Hawkeyes face unexpected challenges at 141 after dismissals

Andy Hamilton
From left, Iowa wrestlers Seth Gross, Ross Lembeck and Logan Ryan were all dismissed from the team in May after being given felony burglary charges. Gross and Lembeck's photos are provided by the Linn County Sheriff's Department. The county did not have a booking mug from Ryan on file. Lembeck pleaded to lesser charges of being an accessory to a felony and first-offense drunken driving.

If he prioritized Iowa wrestling's recruiting needs last spring, Tom Brands might have written 141 pounds at the bottom.

Topher Carton was developing into the program's most improved wrestler last offseason, Brands would later say. The Hawkeyes also had Jake Marlin in-house and Seth Gross and Logan Ryan on the way.

The quartet combined for a dozen state high school titles and authored a nice national resume. Gross was a three-time freestyle national champ. Marlin and Ryan were both multi-time All-Americans.

There was reason to think Brands wouldn't have to dip a full fist into his scholarship bank to invest in a 141-pounder for at least a couple years.

But Marlin left the program last spring and resurfaced at NIACC, where he was a junior college national finalist this past season.

And Brands announced Monday that Iowa had severed ties with Gross and Ryan — along with teammate Ross Lembeck — after the Linn County Attorney's office filed felony burglary charges against the three freshmen stemming from incidents first reported in March.

Now, Carton is the only one of the four still with the Hawkeyes, and the weight has suddenly become a recruiting focal point for a program coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA Championships.

The legal questions stemming from Monday's announcement aren't easily answered, but they've brought a series of wrestling-related dilemmas to the forefront.

Namely, can Carton, a rising junior from Davenport Assumption, handle the job on a full-time basis? Are there any other capable current in-house options?

If the answer to those two questions is no, will this be the first time in the Brands era that the Iowa coach calls on a true freshman to fill a starting spot?

Carton is the only returning wrestler on Iowa's roster who competed this past season in a 141-pound bout. He compiled a 12-4 record, but he wasn't regularly tested by a Big Ten-caliber schedule.

There was chatter late in the season that Brody Grothus, Carton's prep teammate, might cut down to 141 to challenge senior starter Josh Dziewa. But Grothus hasn't competed at or below 141 pounds since his sophomore year in high school, and all signs point to him moving up to 157 for his senior year with the Hawkeyes rather than cutting down.

Iowa's top two incoming recruits — at least according to InterMat — could factor into the immediate plans for the Hawkeyes. Though his long-term home is likely in the middle of Iowa's order, Michael Kemerer, the top-ranked high school 145-pounder in the country, might be able to handle the cut to 141 next season.

Vince Turk, a two-time Illinois state champ who finished the season eight spots behind Kemerer in the InterMat national rankings, is another possibility at the weight.