It’s getting close to that time of year, folks. In less than two months, another season of NCAA wrestling will be in the books, and should the projections hold true, No. 3 Iowa will have gone another season without a national championship.
Rankings be damned, Tom Brands and Company are going to give it a go anyways!
Barring anything crazy in the seven weeks before the national tournament, Iowa looks like it’s going to be in a three-to-five team battle for third place behind — you guessed it — Penn State and Ohio State. Defeatist attitude this, where’s your fandom that, it’s an unfortunate reality of the times.
While I (Danny) would argue this is one of the more exciting junctures to be a Hawkeye fan in recent memory — especially given the way the second half of this season has gone and its subsequent illumination of the future — the modern giants of the sport are still exactly that in 2018, and then some.
We’ll see how things play out in March, but looking at it on paper today, I see a max of eight All-Americans and looking at things realistically, five or six. That could change, especially if Pat Downey comes into the lineup, but for today’s purposes, let’s take a pass at where things stand.
125 — Spencer Lee
Lee has been everything we thought he could be.
He’s 8-1, with his lone loss a 3-1 decision at the hands of Oregon State’s Ronnie Bresser at the Midlands. Last week he took down Nathan Tomasello with one of the meanest rides I’ve ever watched.
Even better, outside of his loss to Bresser and the 3-2 win over Tomasello, he’s won all but one of his matches by bonus points. The other decision win was a 10-5 win over Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni and even then, I think it’s been pretty much agreed upon he just ran out of gas during that match.
I wasn’t sure that removing his redshirt was the right course of action, but it sure is looking like it was. Barring something unfortunate, Lee is going to be a contender for a national championship this season and the three following.
Iowa’s had tons of success developing lightweight wrestlers and Lee is just another top recruit who’s turned into a top wrestler. It’s not only good for Lee, but it’s good for the program to churn out another guy who’s going to do some really great stuff.
This is really exciting and it’s just the beginning. There’s going to be some really fun moments with him over the next few years and I can’t wait to watch him.
133 — Phil Laux, Paul Glynn
This is just a weight that still feels like it’s up in the air. Glynn and Laux have split time here this season, to varying degrees of success. Glynn is 6-6 while Laux is 9-4 and neither of them have any particularly inspiring wins.
Glynn got the start against Ohio State’s second-ranked Luke Pletcher… and feel 8-2, most recently. Pletcher is a great wrestler and Glynn should probably be commended for keeping it from turning into a major, but still. Replacing Cory Clark was never going to be easy, but it’s still a tad disappointing we haven’t got more out of a weight that’s been a stalwart for the Hawkeyes over the years.
It’ll be quite surprising if we see either of these guys do much at the Big Ten championships or nationals, but stranger things have happened. Laux is a senior, while Glynn is a sophomore. Maybe Glynn develops a bit more? Maybe Justin Stickley ends up at this weight? Maybe someone comes in next year? It’s a bit early — and hard — to tell where exactly this weight is headed.
141 — Carter Happel, Vince Turk
Happel is getting his chance here. The four-time Iowa state champion has been… shall we say, a little disappointing up to this point of his career. He’s got a 10-7 record this season and is coming off a 13-2 loss to Ohio State’s Joey McKenna.
The Buckeye wrestler is solid, but Happel hasn’t been particularly competitive in any of his matches against top competition this season. The redshirt freshman is still young, of course, but nothing he’s done to this juncture screams “elite.”
He’s also shared time with sophomore Turk, who last was seen holding Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil to a 4-0 decision. I don’t think Tom Brands has exactly decided what he wants to do here. Iowa’s had a hard, hard time at this weight over the past few seasons and that trend doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.
149 — Brandon Sorensen
Someone brought this up in the comments recently, could Brandon Sorensen be one of the best Hawkeyes ever to not win an NCAA Title? We certainly hope not! Stop reading if you’ve heard this before, it’s going to be tough. As he has been since the Nittany Lion bumped up to 49, Sorensen again finds himself ranked second behind Zain Retherford. Is this the year he can dethrone the two-time champ?
The majority of non-Iowa fan would likely say no, but let’s use two examples for the contrary. First, the pair’s match last season in Carver. Outside of his tech fall over Oklahoma State’s Boo Lewellan a few weeks ago (more in a few), that 9-8 TB2 loss remains top of mind and leads me to believe Sorensen can do the unthinkable, dethroning such a dominant wrestler. Sure, you may think this is grasping at straws but we know — as does Boo — there’s an explosive wrestler inside the Denver grad, and he had Retherford on the ropes in their last regular-season meeting. Those two are going to wrestle a maximum of three more times in their collegiate career, here’s to hoping Sorensen takes the last one.
