The 56th Annual Ken Craft Midlands was anything but boring. Exciting, yes. Shocking, perhaps. Mind-numbingly frustrating, definitely. As a whole, we rolled through the field and collected our 28th team championship in 44 tries. We’re now split 28/28 with the rest of the field. As I mentioned in the preview, that’s a dominance that’s rarely seen at this level of collegiate sports and we dished it out again, but…
…it just didn’t feel the same. We razed our way through the field and by Sunday morning we advanced eight into the semis. Eventually six guys punched their tickets to the finals that night. Ten came away with medals, but only two won titles: Austin DeSanto (133lbs) and Alex “The Bull” Marinelli (165lbs).
2 for 6
That’s how we’re going to remember this tournament. Don’t get me wrong, two champs ain’t bad, but it’s far from good. And it’s far from catching up with the Penn St. monster. Lee, DeSanto, Murin, Young, Marinelli, and Wilcke all got their shot at glory. Granted, we were only favored in two of those finals matches (Lee and DeSanto), but it’s times like these where we need to step it up and get it done. For the most part, we didn’t.
We showed our overall depth by pulling away from the field and virtually locked up the team title shortly after competition began in session III, which is a damn good feeling. Kind of. Let’s take a look at the team score before I dive further into my pissy-pot.
From my understanding of math we were five points shy from setting the team points record of 189, which is fantastic considering the stacked Iowa teams we’ve sent to this tournament in the past. We needed two of the next four to set that record: Lee deciding to show up against Rivera, Lugo capturing a late TD against Sammy Sasso to secure 3rd place, Bowman beating a very beatable Willie Scot, or even Stoll NOT defaulting out. Alas, none of those things happened. There are far more examples than what I just mentioned.
Last year at this very same tournament we conjured up five individual champs and 156.5 points to win it. That’s 27.5 more, with four fewer champions this year. That point increase is good enough to be tied for 21st place with Rutgers. Here’s how we individually finished. In bold are the guys eligible for team points.
The Bull: had a very tough tournament where he was consistently challenged. In the quarterfinals he met up with Jonathan Viruet (Brown) who held Marinelli to a 3-2 decision last year. This time around, he did it again, except he took it one step further and took The Bull to sudden victory.
Of course, Alex won with a TD in SV1, but here’s where he impressed me: he wrestled smart. The Bull is called The Bull for a reason, for his prodigious strength that’s rarely matched. Well Viruet is perhaps just as strong and neutralized that aspect of his game. Alex had to become a tactician and use his smarts for the first time all season to get it done.
The next round he had to do the same against #11 Josh Shields (ASU). But he cranked up his thinking cap to level 10 against #2 Evan Wick in the finals and avenged a 16-3 loss from last year’s NCAA’s. He captured two first period TD’s and wrestled smart for the final four minutes. Wick rode him for much of the 2nd, but I strongly believe Marinelli wasn’t working hard to escape, as he was trying not to get turned.
Last year Wick cradled him like a baby a few times to explode the score. This year, he couldn’t. Marinelli was dinged a few times for stall calls (mostly bogus, but I’ll discuss later on) and held on to win and complete his revenge. With his upset of Wick and another Midlands title under his belt, Marinelli has officially moved up to #2 in the rankings, behind #1 Vincenzo Joseph (PSU).
Austin DeSanto: He had the most dominate tournament of any Hawkeye wrestler. He had five victories, all by bonus. One pin, one tech fall, two majors, and a DQ (five stall calls on his opponent). He amassed 28.5 tournament points to lead the team.
Things were fortunate for ADS because #1 Seth Gross either never intended to wrestle or he withdrew shortly before, but either way, he didn’t go. Likewise, the eventual #1 seed, Nathan Tomasello, pulled up limp in the 2nd round and medically forfeited out of the tournament. Had NaTo been fully healthy there’s no doubt in my mind ADS would have met him in the finals. That would’ve been a really fun match to see. One that probably wouldn’t fall in ADS’ favor, but fun nonetheless. All in all, it was a great weekend for Austin. The kid truly has a bottomless tank. Something I wish he could share with the rest of the team.
Paul Glynn and Jeren Glosser: Like ADS, Pauly had fortune on his side. He would’ve run directly into NaTo in the quarters had he been healthy. Glynn wrestled well all weekend and capitalized on the misfortune of others to earn himself a berth in the semis. #4 seed Noah Gonser would go on to beat Glynn in a barn burner, 1-0, to knock him into the consolation rounds. Glynn would eventually take 5th place. Going in I don’t think anyone would have thought that was possible. Congrats to Glynn.
