Leistikow: Sizing up Hawkeyes' readiness for wrestling's all-important postseason
AMES, Ia. — Iowa wrestling’s regular season is complete, Sunday’s 35-6 throttling of Iowa State in the books.
The Hawkeyes registered 21 takedowns to Iowa State’s one.
They lost one match, and that was by forfeit because regular 197-pounder Cash Wilcke (flu) didn’t travel and substitute Steven Holloway was nursing an injury.
This was even a bigger mismatch than most expected, even as the Cyclones endure a complete rebuild from the Kevin Jackson era. As Iowa State coach Kevin Dresser walked off the Hilton Coliseum floor Sunday, he reassured a nearby fan: “We’ll get there.”
Iowa remains the king of the state, by a mile. This was Iowa’s 14th straight dual win in the series. Whether that streak stops in the near future remains to be seen.
But on Sunday, the visiting Hawkeye fans among the 8,861 in attendance certainly had the only stuff to cheer about.
And as send-offs into the postseason go for Iowa, this was pretty encouraging.
Though 12th-year coach Tom Brands always targets areas of improvement in his post-match press conferences, he admitted after going 9-for-9 in contested matches: “Our guys went out ready to go, for the most part. Felt good about it.”
Now, the postseason.
“That’s what we’re about," Brands said.
In two weekends, it’ll be the Big Ten Championships in East Lansing, Michigan.
That’s where Iowa’s stud wrestlers will be jockeying for seeding for the March 15-17 NCAA Championships in Cleveland, where this season will be measured.
How tall will the Hawkeyes stand?
I left Sunday’s dual more encouraged about some guys, a little more concerned about others. Let’s run through the lineup quickly, which seems all but set for the postseason even though Brands said it could change at 141 or 174.
True freshman Spencer Lee capped a 14-1 regular season with his fastest pin of the season, in 40 seconds. Of anyone in Iowa’s lineup, I’d give him the best chance to claim a national title. He’s explosive, confident — just 12 months removed from tearing his ACL as a high school senior. “I wish I didn’t have to wear the brace anymore,” Lee said, “… but feel great."
The comeback of the day goes to Paul Glynn, the sophomore from Bettendorf who rallied a 7-0 deficit to beat Iowa State’s Markus Simmons, a 21-match winner, 8-7. Glynn will take an 8-9 record into the Big Tens. “He finished,” Brands said. “Didn’t really get rattled.” Iowa needs him to keep building and earn an NCAA bid, maybe even win a match.
Sophomore Vince Turk may have secured this postseason lineup spot from freshman Carter Happel with a 13-5 major decision against Iowa State’s lone ranked wrestler, No. 15 Ian Parker. "Just working on a lot of stuff, Terry (Brands) and Tom and (Ryan) Morningstar have been working on with me," Turk said. "Doing that in the match is a good feeling." Max Murin (redshirting) is the likely guy for Iowa at 141 next year, but for now, any points at this weight would be a bonus.
149 and 157
I’ll lump Brandon Sorensen and Michael Kemerer together here. Both No. 2-ranked national guys need to pick up the pace if they want to reach the NCAA finals. Each settled for decisions Sunday; Sorensen missed some opportunities to score, and Kemerer started too slowly.
Alex Marinelli capped a tremendous redshirt freshman season with a 14-0 record, his 52-second pin of former teammate Skyler St. John coming on the heels of last week's upset of then-No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State.
Despite that bulky left knee brace, Marinelli has proven to be a physical force that should be fun to watch for years to come. He will have a tough time winning it all, with two-time NCAA champ Isaiah Martinez now at the top of this class, but he'll certainly bring the fight.
Does this spot belong to sophomore Joey Gunther or freshman Kaleb Young? Gunther got the platoon nod Sunday and worked a 4-0 win of Danny Bush. Reading between the lines on Brands’ quotes Sunday, it’s probably Gunther, who has a 13-4 record. Any NCAA points at this weight would be welcomed.
184 and 197
Two guys that have been sliding need to reverse course. Junior Mitch Bowman, who had lost four of five and fallen out of the rankings, emerged a 3-2 winner Sunday against Iowa State’s Dane Pestano. Wilcke, though ranked No. 8 and 15-4, has won only two bouts since the first week of January. If neither guy can do much in the postseason, Iowa runs the risk of little production at as many as five weights.
Sam Stoll improved to 16-2 win a solid 14-4 major decision Sunday against Marcus Harrington. The junior has a shot for a top-four NCAA finish.
“We want to put our entire 10, weight-class lineup into the category of Lee, Marinelli, Kemerer, Sorensen, Stoll,” Brands said afterward, as he fielded multiple questions about his team’s readiness for the postseason. “That’s what we want to do. We want to keep bringing them along, and put them in that category.”
Now, about expectations.
Some Iowa fans won't be happy unless the Hawkeyes finish first wherever they go.
Considering they’ve gone from ninth in Trackwrestling’s preseason rankings to third, they’re well-positioned for a trophy finish (top four) in Cleveland in four Saturdays.
If they’re going to make a run, Sunday in Ames certainly was as good a statement as any they’re ready for it.
“We’ve got Big Tens (next), big things ahead of us,” Marinelli said. “We just had to get done with this dual meet. It’s in the past now.
“As a team, we know we can go in there and get the job done. With Spencer, Kemerer, Sorensen, me, Stoll … Wilcke, Bowman. We’ve got a lot of guys that can step up to the plate right now.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.