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“You don’t need what you don’t need, but this gives you everything you need.”
-Tom Brands, probably
Happy New Year! Bring on ‘21. pic.twitter.com/g5aMhmyupu— Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling (@Hawks_Wrestling) January 1, 2021
Our wrestling season is finally here. Are you guys ready? Because I’m sure as hell ready! It’s been a long haul since our boys last took the mat representing the Black & Gold, but the wait is finally over and we’re finally ready to kick ass again. FINALLY! While all isn’t right with the world, at least all will be right Friday night as our #1 Iowa Hawkeyes play host to #7 Nebraska Cornhuskers inside the sacred walls of Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
There are no warms up this season for Big Ten teams. No early cupcake duals to find the groove or small tournaments to get thy feet ready. Everyone is hitting the ground running. There is no grind, there is only the sprint. And it’ll be that six-week sprint to the finish that will decide the best team in the Big Ten.
We lead the all-time series against Nebby, 33-10-1 including the previous 11 meetings in a row. Brands is sitting at a perfect 11-0 against the boarder state rival as well. In fact, the last time they even sniffed a win was back on Nov. 19, 2005. For further reading histories, please click here.
This dual will consist of 17 wrestlers sitting inside Wrestlestat’s top 20, with four of those matches featuring top 10 opponents squaring off against each other.
The Huskers emerge from a very solid 2020 that saw them go 11-3 during the regular season and then capped it off with a 2nd place finish at the Big Ten Championships. They were a legit medal contender last season, and they’ll want to keep that momentum going into this season as well. While they lost their 165lbs workhorse, Isaiah White, they return a formidable lineup that largely stays intact. A few of their guys have shifted up a weight class, but they all have that additional year of experience, which could prove to be vital when compared to the massive graduation turnover throughout the B1G.
They have seven wrestlers inside the top 20, including four in the top 10, and two in the top 5. This team is solid up and down the lineup with very few glairing weaknesses. They’re going to be a tough out for anyone in a dual setting and perhaps even more dangerous come tournament time. Especially if their big guns can each make a deep run to the semifinals or beyond.
They downed #10 Minnesota last week, 22-14, riding home with six individual wins, but only two of those came by bonus points. As I mentioned, it’s hard to find a chink in their collective armor, but perhaps the biggest area would be just that: bonus points. #4 Mikey Labriola (174lbs) and #6 Taylor Venz (184lbs) are the only two that have a 40% bonus rate or higher. Point being, they tend to keep matches close and prefer to grind out wins instead of blowing the doors off their opponents.
Our Hawkeyes are fresh off a 13-0 run last season that saw us crowned regular season and Big Ten tournament champs. We have nine returning All-Americans, as well as a tenth in the form of the Missouri transfer, #3 Jaydin Eierman ((141lbs) though he is ranked #1 in several polls)). Per Wrestlestat we have six grapplers ranked inside the top 5, including three at #1, Alex Marinelli (165lbs), Michael Kemerer (174lbs) and led by our 2x NCAA Champ and returning Hodge Trophy winner, Spencer Lee (125lbs).
With the departure of Pat Lugo, Eierman slides into 141lbs and Max Murin moves up to 149lbs. Outside of some possible shifting at 184lbs between Abe Assad and Nelson Brands, this is exact same team that was destined to destroy the NCAA tournament field last year. We are locked. We are loaded.
I don’t want to get the cart before the horse, but this could prove to be one of the most important years in Hawkeye history. The wrestling world knows of our 23 titles, however we haven’t captured one since 2010. This very well could be the year we climb back to the top and restart for another impressive run.
However, it all begins with Nebraska, and they have a team we cannot overlook. While we throttled them (per score) last year, 26-6, we can’t get caught looking ahead. We won 8 of 10 matches, though it should have been at minimum, nine. The Huskers did a fantastic job of hand fighting and controlling the ties, that by and large, kept us at a distance and slowed our offense down just enough to keep things tight in the 3rd.
“We were flat. We were flat. Nebraska went to Madison and they were flat and they got beat and you know what they were coming in here to do… They worked hard to keep it close.”
Consequently, we had one bonus point win against them. You can bet they’re looking to build on that.
The true mark of progress is showing improvement. I guarantee that Tom and Terry have worked on this in the off-season. Bonus points are a must, especially in March. If we come out and score three or four bonus wins, well, that’s making a statement.
125: #1 Spencer Lee (0-0) vs #19 Liam Cronin (1-0) Cronin is a returning national qualifier that transferred in from Indiana in the off-season. He isn’t a world-beater by any means, but he does give the Huskers a much needed shot of energy at the top of their lineup. However, Spencer Lee has mutilated him, winning by tech and fall in their only two previous matchups. This won’t be any different.
Lee should run amuck through the B1G competition. We all know of his teching prowess, but let’s pay close attention to the pinfalls this year. Something tells me he’s going to bust the dial and crank it up even further. I’d love to see him start that against Cronin.