Glosser garnered himself a #12 seed then proceeded to lose in the opening round. Usually a strategy that backfires and earns you a quick exit and a long weekend. This is perhaps what ol’ Jeren needed to get the ball rolling because he would rattle off eight straight wins in the consolation to put himself into the 3rd place match. I think his 10th bout (DeSanto and Lee only wrestled four times) in two days finally caught up with him. He fell 8-3 in the consolations finals and claimed 4th. I believe his eight wins is also a tournament high. Glosser’s storyline is perhaps my favorite of the weekend.
Kaleb Young: also had a stellar showing. He won five straight matches: one by pin, three by tech fall, and one by a 9-2 decision. He rolled into the finals where he finally met up with #2 ranked and #1 seeded, Ryan Deakin (NW).
Young wasn’t dominated, but he didn’t get anything going against Deakin either. I haven’t re-watched the match so I could be wrong, but I don’t think he took a single shot in the seven minutes he was on the mat. You can’t win if you don’t score. Either way, Deakin is clearly the 2nd best guy in the land behind PSU’s Jason Nolf. Though Young didn’t get to his offense, he proved enough to me that he can close the gap on Deakin if he asserts himself. Young has been great this year at finishing when he’s in deep on the legs. He’s methodical and patient, but when you’re facing a superior opponent sometimes you need to press the issue and make it happen. These guys will face each other again on January 27. Mark it on your calendar.
Spencer Lee: What the hell happened here? Lee cruised into the semis with one fall and two techs before hitting a wall in the 2nd period in the semifinals against Patrick Glory. Lee was up 12-0 when the wheels completely fell off. For whatever reason, that even God can’t explain, the coaches told Lee to go down to start the 2nd period. This might be the dumbest thing of the entire tournament. From here Lee got throttled for the final four minutes, ridden like we haven’t seen before, turned for near fall exposure points like we haven’t seen before, and coughed up a bonus point lead like we haven’t seen before. This is perhaps Lee’s first epic collapse of his young career and it was painful to watch.
I firmly believe had he gone up to start the 2nd he would have teched Glory and this criticism wouldn’t be happening. Alas, that didn’t happen and he left the door open and quite frankly got lucky in his 12-6 win to move onto the finals.
If the wheels fell off in the semis, then he crashed and burned in the finals against #2 ranked/ seeded Sabastian Rivera (NW). Rivera took it to him from the start and plowed his way to a 7-3 win. Lee looked discombobulated, confused, and quite frankly, disinterested in being on the mat. Is he still feeling the after effects of his sickness? Is the weight cut getting to him? Did he overlook/ underestimate his opponents? Or has Glory and Rivera closed the gap?
…A bit of each.
FYI- after the awards ceremony it was reported that Lee threw his silver medal in the garbage can. Allegedly, teammates or coaches pulled it out. I typically don’t like athletes doing this, but it does show me he has some fire in his belly. Good. Light it up.
Pat Lugo: Many of us keep hoping for Lugo to turn the corner on the season and for the most part he did. He got himself over the .500 mark and now sits 7-5 after a strong showing to get himself into the quarterfinals. Upon arrival he got himself a third look at #1 ranked/ seeded Matt Kolodzik (Princeton). Once again Kolo controlled much of the match and won, once again, 7-4.
Lugo dropped into the cons. where he beat up on Jacori Teemer (ASU unattached) 10-3, the same Teemer that beat Sammy Sasso (OSU unattached) 8-6.
With that win Lugo pushed his way into the 3rd place match against Sasso, who won six straight on the backside. Lugo should’ve had more energy, he should’ve been ready to go, especially after dominating the guy who previously upended Sasso. But that’s not how things unfolded. Lugo would go on to lose in SV1, 6-4.
Lugo was in deep several times, but couldn’t finish. This is becoming a frustrating problem in his game. The chain wrestling, especially against quality opponents, just isn’t there and it needs to develop quickly if he has any inclination of getting on the podium this year.
Sam Stoll: After two solid wins to advance to the quarterfinals, Stoll withdrew from the tournament and defaulted out. I’m not going to spend any more time on this subject, because I just don’t understand. I worry that they’re trying to save him for March, but if he drops a match early or struggles during the B1G’s, he may not make the NCAA’s at all.
If the coaches are so worried about Stoll that they pulled him out, why did a seemingly weary/ sick Spencer Lee continue to wrestle? Why didn’t he default out as well?
Jacob Warner/ Coaching Staff: I will never call a wrestler dumb, but I will call out dumb wrestling, which is exactly what we saw from Warner and the staff did him no favors. He wrestled some incredible matches, followed by some head-scratchers.
