The 2015-16 Iowa wrestling season officially gets underway on Saturday with one of the biggest events of the season: Grapple at the Gridiron, the outdoor dual meet between Iowa and Oklahoma State that's expected to the biggest crowd ever for a collegiate dual meet. We're declaring that event WRESTLEMAS, so to get you up to speed for that event and for the season to come, welcome to FIVE DAYS OF WRESTLEMAS, a series of previews about the Iowa wrestlers -- as well as some of their most significant opponents -- as they try to bring some more championship hardware back to Iowa City.
|2015-16 Depth Chart and Eligibility Remaining
THE KNOWN QUANTITY
Can you really call someone a "known quantity" when they're being slotted in at a weight they've never wrestled at before and where it's not 100% clear they can handle the weight cut to get there? Well, we're doing it anyway! Brody Grothus is the most accomplished name at this weight, although all of those accomplishments actually happened up at 149 lbs. Grothus won the starting job there two years ago on the back of a strong showing at Midlands (4th place, including wins over two top ten opponents, including future NCAA champion Jason Tsirtsis). He picked up two more wins over two top ten opponents during the dual meet season (including an absolutely wild 17-14 decision win over Michigan's Eric Grajales), but struggled at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, going 1-2 at each and failing to place. He entered 2014-15 in a three-way battle for the starting job at 149 (along with Brandon Sorenson and Edwin Cooper) and seemed to have the advantage in the early going before an injury at Midlands opened the door for Sorenson (who ran with the opportunity in impressive fashion). He then tried to make the cut down to 141 and challenge Josh Dziewa for the starting job there, but wasn't able to do so.
Word is that he's trying to do so again this year and hopefully with additional prep time, he'll be successful. Grothus represents a hugely intriguing option for Iowa, one with immense amounts of upside... if he can a) handle the weight cut, and b) wrestle consistently. His resume includes wins as good as those of any current Iowa wrestler... but also several peculiar losses (just last year he lost to a wrestler from Lindenwood at the Joe Parisi Open). Grothus' incredibly long, lanky physique gives him some intriguing physical advantages and coming down from 149, he may have a strength advantage over many 141ers as well. Style-wise, his funk and scrambling ability can be difficult to prepare for and while he's sometimes been too fond of upper body attacks and big throws in the past, those moves may work better for him if he has a size/strength advantage as well. On paper, Grothus seems like he could do very well for Iowa -- but we still need to see him in action down there to know for sure.
THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS
While we wait for Grothus to a) get healed up from an offseason shoulder injury and b) prove that he can indeed make his way down to 141 lbs (a process that we shouldn't expect to see completed until late December or January, according to Tom Brands), someone else will need to man this weight in dual meet competition. The slight favorite to do that is probably Topher Carton, a junior who saw spot duty in the lineup last year (at both 149 and 141). Carton went 23-7 two years ago, but didn't record any wins of note. Last year he went 12-4, including a few matches at 149, and had several wins via bonus points (5 technical falls, two pins, and a major decision). He got wrecked by #2 Mitchell Port (a 15-5 major decision) and got pinned by Grand View's Brandon Wright in his final match of the year. He's a capable wrestler with good hustle, but he may not have the firepower (or defense) to hang with better opponents.
Another option is Logan Ryan, who worked his way back to the Iowa team after an offseason incident left that looking far from obvious. (Another Iowa wrestler involved in that incident, Seth Gross, was also expected to be a significant contender for the starting job at 141 lbs but has since moved on to South Dakota State.) Ryan was the 94th best recruit in InterMat's 2014 rankings and went 22-6 last year, which included losses to ranked wrestlers like Oklahoma State's Dean Heil and Missouri's Lavion Mayes (now up at 149). He may have a higher upside than Carton, although he also has less experience at this point.
EDIT: It looks like Ryan will get first crack at 141:
Barring some weirdness, Logan Ryan will be the guy at 41 vs. OKST. Brands was pretty coy about 57 (Cooper/St. John) and 65 (Rhoads/Paddock)
— Jordan Hansen (@JordyHansen) November 10, 2015
Finally, whither Vince Turk? He was a relatively late addition to Iowa's 2015 recruiting class and while he was low on recruiting plaudits, he quickly earned a reputation as an under-the-radar potential gem, talk that was only bolstered by buzz out of the practice room over the fall and Brands' comments at Media Day last week, where he refused to rule out the possibility of Turk earning the nod here. It seems like every year there's a true freshman that generates buzz and discussion of whether he'll be the first true freshman under Brands to go from high school to the Iowa starting lineup (Nathan Burak started as a true freshman, but he spent a year at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado in-between his high school career and his time at Iowa). And every year that guy winds up redshirting. One of these years we probably will see a true freshman make the leap from high school to the Iowa lineup (there are a few very intriguing prospects in Iowa's upcoming recruiting classes, in fact), but until it happens, a healthy amount of skepticism is warranted when this discussion comes around. Turk is an intriguing and exciting talent and he'll have a factor in who starts at 141 lbs -- but probably not until the 2016-17 season.
