The Iowa wrestling lineup is taking shape for the 2015-16 season, but we know one athlete who won't be in the mix for the Hawkeyes:
We are excited to announce that Phillip Laux will be joining the #B1GCats. He wrestled at Iowa the last two seasons. pic.twitter.com/U4rT6NI2yn— NU Wrestling (@NU_Wrestle) August 14, 2015
Laux's departure was not expected, but it also isn't terribly surprising. Laux, a natural 125-lb. wrestler who has also filled in at 133 lbs for Iowa on occasion, is a solid wrestler -- he was a two-time state champion (at 103 lbs as a junior and 113 lbs as a senior) during his prep career at Iowa City West. He enjoyed some success in college, too -- he put together a 23-1 wrestler while wrestling unattached for Iowa during the 2013-14 season.
Unfortunately at Iowa, Laux was stuck behind two very accomplished wrestlers at 125 and 133 lbs, Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark. Clark is a two-time All-American (at 125 in 2013-14 and at 133 last season) and an NCAA runner-up last year. Gilman was an All-American a season ago (finishing 4th at the NCAA Tournament) and has recorded wins over several top guys at the weight. Laux wasn't going to beat out either guy for a starting job. Worse, Clark, Gilman, and Laux are all the same year of eligibility -- all three are slated to be juniors in 2015-16. Laux was going to spend his entire career as a backup at Iowa; viewed in that light, his decision to transfer to a school with a more available starting spot makes plenty of sense.
So what does this really change for Iowa? Probably not much. Laux's departure certainly hurts Iowa's depth; with him in the fold, Iowa had a wrestler who could fill in for Gilman and Clark if either was injured or needed a night off and perform credibly. Iowa is very dependent on Gilman and Clark staying healthy in 2015-16 now... but that was likely to be the case even if Laux had stayed. Iowa's national title aspirations are heavily tied to a healthy Gilman and Clark making deep runs at the NCAA Tournament. You never what could happen if someone gets a chance, but the odds of Laux being able to duplicate their results if he was thrust into the lineup for an extended period of time were not great. While he didn't exactly have a lot of opportunities to take on notable opponents during his two years at Iowa, he never recorded any wins of significance here and suffered a few shaky losses last year. Laux is a good wrestler (particularly at 125 instead of 133), but there hasn't been much to suggest that he could provide great results for Iowa -- and great results is what Iowa needs from 125 and 133 if they're going to have a real chance at bringing home Big Ten and NCAA titles.
Nor does Laux's departure change much for Iowa's future. Given that his eligibility was the the same as Gilman and Clark, he wasn't going to be able to replace them when they graduated in a few years. Iowa needed to address the future at 125/133 via recruiting before Laux announced his decision to transfer -- and they still need to address the future at those weights now that Laux is transferring away. (To be fair, Iowa does have some very good long term options at 125/133 in the fold in the form of highly regarded recruits Justin Meija and Jason Renteria, but they're both Class of 2017 recruits and won't even be on campus at Iowa until the 2017-18 season.)
Laux will have to sit out a year by transferring to Northwestern unless he has enough credits to graduate and is able to use the graduate transfer exception to move to Northwestern. That part is still a bit unclear, so we don't yet know whether we'll see Laux in black and purple when Iowa tussles with Northwestern in Evanston later this year. In any event, best of luck to Laux (except when he's facing an Iowa wrestler, of course). It didn't work out for him at Iowa, but that happens. There are only so many starting spots at Iowa and competition is fierce. Someone is going to lose out in those competitions.