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Iowa Wrestling: No. 2 Iowa vs No. 1 Penn State Preview

#1 vs #2. Friday Night. Big Ten Network. Are you not entertained?!

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s hard to believe this dual marks only the 4th time that the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions have squared off with both teams taking the top two positions in the rankings.

  • Jan. 5, 1986 – #1 Iowa 35, #2 Penn State 6
  • Jan. 31, 2020 – #1 Iowa 19, #2 Penn State 17
  • Jan. 28, 2022 – #1 Penn State 19, #2 Iowa 13
  • Jan. 27, 2023 – TBD

I was there on that cold winter night 3 years ago in Iowa City and it was one of the greatest sporting events I have ever been to! I’ll remember that glorious night until the day I die.

With PSU’s firmly in the driver’s seat and us riding shotgun for the past decade it’s quite remarkable that we find themselves in unfamiliar territory, at least with the coveted ranking in front of our respective names.

Penn State is 61-1 in conference duals dating back to 2015, while we’re 35-1 since 2018. Our lone losses are to each other. (Thank you Mark Wogenrich for this amazing stat).

Although full disclosure, should we prevail we will overtake the #1 position in the coaches poll, but we’ll still firmly trail behind in all tournament projections. Sadly.

We hold a 28-11-2 all-time edge over our rivals with a 12-5-1 record on the road, however we’re only 2-4 dating back to 2013.


There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it, the Nittany Lions are devouring any and all competition they’ve faced this year. They’re sitting at a perfect 10-0 after dismantling Michigan St (34-6) last weekend and #3 Michigan (30-8) the weekend before. Outside of their weak link at 125lbs, everyone in their lineup is inside the top 15 with four ranked #1 and three more in the top 5.

This is perhaps the deepest all-around team head coach Cael Sanderson has had the displeasure of assembling. If their lone unranked guy, Gary Steen, were to find a foothold it’s entirely possible that all 10 starters reach the podium, which would only be the 2nd time in history a team was able to do that.

The 2001 Minnesota Golden Gophers had 10 AA’s and won the team title without an individual champ… I don’t think PSU will have troubles in the individual title category, assuming everyone stays healthy. But it’s also possible for Iowa to put 10 on the podium as well

PSU is led by returning champs: Roman Bravo-Young (133), Carter Starocci (174), Aaron Brooks (184), and Max Dean (197). They also have returning All-American Greg Kerkvliet (285) anchoring down the big boy slot. Mixing in a handful of highly ranked blue chip phenoms Shayne Van Ness (149), Levi Haines (157), and Alex Facundo (165) it’s no wonder they’re poised to repeat last year’s title run.

Their path to victory is simple: win the matches they’re supposed to. On paper they’re favored in 6, with big tossups coming at 149lbs and 157lbs and I’d also throw 165lbs into that shuffled hat as well. There’s not much else to say in that regard, though their margin for error is slim.

If they can’t control the outcomes of those tossups they very well could be staring down an upset on their home mat.

IOWA (12-0)

After blowing out #11 Nebraska, 34-6 and showing the rest of the country that we’re legit Saturday night contenders we laid an egg and barely escaped with an 18-15 bittersweet win over #16 Wisconsin last weekend.

We struggled to generate offense up and down the lineup and separate ourselves with bonus points, which is our ultimate key to success - in every dual. Throw in an untimely pin at 184lbs where Abe Assad numbingly decided to challenge a known Greco Roman wrestler to some upper body work and lost. Badly. That loss initiated, at minimum, a 9pt swing and allowed the Badgers to kick open the door and make it a contest, when it otherwise shouldn’t have been.

We did roll out a couple of backups, which both lost, so that didn’t help matters. With some additional time off here’s to hoping Nelson Brands and Jacob Warner are good to go for tonight’s festivities.

The losses last weekend definitely hurt our individual rankings, but solid performances tonight can flip the script and get our guys back into good graces for Big Ten seeding. Now if we were to pull some upsets and win a few of those underdog matches, well, that will set us up nicely for a conference run.

Similarly to PSU, we need to win the matches we are favored in. At this point Spencer Lee is as close to a 6pt lock as anyone in the sport’s history, so all eyes turn to Real Woods and Max Murin early on.

Cobe Siebrecht has a tough task as well, but if we can claim 4 of the first 5 matches and avoid bonus points on the backend, this dual could be decided by Jacob Warner and Tony Cassioppi. Both are more than capable.