Meanwhile, Aaron Meyer is the younger brother of current 174 lb starter Alex Meyer. He wasn't as highly regarded as his brother, but after a few years in the Iowa wrestling room? Who knows what the future might hold for him.
THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD
This is a fascinatingly wide open weight -- which makes it even more unfortunate that Iowa doesn't have a really good option ready to go at this weight this year. This is a weight where you can really make some hay this year without having to go through some elite opposition. Last year's top three finishers (Logan Stieber, Mitchell Port, and Devin Carter) have all graduated, and another returning All-American (Missouri's Lavion Mayes) has moved up to 149 lbs. Hell, another major contender (Penn State's Zain Retherford) is returning from a redshirt season, but like Mayes, he's also moving up to 149 lbs. There are still four returning All-Americans from a year ago, headed by Oklahoma State's Dean Heil (who finished 4th) and NC State's Kevin Jack (who finished 5th). There's also a past All-American returning from a redshirt season (UNC's Evan Henderson) and a returning All-American from a different weight (Penn State's Jimmy Gulibon, up from 133). There are a lot of solid wrestlers here, but after the past few years when Stieber, Port, and Carter appeared to be a cut above everyone else, the path to the top doesn't seem quite so fraught at the moment.
THE KEY MATCHES
11/14/15: #2 Dean Heil, Oklahoma State (non-conference dual; Iowa City, IA)
11/29/15: #17 Dante' Rodriguez, Iowa State (non-conference dual; Ames, IA)
12/10/15: #7 Anthony Ashnault, Rutgers (B1G dual; Iowa City, IA)
1/22/16: #15 Danny Sabatello, Purdue (B1G dual; Iowa City, IA)
1/24/16: #6 Anthony Abidin, Nebraska (B1G dual; Lincoln, NE)
Whoever Iowa's 141 lb guy is to start the season will get one hell of a test right off the bat in Heil -- an upset win there could cause some dramatic re-evaluation of Iowa's prospects at this weight this year. (That said, a loss would certainly not be surprising, nor something to be overly concerned about.) Beyond Heil, Iowa should get more early tests at this weight at the early season Rutgers and Iowa Iowa State duals and the Sabatello-Abidin weekend in January could also be tough sledding for Iowa here. The biggest matches for Iowa at this weight aren't listed here because of a lack of details, but Midlands figures to be critical to figuring out Iowa's plans here for the rest of the season. The hope is that Grothus will be back by Midlands so we'll get a chance to see how he fares at this weight; we should also get a chance to see check out Turk's phenom credentials.
THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION
It's very difficult to form expectations at this weight now because a) we don't know if Grothus will be able to make it down to 141 and b) how effective he'll be down there. The best case scenario is that his strength isn't too sapped by the cut and his length, strength, and funkiness make him a nightmare for everyone else at this weight. The worst case scenario is that the cut leaves him too drained and he lacks the energy to be effective at this weight. My feeling right now is that he qualifies the weight for the NCAA Tournament and wins a few matches there, but doesn't make it onto the podium. Until we actually see what he can do at 141, it's too much to expect him to be an All-American this year, I think.
If Grothus isn't the man at this weight come March, just qualifying for the NCAA Tournament may be the ceiling of my expectations for this weight -- Carton's track record doesn't hint at bigger and better things and Ryan's track record is too limited to suggest much of anything yet.
|2015-16 Depth Chart and Eligibility Remaining
THE KNOWN QUANTITY
As noted above, last year there was a three-man race for the starting spot at this weight; now all three of those guys might be in the starting lineup this year. Brandon Sorenson ultimately emerged victorious in the race to start at 149 last year and he had one of the better years for an Iowa freshman in a very long time. He went 40-6 overall and those 40 wins were the most by an Iowa freshman since Lou Banach in the '80s. Sorenson posted a 3rd place finish at Midlands (losing only to eventual NCAA runner-up David Habat of Edinboro), a 2nd place finish at the Big Ten Tournament (losing only to former NCAA champion Brandon Sorenson), and a 4th place finish at the NCAA Tournament (where he went 3-1 against top-10 opponents in the consolation bracket after suffering a surprise loss in the second round). Sorenson went 11-5 against ranked opponents last year, including wins over the #1 (Jason Tsirtsis) and #2 (Josh Kindig) ranked guys. Sorenson wasn't able to get on top of the podium at the Big Ten or NCAA Tournaments, but he still finished highly at both and overall had a tremendously successful freshman season.
