Wrestling Mailbag: Nick Suriano, Iowa's starting lineup, recruiting, Drake Ayala, and more
Welcome back to the Wrestling Mailbag, our weekly space to nerd out about wrestling stuff here in Iowa, across the country and even around the world. It’s a place to share thoughts and keep the ongoing wrestling conversation going throughout the season.
Today, I’m thinking about Nick Suriano.
Suriano announced Sunday that he’s headed to Michigan to finish his collegiate career. The former Rutgers wrestler had talked with Penn State, Ohio State and even Iowa State as potential landing spots. He settled on the Wolverines, and this season just got a whole lot more fun.
His addition means Michigan is now a bona fide NCAA trophy contender, and perhaps even in the mix to win the whole thing (though that’s where this thing gets interesting). Michigan’s lineup could look like this come January:
- 125: Nick Suriano
- 133: Dylan Ragusin
- 141: Stevan Micic
- 149: Kanen Storr
- 157: Will Lewan
- 165: Cam Amine
- 174: Max Maylor
- 184: Myles Amine
- 197: Pat Brucki
- 285: Mason Parris
Pretty salty. That's three NCAA finalists (Suriano, Micic and Parris) and three more All-Americans in Cam, Myles and Brucki.
But then, here’s what Iowa’s lineup should look like come the big competitions:
- 125: Spencer Lee
- 133: Austin DeSanto
- 141: Jaydin Eierman
- 149: Max Murin
- 157: Kaleb Young
- 165: Alex Marinelli
- 174: Michael Kemerer
- 184: Abe Assad/Myles Wilson
- 197: Jacob Warner
- 285: Tony Cassioppi
And here’s what Penn State might look like:
- 125: Drew Hildebrandt
- 133: Roman Bravo-Young
- 141: Nick Lee
- 149: Beau Bartlett
- 157: Terrell Barraclough
- 165: Creighton Edsall/Alex Facundo
- 174: Carter Starocci
- 184: Aaron Brooks
- 197: Max Dean
- 285: Greg Kerkvliet
Both of those lineups are pretty mean, too.
You can see where we’re going with this, that a two-team race may have expanded into a three-team race. And that’s before including other heavy hitters like Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Mizzou, plus the other individuals from NC State, Virginia Tech, Cornell, Ohio State, Minnesota and Nebraska who will thicken the plot.
It’s been presumed that Suriano will wrestle 125 pounds. He reached the NCAA finals at that weight in 2018, and lost to Spencer Lee. The next year, he bumped up to 133 and won it over Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix. Nobody has ever won an NCAA title at one weight, then dropped down to a lower weight and won another.
No one is exactly sure how this will all play out. Maybe he does go 125 and scores big points for Michigan. Maybe he goes 133 and again scores big points. Maybe he doesn’t score a ton of points at all (though that’s probably unlikely).
Maybe — and this is an interesting thing to ponder — his addition will convince Logan Massa to come back at 174 for Michigan. That’d be another All-American in the lineup for the Wolverines. How’s that for a twist? To add to it, Michigan is technically the host school for this season’s NCAA Championships, which will be in Detroit.
These are just some of the thoughts that ran through my head when I saw Suriano’s post on Sunday afternoon. Buckle up, you guys. The Big Ten, and the ’21-22 college season, just got a whole lot more interesting and fun.
Now, then. On to the Wrestling Mailbag. I enjoyed this line from Army West Point head coach Kevin Ward: “When you learn to run toward a challenge and meet it head on, you can start to grow.” He tweeted that Sunday after Iowa beat Army, 36-7.
Please give me a follow on Twitter and I’ll keep you up to date on all things wrestling in Iowa. Don't forget to tune into the Register's wrestling podcast, In the Room, each week. You can find the latest episodes below.
Thanks for your help here, and for reading.
More Michigan, Suriano, Spencer Lee
That would be something, wouldn't it?
That's the obvious tie-in here that I only briefly mentioned up top — that if Suriano decides to truly take on this vision quest-like pursuit and win a title at 125 pounds, he'd presumably would have to go through Spencer Lee to do it.
That would be fun, and combine that with Spencer taking aim at a fourth NCAA title this season, that likely means that'd be arguably the biggest talking point at the NCAA Championships come March.
