What: NCAA Wrestling Championships, Thursday-Saturday
Where: Value City Arena, Cleveland, Ohio
It’ll all be over Saturday night, and the ride there should be a damn good time. Despite, um, tempered expectations, these three days are the best of the year for college wrestling fans around the country. For those of you fans concerned with Iowa, you’ve come to to the right place.
Tom Brands is leading nine Hawkeyes into Quicken Loans Arena (no 133) to try to end Iowa’s title drought at eight years. As teased above, that probably won’t happen, but it’s my honor and duty to give you the weight-by-weight breakdown for the last time this season, and the last time in Brandon Sorenson’s career. Let’s do it.
125 — Spencer Lee
Record: 14-2 (11-2 vs. field)
NCAA Seed, Big Ten finish: 3, 3
You’ll see this theme throughout, but Lee will be one of many Hawkeyes looking to come back from a disappointing Big Ten Tournament. It shouldn’t be impossible as he already bested likely second and quarterfinal opponents Luke Welch and Nick Piccininni of Purdue and Oklahoma State, but a semifinal match against No. 2 Nathan Tomasello would loom.
While Tomasello is a generational talent, so is Lee. Maybe he snuck up on the former NCAA Champ and he’s not on his level, maybe he is — I’ll be damned if Lee fails to have a huge showing at this tournament. Not to discredit Sorensen, Kemerer, et. al., Lee is the face of this program and was a banger at this weight all season.
Yes, he’s a true freshman, yes, his last time out was subpar, but no freshman compiles an undefeated regular season for nothing. Spencer Lee is the real deal, expect him to wrestle like it this weekend.
141 — Vince Turk
Record: 13-8 (3-6 vs. field)
NCAA Seed, Big Ten finish: None, 5
After winning the battle for this spot over a passive Carter Happel after a season of back-and-forth, Turk was the only Hawkeye who wrestled above expectations at Big Tens. While I’d argue his performance in the conference tournament was enough to move him out of a pigtail match, that’s not the case, so he gets Leighigh’s Kyle Shoop off the bat this morning.
Then looms top-seeded Bryce Meredith of Wyoming and likely the backside, where he could do some damage and save Iowa from embarrassment. The motor will be there in the first period, but should he sustain beyond that, Iowa could garner some points from the 41-pounder.
149 — Brandon Sorensen
Record: 21-2 (17-8 vs. field)
NCAA Seed, Big Ten finish: 2, 2
Your best matchup of Friday morning? Things coming full circle — Sorensen squaring off with
Northwestern’s Arizona State’s Jason Tsirtsis. Should all go according to plan, that will be the duo’s seventh and final collegiate matchup. Sorensen’s taken the last three (one by MFF), the most recent being a 3-1 overtime victory at this year’s Midlands Championships.
There isn’t much to say about this weight that hasn’t been said. You know the drill — Sorensen and Penn State’s Zain Retherford have been the top dogs here since the latter bumped up after his freshman year. Having only competed against each other in the NCAA final once, this will likely be the second.
It’ll take a miracle for Sorensen to get the last laugh as the Nittany Lion is one of the best collegiate wrestlers to step on a mat. Here’s to hoping it finally happens.
157 — Michael Kemerer
Record: 22-1 (14-3 vs. field)
NCAA Seed, Big Ten finish: 6, 6
After a pin at the hands of Micah Jordan at the Big Ten Championships two weeks back, Kemerer MFF’s his way through the remainder of the tournament to take sixth place. It was a disappointing showing from the Pennsylvania native, but this is two weeks forward.
He hasn’t looked at 100% since he a twisted knee against Oklahoma State, but hopefully that ailment has subsided with the break. As this weight is loaded, he’ll have to go through Jordan (7) Penn State’s Jason Nolf (3), and Mizzou’s Joseph Lavallee just to get to the finals. Talk about a gauntlet.
Even though Lee is the face of the program, I’d argue this tournament means the most for Kemerer. If Iowa’s going to get back to the top — or seriously contend — next year, the sophomore will need to take the next step. That may be looking ahead a bit, but a few statement wins, especially over one of his Big Ten foes, could show he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in his junior campaign.
165 — Alex Marinelli
Record: 16-3 (12-5 vs. field)
NCAA Seed, Big Ten finish: 5, 6
As has been the case with all of his teammates above sans Turk, Marinelli had a disappointing showing at Big Tens. Chalk it up to nerves, inexperience, whatever — it was unexpected as can be.
Luckly, he has the easier side of this also stacked bracket. Top-seeded Isaiah Martinez and No. 4 Chad Walsh are his biggest obstacles en route to the stage on Saturday night, and it’d be great for him to get through one — or both — of those two.
This young man is going to be a huge part of Iowa’s future, and his first experience on college wrestling’s biggest stage will only benefit. If it can benefit this year, that’d be great.
174 — Joey Gunther
Record: 17-6 (2-7 vs. field)
NCAA Seed, Big Ten finish: None, 6
Gunther wasn’t expected to do much at Big Tens, but managed to pull off a win and a few in the wrestlebacks to make it to the fifth-place match. A similar contribution here would be appreciated.
184 — Mitch Bowman
Record: 12-11 (3-11 vs. field)
NCAA Seed, Big Ten finish: None, 8
Likely a similar story to Gunther for Bowman. Should he win his first round matchup, he’ll get No. 2 Myles Martin of Ohio State. On the bright side kept things to a major instead of a tech in the dual this year. Positive thinking!
197 — Cash Wilcke
Record: 18-6 (5-13 vs. field)
NCAA Seed, Big Ten finish: 14, 6
Should Wilcke win his first-round matchup against Eric Schultz of Nebraska, No. 3 Jared Haught of Virginia Tech looms. A good tournament should be in order if Wilcke wants to keep his job next season — even at 184 — after a bad finish to the regular season.
As we’ve said all season, the potential is there for Wilcke, but leaving it untapped has been frustrating to say the least. Jake Warner is going to go at 197, but again, if Wilcke fails to show heart, a spot in the lineup isn’t a sure thing. Fingers crossed he proves me — and a good portion of the commentariat — wrong.
HWT — Sam Stoll
Record: 19-4 (11-5 vs. field)
NCAA Seed, Big Ten finish: 5, 4
Because Kyle Snyder and, to a lesser extent, Adam Coon exist, it’s going to be nearly impossible for Stoll to win this tournament. However, he does seem to be in a good place after a fairly impressive Big Ten effort.
Like Kemerer, Stoll’s been a victim of the injury bug at points during the year, so he defaulted out of the bronze match a few weeks back in Lansing. Big matchups on his side for the bracket include a second-round bout with Youssif Hemida (8-1 Stoll in the dual this year) and Duke’s Jacob Kasper in the quarters.
From there, Snyder would loom. Get it done, big fella.