The Iowa coach needs to get bonus points, for starters.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa’s wrestling season opens its home schedule Friday.
As usual, head coach Tom Brands is more concerned with how his team will look a few months in the future.
“It’s important to realize that November doesn’t mean anything and December doesn’t either,” Brands said Tuesday. “Really, every time out you’re trying to prove yourself. That’s the nature of competition.”
Those are understandable expectations for a 23-time national championship program with three returning NCAA finalists and two more returning all-Americans.
Big Ten and NCAA contention will likely require better finishes than last season at almost every weight class. Ahead of Iowa Central and Cornell College visiting Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Friday morning’s Iowa City Duals, let’s run down Iowa’s likely lineups for the 2016-17 season.
125 pounds: It must be nice to have the nation’s top-ranked wrestler leadoff your lineup. Thomas Gilman is back after a runner-up finish and 28-2 record as a junior. He’s embraced higher expectations and held on to his high-energy attitude.
“The reps we go through with (strength) coach (Travis) Rutt, the drills we go through with the rest of the coaching staff, being there with Dan Dennis step-by-step getting him ready for Rio,” Gilman said at Iowa’s media day. “All of that is motivating … all those little things are reasons to be confident.”
The opportunity to equal former 125-pound champ Matt McDonough’s marks from 2010 and 2012 exists. And Brands anticipates Gilman’s leadership can get even better.
“The locker room is his,” Brands said. “That’s a full partnership in what we’re doing.”
Backup options include sophomore Perez Perez and local junior Phillip Laux. True freshman Jack Wagner from Bettendorf starts a long list of likely redshirts.
133 pounds: Like Gilman at 125, Cory Clark is locked in as a national title contender at 133. The senior from Southeast Polk has recorded back-to-back runner-up finishes and is keen to end on top.
“I’ve got to get myself to where I can wrestle right away in the practice room,” Clark said. “Once I do that over and over and over and over, that’s when I can do it in a match consistently.”
He’ll go until he can’t anymore with reserves including redshirt freshman Paul Glynn and true freshman Brock Rathbun.
141 pounds: It appears Topher Carton will again be the next man up. The senior from Davenport Assumption was called into duty late last season and finished 10-5, two seasons after wrestling 30 matches as a redshirt freshman. Vince Turk had been on the fringes of national ratings, but suffered an injury at last weekend’s Luther Open that will likely keep him sidelined.
“As I’ve grown and matured in the sport, I’ve learned that just because you have something — have ‘the spot’ — that doesn’t mean it’s yours,” Carton said. “The fans like points. The fans like wins. You’ve got to go out and perform.”
Redshirt freshmen Jeren Glosser and Aaron Meyer are next in line before a litany of talented rookies, including four-time Iowa state champ Carter Happel.
149 pounds: Brandon Sorensen is back. The tough junior from Denver-Tripoli has finished fourth and second at the NCAA Championships and plans to join Gilman and Clark atop some podiums in March. Sorensen went 17-0 in duals last season and both his losses came to eventual NCAA champ Zain Retherford of Penn State.
“I want every match to be a tech or a pin,” Sorensen said. “If it’s a really tough guy, maybe a major. I don’t like close matches and I don’t think anyone does, so I’m working to make sure they don’t happen.”
Sorensen has been durable and he’ll need to be with a young supporting cast waiting in the wings. Redshirt freshman Keegan Shaw is next on the sheet, but 149 could be a flexible spot if injuries arise.
157 pounds: It certainly helped Hawkeye recruiting that Michael Kemerer came from the same Pennsylvania high school as mega-prospect Spencer Lee, but the redshirt freshman is an excellent wrestler in his own right. Kemerer has been waiting for his opportunity after winning a UWW Junior national title and going 24-2 unattached last season.
Iowa boys Logan McQuillen and Logan Ryan are the experienced reserves. True freshman Kaleb Young will redshirt here, but is an important continuation of that Pennsylvania pipeline.
165 pounds: For now, this is Joey Gunther’s job. But maybe the most interesting weight on Iowa’s roster could be a battle soon. Sophomore Skyler St. John was in contention for the spot before a knee injury, and Gunther has held off a deep field including Joel Northrup, Jeremiah Moody and Faraan Brantley.
“I like Joey Gunther,” Brands said. “We’re looking for guys that are going to go out and assert themselves and do what they do best and continue to get better, and it looks like he’s headed that way.”
But Iowa fans will be openly anticipating the debut of Alex Marinelli. The four-time state champion from Ohio is the early standout of this freshmen class and will likely gauge his availability around the Midlands Championships in late December.
“I don’t think it’s been that hard yet,” Marinelli said. “The hardest thing has been waking up for morning workouts. I just love to wrestle. Why wouldn’t you want to come in here and get better every day?”
174 pounds: Alex Meyer went on a run to reach all-American status last season and has shown flashes of elite competitiveness with his 63-15 career record. From the same Southeast Polk class as Clark, Meyer has one last chance to prove he can climb the podium, and Track Wrestling has him rated No. 5 to start the season. It’s a similar supporting cast to 165; Joey Gunther and Burke Paddock could fit here.
184 pounds: Back after a Big Ten title and eight-place NCAA finish is senior Sammy Brooks. The Illinois native capped his best season yet with a 27-6 record and memorable mullet. The wild haircut is gone (for now), but Brooks and Iowa plan on an improved push in March.
Health will be key in a brutal weight class as Brooks’ backup is likely the odd man out at 197.
197 pounds: If any weight is still up in the air for Iowa, it’s this one, with Cash Wilcke ready to catch it. The redshirt freshman from OA-BCIG is competing with sophomore Mitch Bowman from North Scott for the gig, with Wilcke winning head-to-head inside Iowa’s wrestling room and in a 3-2 final at the Luther Open.
“They have to sort things out themselves,” Brands said. “The thing I liked about Wilcke this (Luther) match better is that he went to his attacks more often.”
Bowman went 10-5 last season, but did not compete in any Big Ten events. Wilcke was 13-3 while unattached at 184 in his redshirt year. And both could be fighting off the current heavyweight starter later in the season.
“It’s a big deal, but when I go out there and wrestle I’m not thinking about just trying to win a spot,” Wilcke said. “I’m trying to get better and beat higher-caliber guys.”
285 pounds: Last season started out so promisingly for Sam Stoll, but a knee injury ruined his plans in March and he’s still recovering. His return date is still to be determined, and redshirt freshman Steven Holloway will fill in until then.
“There’s a hurry in that I want to get out and compete,” Stoll said. “But I also have to do what’s right for me, what’s right for my health. I don’t want to come back too soon and not be ready to go.
“I’m on track and probably ahead of the curve.”
Holloway went 16-6 unattached last season and should start shedding weight once Stoll returns. Brands would like the former Mediapolis prep to be flexible between 197 and heavyweight, though he’s the expected starter for the latter on Friday.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Jacob Woodard (149) and Burke Paddock (165) are no longer on the roster, as previously stated.