The 2019-20 was one of the most volatile seasons we’ve had at a weight in quite some time. Cash Wilcke was our returning 3x national qualifier that had previously made it to the round of 12 at nationals on two separate occasions. This was supposed to be the year he finally broke through to the podium. However, with a limited window for a national title, Brands & Co. wanted someone on the mat that would force the action. As the old saying goes, “It’s better to go down swinging,” and that’s exactly what they had in mind when they threw Nelson Brands in.
Despite the disadvantage of being severely undersized, Brands brought an intensity we had not seen at this weight in years. His relentless attacks were a welcome sight to the Hawkeye faithful, but after winning his first two matches he began to stumble. The shit hit the fan at the Midlands where Brands (as a #2 seed) and Wilcke were outplaced by our own true freshman, Abe Assad, who made the finals coming from the #11 seed.
Assad’s terrific weekend spurred yet another shift and he was immediately inserted in the lineup, winning his next 4 duals, including a dramatic win over All-American Taylor Venz (Neb). He then lost his final two matches of the regular season to the highly touted Aaron Brooks (PSU) and Cam Caffrey (MSU). He’d eventually go on to take 4th place at the Big Ten’s, losing in the 3rd place match to Venz.
By and large it was successful season for our true freshman. He’d go on to be the 11th seed at nationals and earned second-team All-American honors as well.
I’d think Assad would get the greenlight this year, but I must pump the brakes. Brands appears to be filling out even more and inching closer to being a true 184lber. He is probably too big to drop to 165 and with Michael Kemerer locking up 174, the next size up is his only option at this point. Nelson is a bigger version of DeSanto, in terms of high-end motor and relentless attacking. He seems to stay away from pinning combos or early finishers, instead focusing embarrassing and breaking his opponent
So while Assad certainly has the better collegiate resume, Brands recently upended him, 9-0, in the Hawkeye Wrestling Club Showdown in October. So, the question of who starts is very much in play.
The Competition: The #1 seeded Taylor Lujan (UNI) has since graduated, but most of the strong field is returning. Half of the top 10 ranked wrestlers were underclassmen last year, Assad (and at one point Brands) included. Now we get to add 3x All-American, #1 Myles Amine to the mix, who is fresh off an Olympic redshirt. Previously Amine had placed 4th, 3rd, and 3rd in his prior trips to Nationals while at 174lbs. Amine is elite and his record shows it. Of his 18 career loses, 11 of them have come at the hands of Mark Hall (PSU) and Zahid Valencia (ASU).
Rounding out the top 3 is #2 Aaron Brooks (PSU) and #3 Hunter Bolen (VT), who snagged the #2 seed last year.
The top 10 is loaded and no matter who goes for Iowa, they’re going to have a war on their hands. We have some sure fire AA’s up and down our lineup, but this is the class where it’s most in jeopardy to come up short.
Upcoming Matches // Record Against:
#6 Taylor Venz (Neb) Jan. 15 // Assad: 1-1
#20 Owen Webster (Minn) Jan. 22
#19 Zach Braunagel (Ill) Jan. 31 // Assad: 1-0 // Brands: 1-0
#1 Myles Amine (Mich) Jan. 31
#12 Rocky Jordan (tOSU) Feb. 7 // Assad: 2-0
#23 Max Lyon (Pur) Feb. 7 // Assad: 2-0
#2 Aaron Brooks (PSU) Feb. 12 // Assad: 1-0
Jack Jessen (NW) Feb. 19
#10 Chris Weiler (Wisc) Feb. 21
197lbs: #5 Jacob Warner (Jr) 41-10:
Warner is a returning All-American, placing 7th in 2019. He put in a solid sophomore campaign, finishing 22-4 and 3rd at the Big Ten’s. He’d get the #5 seed at Nationals, but one can’t help but think it could’ve and perhaps should’ve been higher.
The talent has always been there for Warner, there is no doubt about that. However, the mental aspect of his wrestling has yet to catch up to this physical gifts. He has the ability to beat anyone in this class, but he also has to put those elements together and at the same time, for it to happen.