157 — Michael Kemerer
Until we see Kem Dawg at 100 percent, I’m worried, guys. With a not-insurmountable, but not-easy gap between him and No. 1 Jason Nolf, an injury is the last thing the sophomore and the Hawkeyes need at this weight. Much like his teammate a class below, Kemerer’s going to have an awfully hard time getting over the hump without serious guts and perhaps some luck. That’s not to say Retherford or Nolf can’t be dethroned, but it’s going to take something weird.
Back to this knee thing, it could be nothing — it’s totally nothing, right? — until we see him wrestle sans signs of lingering affects from the Ohio State dual, breathing easy is easier said than done.
165 — Alex Marinelli
In his young Iowa career, seventh-ranked Marinelli’s been the bulldog he was billed to be, but has lacked the explosiveness to put him in the top tier of a strong weight class. There’s no way to tell if that will come this year or if it’ll take more time for him to polish up and make the leap, but in 2018 we see Marinelli as a guy who should be on the podium.
Is he a riskier bet than the Lees and Sorensens of the world? Absolutely. Depending on seeding, however, this is a guy with the grind-it-out style that could pull an upset, rattle off a handful of matches, and find himself in the thick of things on St. Paddy’s Day.
174 — Kaleb Young, Joey Gunther
As is the case elsewhere, this is a class in flux. While Gunther won two matches on the backside at 165 at NCAAs last year, his follow up campaign has yet to inspire hope he can do more. Young, on the other hand, is coming off an encouraging loss (yes encouraging loss) at the hands of third-ranked Bo Jordan of Ohio State.
Perhaps Brands held Gunther from the lineup against the Buckeyes for seeding purposes down the line, but I highly doubt it — the two have split time this season, and getting the nod in this big of a dual has to bode well for Young. With that said, however, I’m not sure the Hawks will give up on Gunther yet.
Regardless who it is in March, neither is going to be favored as an AA, and a few upsets will have to be in the cards to do so.
184 — Mitch Bowman
Bowman has been the guy here for Iowa this season and has a 10-4 record to show for it. He’s been solid, but unspectacular. Coming in at No. 25 in TrackWrestling’s poll, he’s a fringe contender for an All-American spot this year.
That said, he doesn’t have any overly impressive wins this year. He’s kept most of his matches against higher-ranked competition close and there’s something to be said for that, but with how good Sammy Brooks was it’s hard to temper expectations here.
A junior, there’s not a whole lot of time for Bowman to get much better. The heavier weights have been a massive boon for Iowa in recent years and helped then win a whole lot of duals. That hasn’t exactly been the case as of late, though they haven’t really been downright bad, either. Here’s to the hope Bowman starts to pull through as the season winds down.
197 — Cash Wilcke
Wilcke is starting to turn into a real good wrestler.
While he’s 0-2 in his last two matches (6-0 dec. to the Cowboy’s third-ranked Preston Weigel & 6-3 to top-ranked Buckeye Kollin Moore) he was undefeated coming into those matches. He certainly wasn’t completely out of his element in either match and it stands to reason the sophomore will only get better.
It’s hard to say what he’s doing is a complete surprise — he was, after all, just a single win from All-American honors last year — it’s been pleasant he’s improved from last season. I think a spot on the podium is an expectation this year and the points he scores could very well be a big factor on how well Iowa does at the NCAA championships. I won’t go as far to say he’s a contender, but a top-four individual finish for Wilcke isn’t out of question.
Heavyweight — Sam Stoll
I’ll be the first to say I was a little disappointed Stoll didn’t get a chance to wrestle Kyle Snyder last weekend, but I understand the decision.
Why risk Stoll, who has an injury history, to a somewhat meaningless match before the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments? I don’t think pulling him was in any way related to seeding, as has been suggested. It was merely a decision made to save him.
Outside of that, however, Stoll has had a strong season. He has two nice wins over Arizona State’s Tanner Hall (ranked No. 7) and Oklahoma State’s Derek White (No. 11) to go along with a 12-0 record so far this season.
He’s got six pins and a major decision this year, which isn’t particularly bad for a heavyweight. Stoll certainly seems healthy and should have an impact during the postseason tournaments. If things break his way, he just might scrap out a top-four finish — no small task. There’s a lot to like here and I think he’ll turn a few more heads before the season is finished.