The offseason is a long and lonely place and there's rarely a lot in the way of big news when it comes to the wrestling world. When that does happen -- a new recruiting commitment, rule changes, schedule releases, etc. -- I'll break that into a separate post, but I'm going to try and do a regular post about the smaller bits of wrestling news (inspired by a similar post by Friend of the Pants bscaff over at Black Shoe Diaries).
Ranking the Recruits. The 2016 recruiting class is more or less in the books now, which means it's time to look back and assess how teams did. As noted by Andy Hamilton at Hawk Central, this year Iowa finds themselves looking up at... Iowa State?
InterMat released its team recruiting rankings Wednesday and Iowa State finished third, behind North Carolina State and Penn State and one notch ahead of Iowa.
In fairness, Iowa State does have a very solid-looking class coming in this year:
Iowa State's class is headlined by four-time Oregon state champion Sam Colbray, a projected 197-pounder ranked the No. 14 overall prospect in the 2016 class by InterMat and the No. 23 recruit by Flowrestling. The Cyclones also picked up pledges from Dubuque Hempstead state heavyweight champion Gannon Gremmel (InterMat No. 43, Flo No. 67), Michigan preps Kanen Storr (Flo No. 32, InterMat No. 45) and Danny Vega (Flo No. 45, InterMat No. 76 by InterMat).
Good work there by ISU head coach Kevin Jackson and his staff. Of course, they've brought in well-regarded recruits in the past, too -- the trick is continuing to develop them at the college level. That's been an issue for ISU in recent years.
Iowa, who was ranked #3 in Flowrestling's team rankings (ISU was #7 there), has a solid class of their own:
Iowa added four-time Ohio state champion Alex Marinelli, the consensus No. 3 overall recruit and the most decorated recruit to sign with the Hawkeyes in more than a decade. The Hawkeyes also reeled Lisbon four-time state champion Carter Happel (Flo No. 34, InterMat No. 36), Pennsylvania state champion Kaleb Young (Flo No. 21, InterMat No. 26) and Bettendorf three-time state champ Jack Wagner (InterMat No. 83, Flo No. 100).
Team recruiting rankings in wrestling -- much like team recruiting rankings in football and basketball -- can be skewed by quantity. ISU has four wrestlers in the Flo Top 50 (and four in the Intermat Top 75-ish), while Iowa has only three. But Iowa has three wrestlers ranked 34/36 or better while Iowa State has just one. Both classes are good, but Iowa's class appears to have the edge in high-end quality and as we've seen at the NCAA Tournament over the last few years titles are won with high-performing studs, not overall depth.
Meanwhile, Iowa's already looking very good in the early 2017 team recruiting rankings, per Intermat:
In terms of early recruiting, the University of Iowa is off to an excellent start. The Hawkeyes have a verbal commitment from the top overall recruit in this class, Spencer Lee (Franklin Regional, Pa.), along with three other top 50 prospects: No. 18 Justin Mejia (Clovis, Calif.), No. 32 Jason Renteria (Oak Park River Forest, Ill.), and No. 44 Luke Troy (Martin Luther King, Calif.).
So far Iowa's killing it with quantity and quality in 2017, which is very exciting.
Just as it is in other sports, early commitments are becoming an increasingly big part of the college wrestling landscape. Already almost half (22/50) of Intermat's Top 50 have committed to a school and the numbers are even more slanted at the top -- five of the top seven recruits in 2017 have already made a verbal commitment.
The end nears. Meanwhile, from the exciting future of Iowa wrestling to the glorious past... It's been six years since Brent Metcalf traded in his black and gold singlet for one with stars and stripes on it and while he's had plenty of success for the U.S. in that span, ultimate glory -- a medal at the World Championships or Olympics -- has unfortunately eluded him. Most recently, he was stunningly upset in the second round of the Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City last month.
Still, it seemed like there might be another opportunity for Metcalf to try and claim a world medal this year. The Olympics does not contest every weight -- it omits 55 KG and 60 KG for women's freestyle, 61 KG and 70 KG for men's freestyle, and 61 KG and 80 KG for Greco-Roman -- so United Word Wrestling announced that they would be holding a special World Championship tournament this year exclusively for those weights. There was some thought that Metcalf, who normally competes at 65 KG in freestyle, could move up to 70 KG and contend for a spot (and, hoepfully, a medal) there. But Metcalf himself splashed cold water on that idea in an interview with IAWrestle:
"I think it's good news for the sport of wrestling and good news for the United States," Metcalf said on UWW adding these Non-Olympic World Championships. "As far as what I decide to do down the road with this, we'll see I am not there right now. I am not feeling like it's going to happen right now, but we'll see."