(It would also mean that, if the final at 125 ends up being Spencer vs. Suriano, they'd be the last to go in the finals order again, which, well, I'm not exactly a fan of, but nobody cares what I think.)
The other thought is that we could see a Spencer-Suriano matchup at the Big Ten Championships, too. Maybe. In 2018, Suriano was the top seed and medically forfeited out once he reached the semifinals. That dropped him to the 4-seed at the national tournament. Spencer lost to Nathan Tomasello in the Big Ten semifinals that year, took third, became the 3-seed, and we all know what happened that week in Cleveland.
It would be a fun cap to Spencer's legendary career if he 1) won a fourth title, and 2) won his fourth by beating Suriano again. Suriano would also become an instant legend if he beat Spencer and helped Michigan to its first-ever NCAA team title in the process. The Wolverines have taken second five times, most recently in 2005.
I wouldn't expect to see Suriano until January, but like I said at the top, his decision to wrestle at Michigan just made this season a whole lot more interesting.
► WRESTLING COVERAGE FROM THE DES MOINES REGISTER
- Here's why Iowa wrestled Army, not Oregon State, on Sunday afternoon
- Iowa State sweeps Army and California Baptist on Saturday in Ames
- How Mark Ironside is helping Iowa Hawkeye wrestlers with NIL
- Meet Clarissa Chun, the newly-hired Iowa women's wrestling head coach
Timeline for Iowa's full starting lineup
I'd like to think we'll see them for a handful of the bigger duals — Minnesota on Jan. 7, Ohio State on Jan. 21, Penn State on Jan. 28, Oklahoma State on Feb. 12, Nebraska on Feb. 20.
Heck, down in Florida, the Hawkeyes could see either Mizzou or NC State, and might need all their firepower to top either of those teams.
Those are the first opportunities that come to mind. We may not see the full A-Team compete all together until the Big Ten Championships. You guys should honestly prepare yourselves for that.
Because that's when this season really matters most. That's a terrible thing to say, especially for someone who loves this sport and wants to see it flourish, but the sport's biggest rewards are in March, so Iowa coach Tom Brands is going to do whatever it takes to make sure his top guys are as ready to go as can be come March.
We've seen some backups wrestle in Iowa's first two duals, like Jesse Ybarra, Cobe Siebrecht, Nelson Brands and Zach Glazier. We may continue to see them in spurts throughout the season. Prepare yourselves for that, too. Tom Brands obviously trusts them to go out and compete, and that's good for the program, long-term.
With the Cy-Hawk dual up next this Sunday, we may see a few more of Iowa's bigger guns in the lineup. I think there's an outside shot Lee makes his season debut this weekend. Warner should return. Maybe we see Abe Assad, too. A lot of options are available.
Buckle up and enjoy the ride, is what I'm saying. I get that it's frustrating that you don't always see the A-Team each time out, but I think you'll appreciate the strategy being employed come March, when the season matters the most.
Iowa wrestling's recent recruiting classes
This is an interesting topic that I was actually talking about the other day to a few different people.
I think Iowa will be fine moving forward, just based on who's already in the room and who they have joining the program in future seasons.
I think Iowa will also take a natural step backward after this season.
The Hawkeyes are losing a lot of firepower after this season, since guys like Spencer, DeSanto, Eierman, Kaleb Young, Alex Marinelli and Kemerer are all out of eligibility. That's three titles, two more finals appearances and a combined 16 All-American finishes. That's a lot to replace.
But they'll have a strong core next season with Siebrecht, Max Murin, Nelson Brands, Abe Assad, Myles Wilson, Jacob Warner and Tony Cassioppi all back. There will also be exciting new faces in the lineup, like Ybarra, Drake Ayala, Wyatt Henson, Cullan Schriever and Patrick Kennedy all looking to take a step forward, too.
It's not going to be as easy as plug-and-go. Ybarra and Ayala won't just step in and be Spencer. Schriever won't just step in and be DeSanto. The outlier here might be Kennedy, who looks ready to contend this season if anything happens to Marinelli (knock on wood).
Those are the guys already in the room. Now look at who's coming in:
Iowa's 2022 recruiting class is headlined by Aiden Riggins, Kolby Franklin, Bradley Hill, Mickey Griffith, Joel Jesuroga, Drake Rhodes and Easton Fleshman, among others. They'll all likely take a year to redshirt, then begin to battle for lineup spots.
