Wrestling Mailbag: Expectations for Sam Stoll and Spencer Lee, Pat Downey and chasing Barry Davis’ record
A lot of people have been discussing Sam Stoll since he didn’t wrestle in Iowa’s 22-12 loss to Ohio State on Sunday. The takes have been hot, spanning the spectrum from ducking Kyle Snyder for seed protection to everything that’s limiting college wrestling’s overall growth.
Let’s settle down here for a second.
Here is what Iowa coach Tom Brands said afterward regarding the decision to sit Stoll and wrestle Steven Holloway against Snyder:
“Sam Stoll has a lot of wrestling left in front of him this year, and we want to make sure we're doing the right thing every week.”
This is Brands being cautious. Remember, Stoll has a history of injuries, having torn his ACL twice in 11 months. This isn’t the first time Brands has been careful, either — recall that Stoll also didn’t wrestle against Maryland earlier this season.
This is also the smart thing to do. Brands is thinking long-term (read: March). These Hawkeyes are among the handful of teams that will be in a fight for third place behind Ohio State and Penn State at both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, and they’ll need everybody fully healthy to give themselves the best chance.
If Stoll doesn’t have his injury history, he no doubt wrestles Snyder. There are other factors at play here, of course, but Brands ultimately wants his guys fully healthy for when he needs them the most. Stoll still wears a brace on his left knee when he competes.
Also, consider: Iowa trailed 17-12 and needed Stoll to pin a three-time world and Olympic champion to win the dual. No offense to Stoll, but Snyder ain’t Deuce Rachal. This was like when Bill Belichick pulled Tom Brady when the Patriots were getting housed by the Chiefs during their game early in the 2014 season. Don’t let a guy you need later in the year risk injury in a meaningless game early on.
This isn’t much different from when Brands held Cory Clark out of some duals last year because he was dealing with his injury. Clark didn’t go against South Dakota State, Iowa State and Ohio State, among others, meaning he didn’t wrestle Seth Gross, Earl Hall and Nathan Tomasello. I’m not going to dig back through Twitter, but I don’t recall there being much outrage then.
You could argue that wrestling Snyder would allow Stoll to learn a thing or two about wrestling incredibly athletic heavyweights. That’s fair, and something that would definitely help him down the road when he competes at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
But it seems silly to get mad over Stoll sitting Sunday. Brands is looking out for the health of a wrestler he needs in March. If that means holding him out of a dual in January, that’s what he’s going to do.
Now, then. Onto the the weekly Wrestling Twitter Mailbag. Big shoutout to Aaron Blau, who came up with some nicknames for what we could call this every week. I think we all enjoyed the last one, and you guys sent a bunch of fun questions in for this second one, which is awesome.
Please give me a follow on Twitter and I’ll keep you guys up to date on all things wrestling in the state of Iowa. Thank you again for your help here, and for reading.
Work Buddy Danny chiming in to kick things off, and after thinking this through for a day, the answer is probably both.
To start, Tomasello is a very good wrestler. Three-time All-American. Past NCAA champ. When you phrased it as “a veteran gets humbled by and learns and recovers from,” my first thought was true freshman Cory Clark beating Jesse Delgado. Delgado then beat Clark twice the next year. So there’s a very real chance Tomasello makes adjustments and beats Lee if they meet again.
At the same time, we can also safely say Lee is a star at the NCAA level. Here’s who he’s beaten the last three weeks: No. 17 Travis Piotrowski (by tech), No. 10 Sean Russell (by tech), Rayvon Foley, who’s now 20-6 and won the 2017 Junior Greco national title, No. 8 Nick Piccininni and now Tomasello, who was No. 1 and is now No. 4, per Trackwrestling. (Lee is No. 3.)
Lee could work on getting to his attacks on his feet. He got in on some shots against Tomasello but couldn’t finish. That was something he admitted after Sunday’s dual. He said it was the first time he could remember winning a match without scoring a takedown. He got out from bottom real quick, displayed stellar defense on his feet and put a mean, mean ride on Tomasello in the second period.
So, yeah. Both. Tomasello will no doubt be a better wrestler when he faces Lee next, and so will Lee. Both of them are national title threats in a weight were many guys could make a run and win it. The 125-pound brackets at both Big Tens and NCAAs are going to be so much fun.
So I see you guys are interested in Pat Downey.
Here’s what I know: He is listed in the Iowa student directory as a graduate student. He’s tweeted out both his Iowa State degree and his Iowa graduate school acceptance letter. He’s been at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Iowa’s home duals. Brands has confirmed they are recruiting him.
Past that, I don’t know when we’ll see him in an Iowa singlet. He isn’t even officially on the roster as of this writing. At this point, methinks it’s a matter of when, not if, so be patient.
So this is intriguing. If Downey comes through and ends up as the guy at 184, I absolutely think Mitch Bowman could and should drop to 174. He’s actually listed there on the official roster online, and wrestled 174 during his redshirt freshman season in 2015-16, going 10-5.
