Five years ago, Iowa signed the #1 recruiting class in the country. The Hawkeyes were fresh off a national title in 2010 -- their third straight. This was supposed to be the class that would keep Iowa's success rolling and keep the championships flowing into Iowa City. Maybe not immediately in 2010-11, but shortly thereafter.
Things haven't quite worked out that way. Penn State supplanted Iowa as the national champion in 2010-11 -- and successfully defended that crown for the next three years, thanks in no small part to generational talents like David Taylor and Ed Ruth. Iowa's finishes at the NCAA Tournament in that span? 3rd in 2012 (107.5, 35.5 points behind champion), 4th in 2013 (73, 50.5 points behind champion), and 4th in 2014 (78.5, 31 points behind champion). Iowa fared a little bit better at the Big Ten Tournament, finishing 3rd in 2012 (126, 23 points behind champion), 3rd in 2013 (133.5, 17.5 points behind champion), 2nd in 2014 (135, 5.5 points behind champion) and t-1st in 2015 (120 points). (The 2011 results are omitted because this recruiting class was redshirting during that season.)
This is what Intermat said about Iowa's class in 2010:
Commentary: Talent procurement is the lifeblood of any elite program, and the most elite program has the elite class of this year with six Top 100 recruits. The three-time defending national champions lose a lot to graduation, and this class will seek to replace that load in due to time. They join last year's fifth-ranked class, which included four Top 100 recruits.
And d1collegewrestling was similarly effusive:
How do you replace a senior class which included seven wrestlers who achieved All-American status over the course of their careers? You may not be able to, but Tom Brands and staff have certainly tried, signing seven wrestlers ranked in D1CW's top-80 High School Seniors. Ballweg and Moore are both familiar names to Hawkeye fans, as both have brothers who are current Iowa wrestlers. Nick Moore lost just one time in his HS Career, on his way to becoming just the 19th wrestler to win 4 Iowa State Championships. This year's Iowa recruiting class has a rare Eastern flavor, with National Prep Champ Mike Evans, PA State Champ Josh Dziewa, and 2x State Champs, Bobby Telford and Anthony Baldosaro.
This class was, hands down, the #1 class in the nation -- it was going to keep Iowa at (or near) the very top of the college wrestling landscape. It contained four wrestlers within InterMat's top 20, another wrestler in the top 30, and a few more wrestlers further down the rankings but with potential. It was a class that appeared loaded.
141 Josh Dziewa (#16 IM, #12 d1cw)
149 Jake Ballweg (#27 IM, #31 d1cw)
149 Anthony Baldosaro (UN IM, #79 d1cw)
157 Mike Kelly (#77 IM, #74 d1cw)
165 Nick Moore (#12 IM, #11 d1cw)
174 Mike Evans (#5 IM, #4 d1cw)
285 Bobby Telford (#18 IM, #19 d1cw)
To date, this class has produced zero individual Big Ten champions and zero NCAA champions; it's yet to produce a single NCAA finalist, in fact. It's produced just four total All America honors (Mike Evans in 2013 and 2014 and Bobby Telford in 2012 and 2014; an untimely knee injury cost Telford a shot at All America honors in 2013). As noted above, they have produced no team NCAA titles (they haven't even been close) and the lone Big Ten title they've brought home (this year) was one of the most hollow championships Iowa has ever won, thanks to a brutally disappointing performance in the final session (0-4 in title matches, 2-5 overall, one measly takedown) and the fact that the final points Iowa scored -- the championship-tying points, as it turned out -- came via a medical forfeit and not from anything an Iowa wrestler actually did.
Mind you, the problems with that class were not limited to Iowa alone. Outside of Logan Stieber, the #1 wrestler in that class and a guy who has lived up that ranking (and then some), the top 10 of that class is a complete mess. Andrew Alton (#2) and Dylan Alton (#8) never lived up to their lofty expectations because of numerous injuries. Chris Villalonga (#3) has been solid for Cornell over the past four years -- but has failed to become an All-American even once. Marshall Peppelman (#5) has seen injuries wreck his career and seen him turn into a shadow of the wrestler he used to be (as evidenced by his 17-16 record this year). Lee Munster (#6) never enjoyed a great deal of success at Northwestern, nor did Tyler Beckwith (#9) at Binghamton. Jackson Morse (#7) is still trying to make his first trip to the All-America podium with Illinois. Outside of Stieber and Mike Evans, the top guy from the top ten of that class is Josh Kindig (#10), who shook off an unimpressive career to date to make a surprising run to the NCAA finals at 149 last season.
So what happened to this class? Injuries played a part in its downfall. Injuries slowed Jake Ballweg and then sapped him of his passion for the sport, leading him to leave the team early in his career. Injuries robbed Bobby Telford of a run in the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and injuries have reportedly been dogging Nick Moore all season, which might account for his lackluster performances. The oddities that come with filling out a roster also took their toll on this class. Mike Kelly was (and is) a natural 157er; unfortunately, Iowa happened to add another guy by the name of Derek St. John at that weight the year before Kelly arrived. St. John was just a bit better than Kelly and so the only way for Kelly to make the lineup was to cut down to 149 and battle it out there (to pretty underwhelming results). What would Kelly have been like if he had spent his entire career at 157? We'll never know, but it's hard to imagine that we wouldn't have seen a better Kelly in that scenario.
Nick Moore and Mike Evans were also squeezed into less than ideal weights on the roster at times; Nick Moore cut down to 157 in 2012 to fill in for an injured St. John (and because Evans had taken the starting job at 165), while Evans took over at 165 because Ethen Lofthouse was seemingly entrenched at 174 (until he wasn't, at least). Evans was solid at 165 and has been good at 174, but he wrestled at 189 (!) in high school and was earmarked for 184 lbs by many when he arrived at Iowa. Granted, filling out a lineup is often a matter of compromises -- it's often simply not possible to wrestle every guy at his most natural weight. For some of the guys in Iowa's class of 2010, though, it's fair to wonder how costly those compromises ended up being.
For whatever reason, this class has also been unusually reluctant to cut loose from neutral and display aggression on offense. In part, that's mirrored the rise in conservative, defensive wrestling in the sport overall, but it's been no less frustrating to watch -- probably moreso since they wear black and gold singlets and we focus so much on them and care about how they perform. I have a hard time believing that Brands and the rest of the Iowa coaching staff has been coaching this group any differently and, to be sure, in their comments to the public this group of wrestlers often says the right things about attacking the legs and getting to their offense and being aggressive. We just don't often see that in practice when the lights are on and they're in the center of the mat. Again, I don't know what the source of their inaction is -- I wish I did -- but it's made this class maddening to watch at times... and prevented them from enjoying as much success on the mat as they -- and we -- would have liked to see over the last five years. If you don't take shots, it's very hard to score in wrestling and if you don't score, it's virtually impossible to win.
But this Thursday, the five remaining members of that celebrated recruiting class will take the mat for their final event as Iowa wrestlers. Josh Dziewa, Mike Kelly, Nick Moore, Mike Evans, and Bobby Telford will suit up in their familiar black and gold singlets for just a few more matches -- hopefully six more, to be precise. Can they finally lead Iowa to the national championship they were seemingly destined to bring home when they arrived at Iowa five years ago? To date, their success amounts to a handful of Big Ten dual meet championships, a pair of Midlands championships, and the shared Big Ten championship they won a few weeks ago. That's not much of a legacy for a class that came in with such high expectations and such promise. Ending things with a team national championship would be an effective way to rewrite the script for this class, though, and give them a triumphant ending. It's going to take some of the best wrestling of their respective careers for that to happen -- so let's hope that's what we see over the next few days.