Warner was the #2 seed and looked solid going into the quarterfinals when Tanner Sloan (SDSU unattached) wrecked his day and teched him 19-3. What makes this dumber is Warner had a 3-2 lead going into the 2nd period and looked good while riding to close out the first frame. Warner deferred his choice and Sloan took down. Sloan got a quick reversal and then proceeded to turn him like a page in a book. Sloan made it look way too easy, especially against a guy that’s ranked 4th in the nation and supposedly as elite as they come. Sloan scored 17 straight points, 15 in 3:20 seconds, to smash Warner.
A quick note: Sloan is from Alburnett, IA and apparently wasn’t pursued by any of the big three schools in state. I’m going to hazard a guess that they all regret that now.
Warner fell into the backside of the tourney where he met #6 Rocco Caywood. The score was knotted 0-0 going into the 2nd when Warner chose down. It took nearly 50 seconds for him to get a reversal and led 2-0 midway through the 2nd. Then the mistakes kicked in, once again. He gave up a late escape and another early in the 3rd to even the score.
Both wrestlers timed their shots simultaneously and Warner got the worst of it as his ankle buckled and he went to his back. He’s lucky he didn’t give up near fall before the time stoppage. He would give up yet another escape and go on to lose 5-3. BTW, he failed to score an offensive point in this match. I believe that made it nearly 12+ straight minutes without a takedown. Not good.
One medial forfeit later and Warner would “capture” 5th place.
A majority of Warner’s mistakes happened in the Sloan match, but it’s enough to cause concern. What we’re going to remember most is that Warner led in both of his matches against Caywood and Sloan and didn’t seal the deal. So, is it mental? Is his ankle still banged up? Is he out of shape? Perhaps a bit of each. Unfortunately, for better or worse, he’s going to be judged against his insanely high expectations.
The Coaching: I will always be a staunch supporter and defend them until the end of my days, but Tom and Terry did their wrestlers no favors this weekend. There were a few matches where they told their guys to choose down, directly after they struggled in the bottom position/ couldn’t escape at all. Or in Lee’s case they failed to choose up and let Lee do what he does best: tilt guys, more specifically, Rivera.
For Warner, he just coughed up 12 straight points and was turned several times, but what does he do going into the 3rd period? They make him go down. Well, as we now know that quickly led to a tech fall.
Another happenstance was when Tony Cassioppi met up with Jere Heino (Campbell unattached) in the quarterfinals. Big Cass was looking splendid on his feet and took a 2-1 lead into the 2nd. Narrowly missing another TD seconds before. He chose the bottom position and soon after found himself locked up in a cradle and giving up near fall points. It ended in a major decision in Heino’s favor.
I realize hindsight is always 20/20, but you need to put your guys in the best possible position to win, whether they’re true freshmen like Tony Cassioppi or world gold medalists like Spencer Lee. Over the past few years the Hawkeyes have struggled underneath and continually fail to escape. Yes, they need to do better and gain experience, but attempting that at the Midlands, in my opinion, is not the time nor the place to do it.
Also, Tom Brands erupted on the ref directly following Marinelli’s upset of Wick in the finals. He could be heard screaming, “You suck, the whole damn tournament has been that way. Call him up on he radio and get him back here.”
Terry was also heard challenging an obnoxious and rude fan during Stoll’s match against Andrew Gunning (North Carolina/ Tony Ramos’ athlete).
I’ve always loved the fire and passion these guys have, but this type of behavior doesn’t help. Especially, when it feels like we’re not only wrestling our opponent, but wrestling with…
The Refs: Something absolutely needs to be fixed with these stall calls, in both top and bottom positions. I’m not going to try to sway this in a biased opinion, but it was tough to watch during several matches. None more so than Marinelli’s. While Wick was parallel riding, he would repeatedly lock an ankle with his and sit back. With that type of pressure on someone’s leg it’s nigh-impossible to build a base or escape, all the while Wick can rock back on his haunches and focus on his patent-pending cradle. So while he’s literally sitting back, having a cup of tea, The Bull is getting dinged for stalling. This isn’t just a match by match problem, it’s one that spreads across all the wrestling landscape.
It’s been five days and as you can tell I’m still pretty fired up. So what do you guys think? I didn’t even cover Mitch Bowman and I could easily do another 1000 words on him. If there’s any other issues we need to tackle please drop a comment and we’ll continue!
Our next dual could be a trap as we face #12 Minnesota in Minneapolis on January 13.