(Also interesting, he lost to Northern Iowa’s Taylor Lujan twice that year, both by an 8-6 score. Lujan is an All-American contender at 174 this season.)
Bowman has been good this year. He’s 9-5 with some solid wins and some not-very-bad losses. He got majored by Myles Martin on Sunday, but battled and scored some takedowns in the later part of the match. He broke into Track’s rankings at 184 this week, at No. 25.
Maybe he surprises us and beats Downey in a wrestle-off, or maybe Downey doesn’t come through at all and Bowman stays at 184. As I wrote last week, things could get interesting with Downey’s addition looming.
I do think that’s something to consider, though. Joey Gunther has been good this year, at 11-3 overall, but maybe doesn’t have any super fantastic wins. He also didn’t wrestle against Ohio State, as Brands gave Kaleb Young the nod there.
Which brings us to the next question …
Shout out to Mark for submitting this one before the dual on Sunday.
So Young wrestled Bo Jordan and lost 10-5 but picked up a third-period takedown. Considering Alex Marinelli appears entrenched at 165 for the foreseeable future, Young should definitely bulk up and try for 174. He could always come back down should something happen to Marinelli.
I especially like the way Mark phrased this — “another option” — because Young wrestling on Sunday instead of Gunther tells me Brands might be open to the idea of trying out more options at 174. This will be something to monitor over the next few weeks.
I know I’ve been writing that Iowa is definitely in the NCAA trophy conversation and that they have a chance to take third, so I’ll use this question to explain what I mean when I say that. Buckle up.
Using Track’s latest Division I poll, I’m putting Ohio State and Penn State at the top because of who they have in their respective lineups. The Buckeyes have eight guys ranked in the top eight at their respective weights and the other two are in the top 15. The Nittany Lions have eight in the top eight — including four No. 1’s — and a ninth guy ranked in the top 25.
So that leaves a handful of teams who are vying for those third- and fourth-place trophies. I figure they’re Iowa, North Carolina State, Missouri, Michigan, Oklahoma State and Lehigh.
Using the same logic, Iowa and Missouri both have six guys in the top eight, North Carolina State has five, Oklahoma State has five and another two in the top 12, Michigan has four and another three in the top 12, and Lehigh has four and another one in the top 12.
There’s a lot more math that can be done to figure out specific points and how they’ll be scored and all that jazz, but if six Hawkeyes end the season as All-Americans, they’ll give themselves a chance at a trophy. (If Downey comes through, that could jump to seven.)
After that, they need to wrestle to their seeds or better — currently, that’d be Brandon Sorensen and Michael Kemerer to the finals, Lee and Stoll both third, Marinelli seventh, Cash Wilcke fifth — and the other guys need to score any points at all to help the cause.
I think the lineup as it stands right now is good enough to win a trophy, and that’s before adding Downey. They just need to execute in March.
Until proven otherwise, I’d say Marinelli has a great chance against everybody at 165. I think the top two guys — Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph and Illinois’s Isaiah Martinez — might be tougher than the rest of the field, but Marinelli hasn’t shown me any reason to think he couldn’t get third.
Wilcke is a little harder to gauge. He’s beaten the guys he should beat — like Princeton’s Pat Brucki and Penn’s Frank Mattiace — but he’s also lost decisively to guys who are ahead of him, like Oklahoma State’s Preston Weigel and and Ohio State’s Kollin Moore. I think he’s a firm All-American contender — Track currently has him at 5th at 197 — but he’s a guy who could finish anywhere from fourth with the right draw to losing in the round of 12 with the wrong one.
As for others who could make moves, I think Bowman will show us a lot here the next couple of weeks, assuming Downey stays on the shelf during that time. This week, he’ll get Michigan’s Domenic Abounader, who’s ranked fifth. Next week, he’ll get Northwestern’s Mitch Sliga, who’s ranked 24th. I could see Bowman breaking into the top 20 if he continues to wrestle well.
The other spot to watch, I think, is 141, specifically Carter Happel if he ends up winning the spot. That’s not to say he could rise to All-American contender overnight, considering how deep 141 is — Ohio State’s Joey McKenna, who beat Happel on Sunday, is ranked 11th — but he’s a guy that could position himself to pick up a win or two at the NCAAs if he keeps improving.
Fair question. For the time being, concerned is probably the right word here. The biggest need, hands down, is 133. They’re bringing in a lightweight in Cam Shaver out of Cedar Rapids Kennedy, who’s wrestling 126, but he’s not exactly a super star-type recruit.
Anthony Cassioppi does fill a future void at heavyweight. He’ll come in next year, during Stoll’s senior season, and likely redshirt. Once Stoll graduates, you’d think Cassioppi can just slide in as the replacement. Hit a home run with that recruit, methinks.
As for the other two guys — Nelson Brands and Joe Kelly, both projecting around 157/165 — I’ve struggled to figure out where and when they’ll enter the lineup. You’d think whoever wins that wrestle-off at 157 can contend for the starting spot there once Kemerer leaves. Their redshirt year will be Kemerer’s junior year, so they’ll be sophomores by the time they get that chance.