After two years in the lineup, Warner has several impressive wins, but he also has a few head scratching defeats. It may seem that I’m ragging on Warner, but I don’t intend to.
He’s offensively smooth and efficient. Lightning quick at times and is an underrated scrambler. But… this isn’t always on display from match to match. Simply put, he lacks offensive consistency. You can see when he’s ready to go. His hands are in constant motion. His toes will tap the mat and he’s also moving and shifting around, changing levels and positons. Those are the signs for a Warner that’s looking to punish people. If he can find that energy for every match, he’s going to be in thick of it when March rolls around.
The Competition: The perennial heavy-hitting Kollin Moore (tOSU) has finally moved on and with Cornell dropping out, they’ve taken last year’s #4 seeded Ben Darmstadt with them. However, #1 Noah Adams (WV), #2 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt), #4 Tanner Sloan (SDSU), and #6 Eric Schultz (Neb) all return. Plus, the 6th seed from 184lbs is joining, #3 Cam Caffey (MSU).
Now we get to add in redshirt freshman #8 Michael Beard (PSU) to the mix, who looks to take over where Bo Nickal left off two years ago. Which would suuuuuck.
This may be the only weight where we can consider it to be a true tossup. Everyone has beaten everyone. Adams has lost to the now graduated Josh Hokit (Fresno State), who Warner has beat. Likewise, Sloan has lost to Tanner Orndorff (Utah Valley) who Warner has also beat, but Warner was teched in his only match against Sloan. Then there’s the anomaly of Eric Schutlz who has beaten Adams and Warner, but has also lost to Warner and a handful of other lower tier wrestlers. Then there’s Beard who’s lost to #7 Greg Bulsak, who has pinned Tanner Sloan, but lost to Schutlz.
Like I said, it’s a tossup. Unfortunately, Warner needs help if he wants to climb higher than his #5 ranking, because Caffey is the only higher ranked guy he will see, which should happen at the Big Ten’s. Adams and Bonaccorsi have a relatively light season, so barring a total screw up, they should remain high. Sloan has one salty opponent on his schedule and while it pains me to cheer for our little sisters, let’s hope Iowa State’s #11 Marcus Coleman can find a win in their February dual date.
Upcoming Matches // Record Against:
#6 Eric Schultz (Neb) Jan. 15 // 2-1
Garrett Joles (Minn) Jan. 22
Matt Wroblewski (Ill) Jan. 31 // 3-0
#18 Jelani Embree (Mich) Jan. 31
Gavin Hoffman (tOSU) Feb. 7
Thomas Penola (Pur) Feb. 7
#8 Michael Beard (PSU) Feb. 12
#12 Lucas Davison (NW) Feb. 19 // 1-0
Peter Christensen (Wisc) Feb. 21
285lbs: #4 Anthony Cassioppi (So) 20-3:
Big Cass had one of the most exciting seasons from a Hawkeye big man in years. He went 20-3, including wins over nine ranked opponents and two former All-Americans. He won the Midlands Championships and placed 3rd at the Big Ten’s. With the likes of former All-American’s Bobby Telford and Sam Stoll, we’ve come accustomed to heavyweight success, but perhaps not on this dynamic of a level. Stoll and Telford were your prototypical big men and while Cass is every bit of the 285lbs, he’s also much more athletic, which is where this weight has been trending for several years now.
All three of his losses were to #1 Gable Steveson (Minn) and #2 Mason Parris (Mich). While Cass doesn’t quite match their athleticism (at least not yet), he isn’t far behind the top tier of this class. Cass isn’t as defined as these other bruisers, which he may never be, but I could tell he’s worked on this in the off-season. When he stepped onto the mat at the HWC Showdown to face 2x world medalist, Nick Gwiazdowski, he looked good. It was a 2pt match at the break before Gwiz got an early TD in the 2nd period, followed by a tight leg lace that blew doors off the match. Alas, that’s how freestyle goes.
Notwithstanding, Cass is extremely competitive, and he knows where he must improve.
The Competition: Steveson and Parris are the returning #1 and #2 seeds, respectively. They’ve distanced themselves nicely from the field. Additionally, they both upset Gwiz recently in freestyle as well.
