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Iowa Wrestling: No. 1 Hawkeyes host No. 10 Nebraska Preview

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This dual is dedicated to Brandon Sorensen

#SorenseStrong

The Hawks are about to enter the meat-grinder of the Big Ten season as we set our eyes on #10 Nebraska this weekend, followed by #3 Ohio State and #2 Penn State in consecutive weeks to close out the month. We like to think we know exactly where we stand as a team, but over these next three duals, we’ll find out for certain. Are we truly the #1 team in the country and heavy favorites to win it all? Well, buckle up because it’s going to be a wild ride.

But, the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing. And right now, Nebraska is that main thing and they currently stand in our way with a formidable lineup. Assuming the weather cooperates we’re set to do battle with our boarder rival tonight at 8:03 CT.

“A favorite theory of mine, is that no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often. And Iowa wins often. I’ll take the Hawks in this one. Light em’ up!”

-Mark Twain

It’s stupid to argue with The Twain. Per the match notes, The Hawks lead the all-time series, 32-10-1 and that includes the last 10 in a row. We’re 14-3 against these Huskers at home, with their last win in Iowa City coming just a few years ago in 1937. Nebby also hasn’t beaten Iowa in any capacity since 2005. A majority of their wrestlers were toddlers the last time they tasted victory over the Hawkeyes… poor little Cornhuskers.

PROBABLE LINEUP:

NEBRASKA (5-1)

Head Coach Mark Manning has been at the helm for 20 years and has led this program out of the sewers and into respectability. He’s turned them into a perennial top 10 team at the NCAA’s and this year is no exception. Despite not looking particularly sharp in a 25-18 loss to #4 Wisconsin last week, this team still has eight ranked wrestlers appearing inside Flowrestling’s top 25, including four returning All-Americans: #8 Chad Red (141lb, 2x AA), #5 Isaiah White (165lb), #6 Mikey Labriola (174lb), and #5 Taylor Venz (184lb, 2018 AA).

With those four workhorses alone, this immediately turns them into a legit dual team threat, then you mix in the additional four guys sprinkled throughout the rankings and it’s clear why there’s hype surrounding these guys and why they were ranked as high as #3 earlier in the season, according to other rankings.

That loss to Wisconsin and close win over UNI has sullied their image a bit, but these guys are battle tested and looking to right the ship Saturday night and get back on track.

IOWA (6-0)

“Their result this past weekend versus Wiconsin would lend me to believe that they’re going to try to right their ship a little bit. I don’t think they performed like they wanted to perform in Madison, and we got to be ready regardless of how they perform. And really the focus is on us as it always is, and we got to be ready to go starting from 125 all the way through heavyweight.”

-Tom Brands

The Brands Bros and the rest of the coaching staff have these guys flowing like a hard-hitting avalanche. We’re fresh off back-to-back 41-0 outings against Indiana and #9 Purdue and look to keep the momentum and energy sky high. We’re now pushing two months at the top of the rankings, but we’re beginning to distance ourselves in the team standings and projected tournament points.

That distance is accumulating because our individual wrestlers are getting it done on the mat and beating the guys we should be beating. Outside of a couple of letdowns at the Midlands, we’ve collectively stormed back over the past two weeks and now all ten wrestlers are ranked inside the top 10, including nine inside the top four, and eight in the top three. If you haven’t checked out our recent rankings post, please find that here.

Even though we boiled the Boilermakers, Kaleb Young, Michael Kemerer, and Jacob Warner all came away with wins over top ranked opponents. These were big takeaways, primarily for Young and Warner, who seem gain momentum following a win in big toss-up matches. These are the type of wins that can keep these guys energized and feed them into the following duals, which they’ll need.

Being an Iowa sports fan, I always caution us to never overestimate an opponent, especially someone as formidable as Manning’s squad. It seems like the moment we do that is when we find ourselves in trouble and on the opposite spectrum of happiness. With that said, bonus points are going to play a major factor in this dual and we’re heavily favored in four to five matches that could results in a massive point swing in our direction. If we start at 125lbs Spencer Lee and DeSanto very well could spot us an immediate 10-12 point lead. Mix in potential bonus points from Lugo, Young, and Cass, this could turn into another route, but they still need to go out and get it done to give us some breathing room.

Wrestlestat has us winning 28-7. That’s incorporating a Alex Marinelli upset and Abe Assad getting majored by Taylor Venz.

KEY MATCHUPS:

Spencer Lee, Kaleb Young, Austin DeSanto, Jacob Warner, and Tony Cassioppi are all heavily favored in their respective matches, despite the latter three facing ranked opponents. Warner faces #14 Eric Shultz, who made it to the R16 at the NCAA’s last year and should be the toughest matchup of these four guys, but even then, anything short of a major decision would be considered a slight letdown.