Sorenson earned acclaim right away for his go-go offense and attacking style -- he was not afraid to put up points in bunches and utilize a varied offensive attack, as well as use his mat wrestling to control opponents. As the season progressed, though, his offense slowed down and while part of that was facing wrestlers with tremendous defensive (and/or stalling) abilities (like Tsirtsis and eventual NCAA champion Drake Houdashelt), he also seemed to get a bit more gunshy than he had been earlier in the season. Sorenson beat Michigan's Alex Pantaleo twice in matches without scoring a takedown and lost to Houdashelt and Tsirtsis in low-scoring matches where he was unable to score on them. Like Gilman at 125, Sorenson has good offense -- he just needs to trust in it and let loose a bit more.
THE POSSIBLE OPTIONS
This is a particularly tricky category for this weight because if Sorenson had to miss a significant amount of time this year, I strongly suspect his replacement would most likely be Grothus (see above) or possibly Edwin Cooper (up at 157, a weight we'll preview tomorrow). Grothus would then most likely be replaced by either Carton or Ryan at 141. There are several guys waiting in the wings at this weight -- we just won't see them for a year or two. First and foremost among that group is Michael Kemerer, a true freshman and Iowa's biggest get in the 2015 recruiting class. Kemerer was a top-10 recruit out of Pennsylvania and he got his Iowa career off to a bang by steamrolling through the field in the freshman portion of the Grand View Open last weekend. Kemerer has the ability to be a significant force for Iowa; you can probably bank on he and Sorenson both being in the lineup next year at 149 and 157, although which guy slots where is still TBD.
Among the other guys at this weight, Kadel went 2-2 last year (at 157), while Lambotte went 7-4, also at 157. Iowa has brought in a host of guys around 141-149-157 weights in the last few recruiting classes (and is adding still more), including Glosser, Wempen, Shaw, and Woodard this year. Glosser, Woodard, and Wempen were former Iowa state champions in high school, while Shaw improved his results dramatically over the course of his high school career. All four are likely to be in developmental mode for a while.
THE POTHOLES IN THE ROAD
This weight returns just 4/8 All-Americans from a year ago, but one of those All-Americans is a returning NCAA champion (Tsirtsis, who won in 2014). In addition to Tsirtsis and Sorenson, Rider's B.J. Clagon and Old Dominion's Alexander Richardson are the other returning All-Americans at this weight. They're joined by Missouri's Lavion Mayes (an All-American at 141 last year), Penn's C.J. Cobb (who upset Sorenson at the NCAA Tournament last year), Nebraska's Jake Sueflohn (a very good wrestler who's come up short when it comes to All-America status in the past). Oh, and Penn State's Zain Retherford, a top contender (and All-American) at 141 as a true freshman in 2014. Factor in Ohio State's Hunter Stieber (All-American in 2012 and 2013, Big Ten Champion in 2013), if he's able to return to peak form after multiple arm/elbow surgeries and you have the makings of a potentially brutal weight class.
THE KEY MATCHES
11/14/15: #9 Anthony Collica, Oklahoma State (non-conference dual; Iowa City, IA)
11/29/15: #15 Gabe Moreno, Iowa State (non-conference dual; Ames, IA)
1/8/16: #14 Kyle Langenderfer, Illinois (B1G dual; Champaign, IL)
1/10/16: #1 Jason Tsirtsis, Northwestern (B1G dual; Evanston, IL)
1/24/16: #6 Jake Sueflohn, Nebraska (B1G dual; Lincoln, NE)
The big match on the docket is another showdown with Tsirtsis; Sorensen beat him in the first encounter last year (3-2, deep in overtime), but Tsirtsis edged him in their rematches at the Big Ten Tournament (2-1) and NCAA Tournament (3-1, also in overtime). Tsirtsis and Sorenson may also run into each other at Midlands this year (to say nothing of potential run-ins at this year's Big Ten or NCAA Tournaments); there's a good chance we'll be very sick of seeing these two guys wrestle by the end of the season. Beyond Tsirtsis, Sorenson should see some fresh top-10 opposition in the form of Collica and Sueflohn.
THE REASONABLE EXPECTATION
There's a lot of uncertainty at this weight at the moment -- how good will Retherfood and Mayes be up a weight? Can Stieber and Sueflohn regain the form after significant injuries a year ago? Without knowing how those things are going to shake out -- and seeing how Sorenson matches up with them -- it's hard to speculate on how good his odds are of finishing atop the heap at this weight. Last year's results show that Sorenson certainly has the ability to be a top contender at this weight, especially if he can get more of his offense going against top opponents. I'm going to peg Sorenson for top-3 finishes at both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, with the potential for more if he can develop attacks that allow him to score on opponents like Tsirtsis and Retherford.