual’s final match, but he responded with a 19-8 major decision the next week in his performance against Lehigh. All told he is 5-1 with three bonus victories and ranked #11.
And the truth is by the end of the season that loss to Gomez probably won’t look all that bad. There is no questioning just how talented the young Cyclone wrestler is, and almost everyone identified that match accurately as being one Iowa State was more than capable of coming away with a victory in. Overall the 133-pound weight class is an absolute meat grinder. Anyone in the top five is a legitimate title contender, and the next six wrestlers after that group are not necessarily even with each other, but very much in the same neighborhood of talent.
141: At this point in the season I think Iowa fans can feel a little more confident in what they have in their 141-pound wrestler Max Murin. Coming into the year it felt like a race between Murin and last year’s starter Vince Turk battling for the starting spot, with sophomore Carter Happel pushing from behind. Murin managed both teammates in the wrestle offs to earn the starting spot and for the most part he has done everything expected of him.
While we’ve seen flashes to know that Murin has some great potential, there is still a little work to clean up the freshman before he is ready to make his postseason run. There is still quite a bit of time between now and March, which is certainly a chip in his favor. For the most part Murin has been strong on offense both on this feet and on top and as a result he has four bonus point wins in six matches.
His lone hiccup was giving up a late takedown to Ian Parker (Iowa State) which cost him his first loss of the season. Murin responded well to that match as he came back with a major decision against Josh Humphreys (Lehigh). A year ago Murin established himself as a wrestler with a bright future when he placed at the Midlands as a true freshman, now he has the opportunity to set a new standard in 2018. A win in that field would give the freshman monster momentum heading into the conference slate.
149: It’s never easy to replace the production of a guy like Brandon Sorensen, but Pat Lugo was supposed to ease the transition having already established himself as a NCAA caliber, top-ten wrestler. So needless to say Iowa fans have had a bit more disappointment when it comes to Lugo, as he began the season with a 2-3 record. He stumbled out of the blocks, dropping a 10-9 match to Russell Rohlfing (CSU Bakersfield), but shortly after he picked up his first career fall against Kody Komara (Kent State) he then lost two straight at home, the first and more forgivable to the #1 ranked Matt Kolodzik, but he lost again to Jarrett Degen (Iowa State) his next time out.
All of that is not to say that Lugo’s season is over, but instead expectations are probably now a bit more managed. Whereas before Lugo was viewed with the potential of coming in and challenging for a national title, now he is more viewed as an All-American potential which is not an insult in the slightest. To be honest the door on national title contender isn’t even necessarily closed. Lugo has already proven he can beat two of the nation’s current top five wrestlers – Kolodzik and #5 Austin O’Connor (North Carolina).
If Lugo wants to put himself back into the conversation of that national title hunt he can re-establish himself at the Midlands where the field is expected to feature Kolodzik, O’Connor, #10 Josh Heil (Campbell), #11 Max Thomsen (UNI), #13 Josh Maruca (Arizona State), #14 Henry Pohlmeyer (SDSU), #16 Anthony Artalona (Penn), and #19 Cole Martin (Wisconsin).
157: Speaking of replacing a veteran, the Hawkeyes were in search of a new face at 157-pounds this season. With Kemerer looking to move up to 174, prior to his injury, Iowa called upon several wrestlers to change weights in order to earn the opportunity for starting time. They found their answer in sophomore Kaleb Young, who has now made starts for Iowa at 157, 165, 174 pounds in his young career.
So far Young’s production has been modest as he carries a 6-0 record. He earned a highlight moment in the Purdue dual last month when he pinned Griffin Parriott in the second period. Parriott has since ascended to #10 in the rankings giving Young a legitimate quality win. Young’s other big victory came in the Princeton dual when he downed Quincy Monday 7-4. Outside of that Young really hasn’t been tested, and has been in control of each match he has appeared in.
Despite not being as flashy as his other fellow Pennsylvanians in the Iowa lineup, Young has been a consistent performer for Iowa and the Midlands will be his opportunity to give us an indication of where he might finish in March. The top contenders in the field (outside of Young) are #2 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) and #8 Larry Early (Old Dominion) so a strong showing by the Hawkeye will only solidify his legitimacy as an All-American candidate.
165: If you want to single out the most impressive Hawkeye to date, look no further than Alex Marinelli, who has opened this season on an absolute terror scoring six straight bonus point victories. As one of the four returning All-Americans, Iowa fans knew they would be leaning on Marinelli’s production this season and somehow the Bull has still managed to impress his fans. Three pins, a pair of major decisions, and a technical fall add up to 27 team points over the first two months.