I mentioned PSU’s margin for error is slim, but so is our margin for victory. Things need to go just right tonight to come out of Happy Valley alive, but there is a chance and this dual will be much closer than any final scorecard will say.


125 - #1 Spencer Lee vs Gary Steen

133 - #17 Brody Teske // Cullan Schriever vs #1 Roman Bravo-Young

141 - #2 Real Woods vs #4 Beau Bartlett

149 - #7 Max Murin // Caleb Rathjen vs #13 Shayne Van Ness

157 - #15 Cobe Siebrecht vs #9 Levi Haines // Terrell Barraclough

165 - #13 Patrick Kennedy vs #5 Alex Facundo

174 - #15 Nelson Brands vs #1 Carter Starocci

184 - #12 Abe Assad vs #1 Aaron Brooks

197 - #7 Jacob Warner vs #4 Max Dean

285 - #3 Tony Cassioppi vs #2 Greg Kerkvliet

Key Matchups - ALL OF THEM

125 - #1 Spencer Lee vs Gary Steen

Gary Steen is no slouch and he’s had a rough start to his varsity career (5-9) but he is fresh off a momentum building win over #29 Tristan Lujan (MSU). Spencer will look to continue his scorched earth campaign and push his pin streak to 7. I’m hard pressed to think it won’t happen, but at worst, we need a tech fall. These bonus points will come into play during the closing bouts.

133 - #17 Brody Teske // Cullan Schriever vs #1 Roman Bravo-Young

This is a night where we need our full lineup. This is a night where we need Brody Tesk. RBY is on a 45 match win streak, so needless to say, this is a tough task for Mr. Teske. Pulling the upset is probably beyond reasonable, but keeping this match to a decision is paramount. We can’t allow RBY to match Lee’s output.

141 - #2 Real Woods vs #4 Beau Bartlett

Bartlett was at 149 last year where he had moments of clarity, but struggled throughout the year. Whatever struggles he may have had he has kicked to the curb and turned it up a notch at his newfound weight. He’s 14-0, though admittedly against less-than-stellar competition.

Woods has been everything we expected and then some. He’s already beaten some of the best this weight has to offer, but he’s never experienced this type of rivalry in a hostile environment before. Currently his gas tank is the biggest question and no there’s no doubt that Bartlett will try to slow the pace down and drag the match out.

I look for Woods to attack early, ride hard, and actually capitalize on some of his tilts. He had trouble loading up Joe Zargo (Wisc) last weekend and Hardy a few days before that, so if he can snug that up good things will happen.

149 - #7 Max Murin // Caleb Rathjen vs #13 Shayne Van Ness

Van Ness is another up-and-comer for PSU that’s immediately making waves in his 1st year in the starting lineup. He’s stocky and incredibly athletic, the exact type of guy that usually gives Murin fits.

He also has a deep tank, but so does Murin. I’d love to see Mad Max go all out in the 1st and 2nd periods and really push the pace. I’m betting Van Ness wants to avoid the all out brawl that Max likes to bring - so going hard early can pay dividends on the back end. I like Max’s veteran experience, but he MUST stay away from a 1 or 2 point match late. The last thing we want is for this to be decided by a takedown in the final seconds.

157 - #15 Cobe Siebrecht vs #9 Levi Haines // Terrell Barraclough

Perhaps the biggest question of this dual is if Cael Sanderson will pull Levi Haines’ redshirt and commit to him for the rest of the year. Haines is a true freshman and has already reached his 5 match limit and while doing so has looked impressive. He recently upended former AA #10 Will Lewan (Mich), 3-1 SV1.

Barraclough was another blue chipper out of high school who has yet to materialize in the varsity lineup. While he hasn’t had that all-important career win yet, he’s wrestled the top guys at this weight (and returning AA’s) very tightly.

Whoever toes the line will make it a tough match for Cobe, but he’s shown himself to be more than capable, especially when he’s wrestling with confidence. He likes to go for those big moves and I can guarantee Sanderson has coached his guys up to avoid those. But nonetheless, hitting one here could swing this dual in the direction we need.

If not, then Cobe needs to wrestle smart, but stay on the offensive attack. Like Murin, we don’t want this match to be decided by a last second TD.

165 - #13 Patrick Kennedy vs #5 Alex Facundo

These two faced off at Who’s #1 in Carver Hawkeye back in 2019 and PK ran away with the win, 12-1. Since then, Facundo has had that type of 2nd year jump that we want all our wrestlers to have. He isn’t throwing up massive numbers and winning via bonus, but he is winning, and that’s what matters. He lost a tightly contested match to returning champ David Carr (4-2), but rebounded following the holiday break with the biggest win of his career over 2x AA #6 Cameron Amine (Mich) 6-5 TB2.