Then there's Iowa's 2023 recruiting class, headlined by Nate Jesuroga, Ben Kueter and Ryder Block. The Hawkeyes are still active on the recruiting trail in this class, too, and it could easily end up as one of the nation's best.
You asked about Penn State and Ohio State. They are intriguing on a few different levels.
Penn State is interesting because I'm not sure how many of their guys from this year's team will stick around. Roman Bravo-Young has already said this is his last year. Nick Lee won't have any more eligibility after this season. Greg Kerkvliet is bound for an MMA career, and who knows if he'll stick around to wrestle once he pursues that.
But the Nittany Lions also have guys like Beau Bartlett, Starocci and Brooks all presumably sticking around, plus current freshmen in Facundo and Shayne Van Ness ready to roll. They likely aren't going anywhere.
Ohio State still has a pretty solid team this season, and could be a trophy team with a strong performance in March. They're also adding the top three overall 2022 recruits, according to our buddy Willie Saylor's Senior Big Board. That's Jesse Mendez, Nic Bouzakis and Nick Feldman. They aren't going anywhere, either.
I think Iowa will stay in trophy contention in the years ahead, and even create a team that could contend for more titles in the future. You're probably looking at these three teams as the front-runners for the next 5-7 years.
Iowa freshmen Drake Ayala and Wyatt Henson
We have some questions …
… about the freshmen.
I did not get to see either of them compete this past weekend at the Harold Nichols Cyclone Open in Ames, but the results looked great. Ayala went 3-0 with two pins and a 16-8 major decision over Iowa State's Conor Knopick in the finals at 125. Henson went 3-0 and won at 141, highlighted by a 32-16 technical fall over Wisconsin's Jack Severin in the first round (he scored 14 total takedowns).
Henson also wrestled at the Luther Open (went 4-0 and outscored his opponents 91-33) and the Lindenwood Open (went 5-0 with two pins and outscored his opponents 33-9). He beat Oklahoma State's Teague Travis, 2-1, in the Lindenwood finals.
Those are encouraging results, but I think my biggest issue is that at all three stops, they've competed in the freshman/sophomore divisions rather than the true open competitions. I'd much rather see them compete in the true opens because that heightens the odds that they'll get truly tested and then we might learn a thing or two.
Both of Ayala's pins in Ames this past weekend were against former Iowa high school wrestlers. He outscored them both 14-3 before the falls. What did we really learn from those? It wasn't until his finals match against Knopick that I became super interested in how he'd compete (and he did well, scoring eight takedowns).
The UNI Open next weekend normally has some sneaky good competition. Hopefully we'll learn a little bit more about these guys once they compete in Cedar Falls.
Enjoying the Iowa wrestling experience
Anybody who wants to watch and enjoy and understand why we love wrestling so much is more than welcome to reach out to me and we can figure something out. It doesn't have to be an Iowa wrestling dual, either. It can be Iowa State, Northern Iowa, a random Big Ten dual, the Midlands Championships, even high school wrestling, too.
In all of my years of being in and around this sport, I've never introduced somebody to wrestling and had them not at least understand why we're all fanatical about it. Normally, they see the fun and beauty of it — the action, the atmosphere, everything. Kenny can confirm as much from Sunday's dual between Iowa and Army West Point.
Kenny wasn't a total newbie to wrestling. He had covered some high school wrestling in South Carolina before coming to Iowa to cover the Hawkeyes, so he had an idea of what was going on, but I made sure to have him sit next to me and pepper me with questions whenever he had any. He had a few, like why the crowd wanted stalling and why certain situations result in points while others did not, and a few more like that.
I'm glad he had a great time, and I'm going to do my best to get him back for the Iowa-Penn State dual in January, and maybe even talk him into driving to Des Moines for the state championships at Wells Fargo Arena in February. Those will really give him a full introduction to wrestling in the state of Iowa.
And I'll extend that same invitation to anybody else who is interested. Come learn about this sport with us and see why we love it so much. You can ask me questions and pick my brain about whatever comes to mind. I'll do my best to make sure you get a front-row seat to the best action available. Give me a shout. We'll make it happen.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.