So if I had to try and pin down what I learned about Marinelli after a month and a half this season it would be that he delivers. He has consistently won big for Iowa and as a direct result to the benefit of his team. In the dual against Iowa State the teams were separated by a one point margin. If one wanted to point to a performance that helped maintain Iowa’s streak over their rival they would surely point to that as a key contribution. Or even against Lehigh, where his technical fall helped clinch the dual which gave Tom Brands the opportunity to rest both Warner and Stoll.
174: There is no way to positively spin the news about losing Kemerer for the season. It’s a tough pill to swallow but by now most Hawkeye fans have already taken their medicine so there is no use in dwelling on the past. Instead we will look forward at this weight. While the subsequent loss of freshman Myles Wilson was also unfortunate, especially when it came at a time that he was leading Iowa State’s Marcus Coleman. Just one year into his career and Wilson was already showing signs of development leading on the nation’s well thought of freshmen in Coleman.
Both of those options now on the shelf Iowa has turned to Jeremiah Moody, who came up after losing the 157-pound wrestle off to fill in for the Lehigh dual. It was a tough ask for Moody’s first start up two weight classes to be against a top ten opponent so take that weekend’s result for whatever its worth. We will see how permanent of a fixture Moody can be, however as we know for certain now that Mitch Bowman is working his weight descent plan down to 174 after previously competing at 184 pounds earlier in the year. Bowman’s certification at 174 is a blessing for Iowa as they now have a former NCAA qualifier challenging to take over a spot that was thin in experience after Kemerer.
Overall, we don’t really have a clue on what this weight will hold this season. Midlands will be our first barometer to start gauging expectations, but even then we should consider that this will be the first time Bowman has made the 174-pound cut since his freshman year. And those results will take place in a tournament setting which means multiple weigh ins. The real picture will emerge once Iowa begins it’s dual schedule in the new year.
184: Cash Wilcke is in a similar boat as Lugo is where fans came into the season with some pretty sky high expectations, though early performances have now turned those down a notch. That’s probably a little harsh considering Wilcke is still sporting a 5-1 record, and his only loss was a one point decision to rival Sammy Colbray. With that said with Wilcke moving down to what has always been assumed as a more natural weight, many were hoping new weight Wiclke would be able to break though the barrier and reach the podium this season.
And to be fair to Wilcke that perception may be influenced by recency bias as its more or less lately that he didn’t look nearly as sharp as he did at the opening of the season. Maybe if Wilcke would have been able to finish his third period shot against Colbray, which would have sealed his victory this would be a different story. Instead Wilcke surrendered a takedown off a Colbray counter and then followed that performance with a tight 6-4 sudden victory win over Lehigh’s backup Andrew Price. In the post match press conference Brands alluded that Wilcke might not have gone if circumstances were different, which suggests that Wilcke was at less than full strength in that match.
Where we settle is that Wilcke is more than likely in the same boat as he was last year. A guy that is round of 12 talent, which means he’s got a puncher’s chance of making the podium if he is wrestling well in March.
197: It’s admittedly difficult to draw a conclusion from a one match sample size, but unfortunately that is all Jacob Warner has provided us to this point in the season. Fortunately that one match was against a top ten ranked Willie Miklus, and was also a match that he won, meaning it gives us something to go off of this early on. While it’s true last year Warner won by major decision over Miklus versus his narrow 5-4 victory in Carver, it will always be a positive sign when you are able to beat a three-time All-American.
As for why we haven’t seen much of Warner this year that is largely unknown. Prior to the first competition Brands warned the media that the freshman would not make his debut in Ohio for the CSU Bakersfield and Kent State duals due him needing recovery from the Junior World Championships. His debut was further delayed, and he actually wasn’t even listed as a probable up until the Purdue, but it was still another week after that when we finally saw him step on the mat.
In his match with Miklus you could visibly notice Warner’s ankle looked to be hampering him, and Brands admitted that his decision to rest Warner against Lehigh was to give that ankle more time to recover. After missing out on his opportunity to face Patrick Brucki when Princeton came to Carver, Warner can recreate that chance at the Midlands in what would be a meeting of top five wrestlers.
285: A similar story to the wrestler above, to date Sam Stoll has given us just one match to evaluate him on this far, which was his 5-1 win over Iowa State’s Gannon Gremmel. However, unlike Warner, Stoll has a much larger career sample size to pull from for us to judge on. The only match from this season we have Stoll clearly had the upper hand and was able to control the entire match which led to his victory.
The question for Stoll likely is just how healthy is he, and will he remain healthy enough to earn his second All-American honor? Even a less than healthy Stoll is still capable of earning All-American honors. It’s no secret that the average heavyweight match is contested at a much slower pace compared to the rest of the weight classes, and Stoll has the advantage of being above average in the top position, which can be a rarity for heavyweights. Hopefully he is able to wrestle at the Midlands where he should be one of the top wrestlers in the field.