Come January, when the Iowa football team again goes into hibernation for another nine months, what's a Hawkeye fan to do? Well, pay attention to our
preseason consensus cellar dweller up and coming basketball team... but you could also give a little time to the wrestling team and their quest for a fourth national championship in the last five years. It is the one sport we're really, really good at, after all. In the spirit of our Assume the Position series for football, we bring you A Winner is You!, a weight class-by-weight class breakdown of the Iowa wrestling team, counting down each Thursday (ish) from the weight class we have the most confidence in to the weight class we have absolutely no clue about.
PREVIOUS ENTRIES: 125
THE KNOWN QUANTITY
As I said a week ago, I considered starting this year's incarnation of AWIY with 141 because it's a dead certainty that Montell Marion will be wrestling for Iowa at this weight in 2011-2012, barring acts of God, injury, or inebriation. And that certainty is not a bad thing for Iowa. Marion is Iowa's second-most accomplished wrestler (behind McDonough), having been NCAA runner-up as a sophomore in 2010 and finishing in 4th place in 2011. There's no question that Marion has the physical tools to be dominant: he has impressive speed and strength and shots that are difficult for most wrestlers to stop. He's also difficult to take down and strong in scrambles. Still, he's not perfect: he's not consistent when working out of the bottom position (he gets ridden far too easily at times and occasionally struggles to dominate from on top) and he's been far too prone to mental lapses late in matches that wind up costing him wins (or bonus points). If he can get those issues sorted out, though, he'll be quite a force at 141.
THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS
This is a weight where the Iowa roster lists a host of options, although it's likely that many of them are actually being groomed for other weights or purely there as training room partners. The main back-up option is Mark Ballweg, one of the Fabulous Ballweg Boys that have been a staple of the line-up in recent years. Ballweg got a crack at being "the guy" at 141 a year ago while Marion worked his way back into the good graces of Tom Brands (and, more crucially, the Iowa athletic department) and performed more than admirably. He went 15-3, rolled up pins (7), notched a few wins over solid competition (Iowa State's Chris Drouin, Oklahoma State's Josh Kindig, Minnesota's Nick Dardane, Northwestern's Kaleb Friedley), and finished 6th at the Midlands Championship. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to see how he measured up against some of the elite wrestlers at the weight: Marion took his spot in the line-up at the Penn State dual in January and held it the rest of the way, meaning he was the guy to face Michigan's Kellen Russell, Minnesota's Mike Thorn, and Illinois' Jimmy Kennedy. But he's proven himself to be a very capable back-up and the favorite to take over the position in 2012-2013 after Marion has departed.
The competition to replace Marion will be fierce, though, with Josh Dziewa leading the pack of challengers. Dziewa was one of the most celebrated recruits in Iowa's top-ranked 2010 class: he was a Pennsylvania state champion as a senior and a successful freestyle wrestler (2009 Junior national champion, 2010 Junior national runner-up). He took an expected redshirt year in 2010-2011, but injuries prevented him from competing unattached in any tournaments. He's healthy now, though, and should be active in tournaments this year. The other contenders include Jake Ballweg, Nick Trizzino, Tyler Halverson, Jake Kadel, and Ethan Owens. Ballweg is listed at 141, but wrestled last year at 149 and has been talked about as an option there this year, so he's probably not a factor here. Trizzino amassed a 5-3 record at 141 last year, while Owens went 9-6. Halverson is a senior that hasn't competed in the past two years and Kadel is an incoming freshman walk-on. Barring a rash of injuries, these guys are unlikely to see varsity action.
THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD
This weight sets up nicely for Iowa: they have a national title contender (Marion) and the weight has been cleared out to an extent. Only four of last year's All-Americans return this year, although that does include the national champion (Russell) and national runner-up (Cal Poly's Boris Novachkov). Two of Marion's most persistent rivals, Kennedy and Thorn, are gone. At first glance, it looks like a two-horse race in the Big Ten and a three-horse race nationally -- and it might just be that. There's some exciting new talent at this weight in the Big Ten, including Dardanes, Ohio State's Hunter Steiber, and Penn State's Andrew Alton (if he decides not to redshirt -- and can make weight), but there's no indication that they're on the same level as Marion and Russell. Those two engaged in a pair of razor-thin, spellbinding matches last year -- both went to overtime -- and appear as evenly matched as humanly possible. Here's hoping to a few more excellent matches between them this year -- only with Marion coming out on top. Novachkov looms as a potential spoiler nationally and Penn's Zach Kemmerer, last year's 8th place finisher, should be very solid as well.
THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION
Aside from McDonough, Marion is probably Iowa's most realistic option at having an NCAA finalist. He made it that far two years ago and he's a stronger, better wrestler now than he was then. There's no Iowa-Michigan dual this year, so unless Marion and Russell tangle at a tournament (Midlands?) or National Duals, they won't have a chance to tangle until the Big Ten Tournament. The $1,000,000 question is: can Marion beat Russell? He's been absurdly, painfully close in the past and he's a senior, so this is his last opportunity to get to the top of the podium. My heart says Marion is finally able to topple Russell, either at the Big Ten Tournament or at the NCAA Tournament, but my head isn't so sure -- Russell's uncanny balance and flawless defense makes him awfully hard to pick against. Either way, I like Marion's odds of at least making the finals and racking up a lot of points for Iowa.