141: #3 Jaydin Eierman (0-0) vs #5 Chad Red (1-0) Chad Red is a 2x All-American that’s aiming to take it to the next level. He is quick, incredibly athletic, and downright dangerous. He’s pinned national champions and AA’s, that’s the good Red. Then there’s a side that’s as equally unimpressive. A side that gets pinned by someone he beat a few weeks earlier.
Jaydin Eierman is the guy I’m most excited to see hit the mat. The guy that is also #1 in three other national rankings. The same guy that knocked off an Olympic champion in November at the HWC Showdown. Due to taking a redshirt last year, Eierman last competed in 2019. Of his 28 wins, 17 were by fall. Jaydin is about to fulfill the life-long dream of wrestling for Iowa, you can bet he’s going to be looking for the pin every time out there. Next to Spencer Lee, he’s a can’t miss match.
174: #1 Michael Kemerer (0-0) vs #4 Mikey Labriola (1-0) While they’ve only danced once before, this has the making of a fantastic rivalry, especially if Kemerer decides to come back next season. Labriola is a returning All-American and gave Kemdog one of his closest matches of the season, with Kem winning on a late TD, 3-1, with :17 remaining.
Labriola is big, strong, and has solid defense. He was able to neutralize Kemerer with his hard collar ties and kept him off balance with several well-timed shots. He even threatened to get one of his own as time expired in the 1st period.
This will be a hard-hitting, bitter battle, and Kememer needs to be ready. Labriola is a legit finals contender and Kem needs to treat him as such. He’s capable of a decisive win, but he needs to find his offensive early. The last thing he wants to do is take a low scoring match into the final :30 seconds. If he’s able to find a TD or two in the first, I expect him to try and pour it on to send a message to the rest of the league.
184: #17 Nelson Brands (0-0) // #9 Abe Assad (0-0) vs #6 Taylor Venz (0-0) Everything indicates that Nelson Brands has won the starting job over Abe Assad. Though Tom Brands has mixed things up before, so I won’t hold my breath. When these two scraped in an unofficially wrestle-off at the HWC Showdown, Brands came out with a 9-0 win. He was relentless in his attacks, powering through Assad with ease. Pretty much doing what Nelson does, expect this time it was against the All-American we thought was going to start again.
The issue with Nelson has always been his size and whether the grind of wrestling up a weight class was going to be too much. I think the question still applies, but with a shortened season, it may not be as big of a factor. Assad beat Venz last season, 6-4, then turned around and lost to him in the B1G’s, 6-4. This means that all three are about as even as it gets. I think Brands will start as long as he keeps winning. He’s at his best when he keeps a high pace and attacks nonstop. This is the guy that holds a high school record of 485 takedowns…in a single season; 1,250 in his career. If he’s bridged the weight gap and is closer to a fully-fleshed 184lber, he can keep a pace that many guys at this weight can’t match. His defense has certainly improved, but he leaves and dies by the TD.
If he has the lead going into the 3rd, I like his chances.
197: #5 Jacob Warner (0-0) vs #7 Eric Schultz (1-0) It’s a fair to say that Warner has the higher ceiling here. It’s also fair to say that he’s inconsistent. Warner had bested Schultz in their two previous meetings and was sky high on the heels of a dramatic win over the then #2 ranked Christian Brunner. That win vaulted Warner to #3 nationally, then Schultz, who was ranked #14 at the time, decided to shit on his parade in the very next match. With :13 left in a 1-1 tie, Schultz had a deep underhook and snapped into a far side single, to win 3-1.
Jacob flashed some stellar defense in their match, but showed very little on the offensive side. He sniffed a TD early on, but Schultz countered and Warner had to work for a stalemate. That was as close to a TD as he’d get for the entirety of the match. This was Schultz biggest win of the season, perhaps of his career.
Schultz had an impressive year that ended in him being the Big Ten runner-up, but Warner can beat him. However, he needs to show up and stay focused. If he's aggressive and decides to dictate the pace, he has the firepower to take anyone in this class, but if he's hesitant and only attempts 2 or 3 shots a match, things like this will happen again.
This is a big test for Warner and one that could get him primed for the
long short haul.
125: #1 Spencer Lee vs #19 Liam Cronin (1-0)
133: #2 Austin DeSanto vs Alex Thomsen (0-1)
141: #3 Jaydin Eierman vs #5 Chad Red (1-0)
149: #6 Max Murin vs Brock Hardy (1-0)
157: #12 Kaleb Young vs Kaleb Licking (0-1)
165: #1 Alex Marinelli vs #19 Peyton Robb (1-0)
174: #1 Michael Kemerer vs #4 Mikey Labriola
184: #17 Nelson Brands // #9 Abe Assad vs #6 Taylor Venz (0-0)
197: #5 Jacob Warner vs #7 Eric Schultz (1-0)
285: #4 Tony Cassioppi vs #21 Christian Lance
***Also, look for additional matches that will take place before the start of the dual. Once I know who they are, I will post them in the HTW thread that will be up later this evening.