While these two are the alpha dogs of heavyweight, Cass, #4 Matt Stencel (Cent. Mich) and #5 Trent Hillger (Wisc) will continue to battle it out a notch below, with Cass arguably the best of what’s left outside of #1 and #2.
We also need to eye redshirt freshman #15 Greg Kervliet (PSU) as a legit threat to not only medal but be a finalist. He’s a 2017 cadet World Champion, a Junior World silver medalist, and a Junior Nation Champion. Needless to say, he’s really freaking good and I have to assume he’s gotten even better after Olympic champ, Kyle Snyder, relocated to the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club in October. You can’t find a better training partner than that.
I’d like to say Cass has a shot at making the finals, but he has to find a way to slow these guys down and more importantly, find some offensive while doing it. This is reminiscent to the Stoll years with Synder and the mountain ma, Adam Coon occupying the top.
Until Cass can either break through and best these guys, a 3rd place finish is a realistic expectation from our big man.
Upcoming Matches // Record Against:
#22 Christian Lance (Neb) Jan. 15 // 1-0
#1 Gable Steveson (Minn) Jan. 22 // 0-2
Luke Luffman (Ill) Jan. 31
#2 Mason Parris (Mich) Jan. 31 // 0-1
#6 Tate Orndorff (tOSU) Feb. 7
Jamarcus Grant (Pur) Feb. 7
#15 Greg Kerkvliet (PSU) Feb. 12
Jack Heyob (NW) Feb. 19
#5 Trent Hillger (Wisc) Feb. 21 // 2-0
The expectations for this team are simple: National Champs.
No if, and, or buts about it.
Championship caliber teams know there’s a window involved to get it done. Last year was a window. This year is a window. Next year is a window. Then five All-Americans graduate and the roster turns over.
We went 13-0, claimed a regular season Big Ten title, and capped it off with a dominating Big Ten Tournament title to boot. It was our first since we were co-champs with Ohio State in 2015 and our first outright win since 2010. We had three B1G champs, Spencer Lee, Pat Lugo, and Alex Marinelli, which is the most since that 2010 run, which coincidentally, is also the last time we were National Champs. Furthermore, all ten starters were named NWCA All-Americans, which I believe is a program first. If I’m wrong, please correct me in the comments!
2020 was supposed to be the year that we broke the decade long curse, now we turn to 2021 as the year to get it done and we bring with it a bullseye planted firmly on our collective backs.
We’re #1 in every ranking known to man with the assumption of bulldozing any and everyone that stands in our way.
Here are tournament projections as of this writing:
1. Iowa 131
2. Michigan 76
3. Penn State 68.5
1. Iowa 154.5
2. Michigan 99
3. Penn State 92.5
1. Iowa 134
2. Michigan 80.5
3. Penn State 71
1. Iowa 126
2. Michigan 82
3. Penn State 71
Intermat is the only one that includes potential bonus points, but what they all show is an epic ass kicking of epic proportions. That’s all gravy, but we still must compete and more importantly, perform. Nationals hasn’t been kind to us Hawkeye fans for awhile now, so it’s natural for us to be weary, but if this team goes out and wrestles like they did last year, well, we’re golden.
Michigan and Penn State have a formidable dual lineup, but it’ll be hard for them to hold serve in a tournament setting. Unless they find 3 or 4 more guys that over-perform, and I mean punch their way to the semis and beyond, then it’ll become a battle of attrition and that’s where we can start to take over. Of course, that’s assuming the injury bug also doesn’t rear it’s ugly head.
Penn State has been the elite of the elite, winning 8 of the last 9 team titles. The door is open, now it’s time for us to kick it through. They’ve taken what we once knew: that champions breed champions. A team title not only brings recognition and glory, but world-class, top end, pound-for-pound, recruits so that team can reload and continue the run.
Those were the Gable years. Lately they’ve been the Sanderson years. Now it’s time to flip the script and start the reload for ourselves.
We’re going to have SIX duals on the Big Ten Network. So please, any of you “on the fence” wrestling fans, tune in and pay attention. Give it a go. This Iowa Hawkeye wrestling team is going to deliver a 24th NCAA Team Championship in a little over three months!