There's no guarantee that Metcalf would win the U.S. spot at 70 KG -- James Green in particular looks like a very formidable opponent at that weight -- but he certainly would have had an opportunity. That said, it's also understandable that Metcalf wouldn't be too interested in competition after the bitter disappointment at the Olympic Trials. He hasn't definitively shut down his competitive career, but he's certainly nearing the end of the road there, too. Of course, that begs the question of what comes next -- coaching?
"I don't know," Metcalf said on whether he would accept a Division I coaching offer right now, "I am in a tough situation right now. I mean that is definitely a direction that I will go. Ultimately my priority in my life is my family and my wife is currently in a graduate program and she has one more year left. I would be open to listening and talking about it, but the reality is that it is going to take a pretty great opportunity to pull me away from my family for a year. Because she would have to stay (in Iowa City) with the kids and finish (her degree) while I am gone."
"I am a Hawkeye and I would like to stick around here as long as I possibly could, but the reality of college wrestling is sometimes things don't open up and you have to be willing to move on."
Plenty of Iowa fans (myself included) would like to see him added to the Iowa staff when he's ready to dive into coaching. His drive, his demeanor, and his tremendous record of success would be huge assets to any staff that could add him. Adding Metcalf would mean saying goodbye to one of Iowa's current assistant coaches, though. That probably isn't going to be Terry Brands, which leaves Ryan Morningstar and Ben Berhow. Berhow has done nice work with Iowa's upper weight wrestlers since moving to Iowa from Minnesota and Morningstar has been a strong recruiter for Iowa lately. Metcalf seems well aware that there might not be an opening for him -- "sometimes things don't open up" -- but we'll just have to wait and see what happens.
Should I stay or should I go? Speaking of Terry Brands... if there was one job that could lure him away from Iowa City, it might just be a job that's currently open: Men's Freestyle head coach for USA Wrestling. Brands has had great success as a freestyle coach -- he helped guide Henry Cejudo to a gold medal in 2012 and he's been a key factor in the success that Tony Ramos and Dan Dennis have had in recent years (earning 2015 USA Wrestling freestyle coach of the year honors for his work with Ramos). He was also the resident coach for the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs prior to taking a job on the Iowa staff. So there's certainly history there.
But as Ross Bartachek's breakdown of the coaching search for Takedwon Wrestling makes clear, Brands has withdrawn his interest in the job.
Ravannack give us the update stating that the job had been narrowed down to three candidates, but some of the bigger news is that 2015 USA Wrestling freestyle coach of the year, Terry Brands, is officially ruled out.
That's great news for Iowa as Brands' presence has helped attract some excellent lightweights in recent years -- mega-recruit Spencer Lee cited his presence in the Iowa room as one of the factors that led him to commit to Iowa. Maybe that lure goes both ways -- perhaps the prospect of working with Lee (and Justin Meija and Jason Renteria) for the next 4-5 years got Brands more excited about the possibilities in Iowa City. Either way, between his decision to stay in Iowa City and the bounty of lightweight talent already in Iowa City or arriving in the next few years should ensure that Iowa remains near the epicenter of lightweight wrestling -- both at the college level and beyond -- for years to come.
Movin' on up. Isaiah Martinez, the two-time defending Big Ten and NCAA champion at 157 lbs, is taking his talents to 165 lbs next season.
I will be competing at 165 lbs next year, hence my Twitter handle now makes sense lol— Isaiah Martinez (@Imar165) May 17, 2016
The move is not a surprise -- IMar has always been a pretty big boy at 157 and there was a lot of discussion of him moving up after the NCAA Tournament. From an Iowa standpoint, his move obviously makes things a bit easier at 157 lbs (likely for redshirt freshman Michael Kemerer), but will make things even more challenging at 165 lbs (possibly for true freshman Alex Marinelli). It also probably means that Penn State's Jason Nolf can start clearing out room for Big Ten and NCAA titles at 157 lbs next March.
* Nathan Burak and Alex Meyer were named to the NWCA Division I All-Academic Team.