Here we are with four duals remaining in the regular season, and the Hawkeye wrestling squad is 7-2 with a 4-1 dual record in conference. Flo’s new rankings have yet to be released as of this writing, but the Hawks will leapfrog Ohio State to get up to No. 3 behind Oklahoma State and Penn State, respectively.
One Hawkeye is the top-ranked in his weight class, with four others joining him in the top five and three more in the top 20. Let’s go weight-by-weight and discuss what to expect moving into the home stretch of the season.
Not to get overly cocky here, but find me another 25-pounder wrestler on the same level as Thomas Gilman and I’ll be impressed. The Skutt Catholic grad has suffered only one hiccup on his warpath this season, a 3-2 decision over No. 3 Nick Suriano of Penn State. The Nittany Lion was able to throw Gilman off enough to keep him away from his offense on a night when the senior was lacking his best stuff on the mat. He’ll have some decent competition coming up against No. 5 Ethan Lizak of Minnesota and No. 4 Tim Lambert of Nebraska in the coming weeks, but if there’s a weight on this Hawkeye squad not to sweat, here it is.
Time for honesty here, Clark’s shoulder injury is scary as can be. Maybe it’s scar tissue from the way Matt McDonough’s career ended a few years back, maybe it’s because the season took a bit of a left turn in the past two or so weeks, maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to a lot of Sir Paul lately, but anyways — a less than 100% Cory Clark is scary. This was supposed to be Clark’s year after a few runner-up finishes at NCAAs, but it’s in at least a state of jeopardy with an injury that’s supposedly very similar to McDonough’s.
On the positive side, the way head coach Tom Brands and Company have handled the ailment is encouraging — no reason to push Clark close to 100 percent at this point in the Big Ten season, and no reason to show him to Nathan Tomasello, either. Opponents are going to work his shoulder enough in March, so balancing staying in shape and reducing wear and tear should be the recipe until Big Tens and NCAAs roll around in four weeks.
If you’re increasingly bearish after Topher Carton’s three performances against the best teams on Iowa’s schedule, you’re not alone. Things went better than expected against top-ranked Kaid Brock, but giving up four third-period takedowns against baby-faced Jimmy Gulibon, of all people, doesn’t exactly keep the mind at ease moving forward. Who knows, maybe he’ll correct the mistakes he made against Gulibon and Luke Pletcher, but the hopes of him scoring meaningful tournament points are seeming more and more like wishful thinking.
Did Brandon Sorensen find something during his loss to Zain Retherford of Penn State? After dropping a bout to then-No. 3 Anthony Collica a few days prior, the Denver native’s performance was perhaps the best he’s looked in an Iowa singlet. Yes, it’s weird to speak of a loss in a high manner, but it was so, so, so nice to see ‘Snorensen’ open up and give Retherford a match like he has yet to see from an Iowa opponent. This doesn’t guarantee anything against the best non-Olympian in the NCAA, but it sure doesn’t hurt. After last year’s NCAA finals, I would’ve called you a liar if you said Sorensen could down Zain — heading into the home stretch of the season, I now think it’s actually a possibility.
If the Sorensen loss against Penn State was encouraging, the Michael Kemerer for President campaign took a hit with his loss at the hands of No. 1 Jason Nolf, but it was nice to see him bounce back with a major against an inferior opponent in Jake Ryan of Ohio State. It may not come this season, but the Pennsylvania native has as good a chance as anyone to be a national champ at some point in his Hawkeye career. He didn’t pass his first test against a superior opponent, and it’d be great to see him begin to turn and pin guys, but as it currently stands — and likely will for the rest of the 2017 season — Kemerer looks like the best of the rest at 157.
Joey Gunther, not bad, not bad at all! Granted, it was against an unranked opponent, but it was great to see the struggling Gunther get a win against Ohio State. However, it’s going to take a perfect storm for him to score anything meaningful down the road.
Ah, the ever-so-close Alex Meyer has lived up to that billing this season, with wins over just about everyone you’d expect him to beat, and five-consecutive losses to ranked opponents. He was a point away from knocking off top-ranked Bo Jordan of Ohio State, and lost handily to Oklahoma State’s Kyle Crutchmer. Meyer can be tough as nails on a given night, and look like he doesn’t belong the next. An All-American run from him could be the difference between, say, third and fourth in the team race come NCAA Tournament time.
A bit like his senior counterpart at 174, Brooks can be hit or miss, although he’s more on the hit side than the alternative. Outside of Bo Nickal sticking him, Brooks has shown ability for bonus point wins against inferior opponents, and even against ranked ones. His match against Nebraska’s Tim Dudley in Iowa’s last Big Ten dual should be a blast and will likely determine who gets the No. 2 seed at Big Tens behind Nickal. You understand how important it is not to be on his side of the bracket, so that’s a huuuge bout. If the NCAAs were this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brooks finish in the 3rd-8th place range. Here’s to hoping he catches a few breaks and that ceiling gets higher.
Same story here as at 165. Wilcke hasn’t been awful, but a lot of things are going to have to go his way to win matches in the postseason.
It was great to see backup Steven Holloway pick up a win over OSU backup Josh Fox, but this class is too strong to realistically expect much, if anything, from Holloway. With three of the nation’s top four heavies in the Big Ten, it’s hard to see the undersized and outmatched Holloway getting anywhere this year.
What it all means
If you’re going off the regular season results — and what else can you really do — it’s looking like a second-or-third-place finish at Big Tens and a third-or-fourth place finish at NCAAs. It’s a sad state of affairs when Iowa doesn’t have the firepower to compete with Oklahoma State and Penn State, but that’s looking like the unfortunate reality this season. (Looking at this optimistically, perhaps Iowa has yet to hit its peak!)
March is likely going to be about individual titles rather than team ones, and I suspect the Hawkeyes will have at least one of those. Gilman is the safe bet, probably followed by Sorensen and Clark. Throw Kemerer in there depending on seeding, but the only thing that worries me is his youth, although that’s probably overthinking things. Having three or four finalists would be fantastic in an up-and-down season and make for an entertaining Saturday evening, at least.
This year is far from over, and we’ll be rooting along with you the rest of the way — Wisconsin’s in town Friday, followed by a road dual in Minneapolis Sunday. The Hawks will get a sneak peak of the surely extravagant Big Ten setup in Bloomington Feb. 10, followed by senior night against Nebraska two days later. Let’s hope for the best the remainder of the way.