I will say wrestling recruiting is a fluid process. Things can change quickly, and if they do, you guys will know when I know.
This is a fun thought. Barry Davis had 162 career wins between 1981-85. That averages out to 40.5 wins per year, which is a tall order.
I don’t think anybody on the current roster is going to catch it. The closest is Sorensen, who began the year with 100 career victories and has since added another 15. The most wins he’s ever had in a season is 40, so matching that this year would put him at 140, which is 22 shy. Kemerer had 33 wins last year, but multiplying that out over four years only adds up to 132.
So how do you get to 41 wins a year? More tournaments need to be added to the schedule, for one, or the starters need to go to more tournaments like the Lindenwood Open or the Daktronics Open, among others. Those are good for another four or five matches in a day.
In 1981-82, Davis won 46 matches, which remains the program’s single-season record. That year, Iowa went to the Minnesota Invite, the Northern Open, the Northern Iowa Open, the Midlands, Big Tens and NCAAs in addition to 17 duals. I’m not sure what all Davis did and didn’t go to, but that’s a lot of opportunities for matches.
Unless a wrestler made an effort to specifically chase that career record, I think it’ll stand for a long, long time, maybe forever.
Couple of things. First, the overall resilience. Iowa State lost four of the first six weights, including two winnable matches at 133 and 141. That was an impressive second-period ride from Ian Parker against a tough guy, and Kanen Storr looked solid after surrendering that first takedown. I figured the Cyclones would win both of those and ultimately lead at the break.
But then they both lost in overtime, which was something that plagued Iowa State during the early part of the season when it lost its first four duals. Jarrett Degen and Chase Straw righted the ship, but even watching Straw win 13-6, I thought that was a missed bonus-point opportunity.
Then Logan Breitenbach got pinned in the first period and the Cyclones were down 17-7. I ended up writing this in the game story, but at this point, they would’ve unraveled and ultimately folded if this dual happened a month ago.
But Danny Bush bounced right back and got a pin. Dane Pestano got a solid win at 184. Sam Colbray got arguably his most impressive win of the season in an overtime win over a ranked Jacob Smith. Marcus Harrington closes the dual with a first-period pin. Unfazed and fueled by the crowd. It was impressive.
Most will argue that Parker and Storr both should’ve won and Iowa State should’ve rolled through the Mountaineers, and they’re right, but part of growing as a young team is learning to beat the bad teams even when some of your big guns are having an off day.
I recall Joel Lanning’s quote after the Liberty Bowl, talking about how coach Matt Campbell wanted David Montgomery’s fourth-quarter touchdown to be reversed to a fumble on video review, that fits really well here: “Coach was out there preaching to us in the defensive huddle that this is what we wanted — to show people that we learned from what we’ve been through.”
Iowa State is learning and growing. Sunday’s dual against West Virginia may be a turning point they look back to in a few years when the Cyclones crack back into that top-12, top-10 echelon.
Also, how about Sam Colbray? Smith was ranked 19th at the time. Colbray may have lucked into a locked-hands call, but give him credit for pushing the pace and forcing the stall calls. Give him credit, also, for that big third-period takedown. Perhaps that could be the win that propels him forward.
Fun question. Intermat projects Francis Duggan at heavyweight — he wrestled 220 over the summer at the Junior Freestyle national championships, placing third for the second year in a row, and he plans on wrestling both 220 and 285 this season for Iowa City West. But I think he has the body to make a mean 197-pounder, if he chooses.
Regardless of where he ends up, Duggan’s athleticism will serve him well and help him make an impact. He moves really well in space, and I was impressed with his ability to consistently get to the legs in the finals on Saturday against Dowling’s Greg Hagan. He scored seven takedowns against a guy that was 29-0 at the time.
Now, as Colbray has shown, the transition from high school to college isn’t always seamless. Colbray actually won Duggan’s weight at Junior Nationals two years ago, and he’s limping through his redshirt freshman year now. It’s hard to judge when or if a guy can make an immediate impact at the college level.
But I do think Duggan has the ability to be a really good college wrestler.
I’ll call this question halfway impossible, because like I said, it is so hard to judge how a wrestler transitions from high school to college. Both of these guys are among the nation’s best, so you assume they’re going to have fruitful collegiate careers. But people thought that about John Meeks, too, and he really struggled during his Iowa State career.
I will say this, though. I think how they use their respective redshirt seasons will be crucial to how both of these guys ultimately pan out. I have no reason to doubt they will both be multi-time All-Americans. I believe both can win an NCAA title by the time they graduate.
For those saying Brody Teske has the edge because he’s going to Penn State, I’ll counter by adding that guys like Jordan Burroughs and James Green, among others, will be in that Nebraska room with Alex Thomsen. They’re both going to where they believe they will succeed.
But here’s a fun thought: What if they ultimately meet each other in the NCAA finals as seniors? Who wins that one?
(If that match is anything like their two this season, wrestling fans everywhere would be the real winners.)
Downey, if you’re reading this, Mr. Bigsby would like a word with you.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.