141: #3 Max Murin (10-0) vs. #8 Chad Red (10-4) All season long I’ve been talking about rebounding and redemption, how one responds to adversity. There is no match this weekend where that is more relevant than this one. Murin faced off with Red in the blood round in last year’s NCAA tournament. The winner would become an All-American, the winner would go home. Red would win that bout, 4-1, and Murin was sent packing. Needless to say, Mad Max hasn’t lost since and has seemingly upped his game to a new high.

149: #1 Pat Lugo (12-0) vs. #17 Collin Purinton (10-4) Lugo has been rolling this year and is coming off an 8-0 major over Nate Limmex (Purdue). Purninton, on the other hand, started off strong but has since gone 4-4 over his last eight matches. No doubt he’s looking to get back on track, that’s why Lugo needs to get to his offense early and often. The entire 149lb class knows Lugo has the elite defense to make any match interesting, but it’s Lugo offense that needs to be kicked into a higher gear and this match offers the perfect opportunity to do it. Purninton is a quality opponent and will bring it, Lugo has to be ready.

165: #2 Alex Marinelli (12-0) vs. #5 Isaiah White (12-1) This will be a clash of All-American brute strength right here. This could turn into a heavy-hands/ clubs boxing match early on, so expect the fur to fly right off the whistle. Marinelli has been racking up the pins lately, but that probably won’t continue into this bout. They’ve only wrestle once before and The Bull came out on top 3-0, but White finished higher on the podium last year and that’ll be something Marinelli wants to rectify this time around. I’m looking for Marinelli to bulldoze his way to a couple of takedowns mixed in with some good, hard, intense rides to close out the periods. Period.

174: #3 Michael Kemerer (6-0) vs. #6 Mikey Labriola (13-3) Labriola represents the 2nd All-American Kemdog will face in consecutive weeks. Kemerer thoroughly took it to #4 Dylan Lydy (Purdue), 8-4, last week and Labiola is 2-3 against this particular common opponent. That doesn’t mean Kem is a shoe-in for a win, but if he keeps trending in the right direction, which at this point I truly believe he is, then I’m hoping to see a larger margin of victory in this match. Kemerer needs to get in on his shots and finish at a higher rate and earlier in the match than he didn against Lydy. If he’s able to snag a couple by the time the 3rd period rolls around he could start to open it up and break Labriola and lock this dual up.

184: #10 Abe Assad (17-3) vs. #5 Taylor Venz (11-4) At this point in the season, every match is the next big match for Assad. Unfortunately, he’s facing an uphill battle in #5 Taylor Venz, who’s taken a handful of knocks this season. You can bet that nothing would make Venz’s happier than putting our young freshman in his place while simultaneously adding to his quality wins and increasing his RPI ranking for the post season. On the flip side of that coin, Assad also has a huge opportunity in raising his own stock and securing the biggest win of not only his season, but his young career. Wrestlestat is predicting a 12-4 major decision for Venz, but Assad is slick enough and keeps a high enough pace that he very well could pull off the upset.

PROJECTED LINEUP:

125: #1 Spencer Lee (8-0) vs Alex Thomsen (6-8)

133: #2 Austin DeSanto (10-1) vs #16 Ridge Lovett (8-4)

141: #3 Max Murin (10-0) vs #8 Chad Red (10-4)

149: #1 Pat Lugo (12-0) vs #17 Collin Purinton (10-4)

157: #4 Kaleb Young (9-2) vs Peyton Reed (12-2)

165: #2 Alex Marinelli (12-0) vs #5 Isaiah White (12-1)

174: #3 Michael Kemerer (6-0) vs #6 Mikey Labriola (13-3)

184: #10 Abe Assad (17-3) vs #5 Taylor Venz (11-4)

197: #3 Jacob Warner (10-2) vs #14 Eric Schultz (14-2)

285: #3 Tony Cassioppi (11-0) vs #16 Christian Lance (9-4)


The University of Iowa is also doing a Bandana Giveaway in support of Brandon Sorensen. The first 3,000 fans through the door will receive a #SorensenStrong bandana in honor of Sorensen who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia back in early December.

Sorensen is an all-time great Hawkeye. Not only was he a 4x AA that amassed a ridiculous record of 127-17 while wearing the black singlet, he is also considered one of the all-time greats in pure class and character. After graduating in 2018 he’s been a member of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club and even started to make a name for himself on the senior circuit before his health began to decline.

I wanted to write a post about this back when the news broke, but it’s such a tough topic to cover. I doubt there’s a person out there that hasn’t been impacted by this shitty disease in one way or another. Simply, this hit too close to home for me. I couldn’t do it.

But what our university, the Hawkeye wrestling program, and the entire wrestling community in general is doing is nothing short of amazing and inspiring. There isn’t another sport out there where rivals and opponents can put aside their competitive differences and rally behind a fellow wrestler. Sorensen’s support group has spread across the state and the country. For lack of a better expression, it’s 100% bad ass and makes me so proud to be a Hawkeye.

If you can’t make it to Carver-Hawkeye arena tonight to snag your own awesome bandana in support of Sorensen fear not, you can still get one at SorensenStrong.org or directly support his GoFundMe.