This is a must have match for both of these guys. For Facundo to keep that momentum building and PK, to finally get that all-important win against that tier group of this weight. If Kennedy can keep that pace high and stay on the attack I love his chances, but he must chain his moves and finish shots quickly.

He got in deep last week against Dean Hamiti (Wisc) but failed to convert. He can’t fail to do so again.

174 - #15 Nelson Brands vs #1 Carter Starocci

Starocci’s famed rivalry with Michael Kemerer is now being passed on to Nelson Brands… but Brands actually needs to wrestle and be competitive for it to even be considered a rivalry someday. I’m being hard on him, because I know he’s talented enough to hang with anyone in this weight - it’s just whether or not he pulls the trigger and takes some chances.

Brands’ athleticism goes largely overlooked, but he is incredibly athletic and strong. Those are two key assets that will keep any match against the elite within striking distance.

Starocci has upshifted his bonus point potential this year and seems to be wrestling with more assertiveness than year’s past, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the field, but he still has a tendency to slow things down, which can play to our favor. I think a win here is likely out of the question, but Nelson needs to dig deep and hold this to a decision.

184 - #12 Abe Assad vs #1 Aaron Brooks

Brooks is another returning champ who’s seeing an uptick in bonus wins. In fact, he tech falled Tyler Dow who just pinned Assad last weekend. That’s not a good comparison because Abe is a far better wrestler than what he showed against Dow, but proves the point that Brooks is firing on all cylinders right now.

But, he isn’t beyond the occasional loss, which he’s already had this year to #4 Marcus Coleman. I don’t like the slow pace gameplan, but perhaps here it makes sense.

Brooks is 2-0 against us lifetime winning, 8-3 and 7-3, in the previous encounters. Abe needs to work the ties and control the center. We know Brooks is going to try to push the pace - so stuffing the attacks while firing off a few of our own to keep the ref at bay will be crucial. Ol’ Abe must dig deep and hold this to a decision as well.

197 - #7 Jacob Warner vs #4 Max Dean

This is a rematch of last year’s NCAA finals, but oddly both have looked shaky at times and taken some unexpected losses. Dean lost back-to-back in early December but has righted the ship and rattled off 7 wins in a row with 4 coming via bonus.

Whereas, Warner has also lost twice, but has looked shaky for the past few weeks (assumingly banged up a bit). Health/ mobility will play a major role for Jacob in this match. I’ve often thought that as his feet and hands go, he goes.

If those hands are flicking and his feet are still shuffling late in the 2nd period then he’s feeling good. So I’ll be paying close attention to his body language late in this match and if all signs point up, an upset could be in the making here. Warner just needs to believe - he can roll with anyone and proved it during his run to the finals last year.

285 - #3 Tony Cassioppi vs #2 Greg Kerkvliet

Out of high school Kerk was immediately expected to be a title contender and now it seems that he’s fully healthy he aims to do just that. During his NCAA run last year he officially rounded the corner and made a statement with a 4th place finish.

Albeit, he lost for the 1st time in his career to #1 Mason Parris (Mich) last weekend on a late TD, 3-1, that doesn’t make him any less dangerous or capable.

But the same goes for Cass who is undefeated on the year and wrestling better than ever. He’s 3-0 lifetime against Kerk, but did lose to him at the All-Star Classic 8-5 back in November. (The match didn’t count on the official records because it was an exhibition match.)

Kerk finally broke through for the statement win, but I personally think Cass wrestled sloppy and gave up some easy TD’s and above all, couldn’t finish shots he normally does. Here’s to hoping Cass reverses the trend and finds his offense 1st this time around.

The dual win could very well come down to heavyweight, so the pressure is on and both these guys like the spotlight. But I like our guy more.

This preview is getting rather lengthy so I’m going to cut it off. What are your thoughts? Predictions? Does Tom Brands roll out a full lineup for just the 2nd time? Is Levi’s redshirt pulled? Can we take some toss ups and make this a dual?

Broadcast Info

Opponent: Penn State

Dual time: 7:30PM GT (Central) // Friday, Jan. 27, 2023

Location: Bryce Jordan Center// State College, PA

TV/ Online: BTN // Foxsports

Radio: iHeartRadio (AM800 KXIC)

Also, we’re sending a small army of unattached wrestlers to the Pat “Flash” Flanagan Open in Dubuque, IA this weekend.