After two knee surgeries, Hawkeye heavyweight Sam Stoll 'back to his old form'

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa’s wrestling lineup could look a lot different in two months.

Freshman phenom Spencer Lee is a possibility at 125 pounds; Alex Marinelli will make his varsity debut at some point at 165; and the potential of all-American Pat Downey coming aboard as a second-semester graduate transfer at 184 remains an unknown but tantalizing carrot.

But the guy who tore up his knee twice in 11 months? He’s in the lineup from the get-go.

Junior heavyweight Sam Stoll said he’s feeling as good as ever and will be on the mat when the Hawkeyes officially open the season with Friday’s Iowa City Duals at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa heavyweight Sam Stoll was 20-2 as a redshirt freshman before the first of his two knee-ligament tears; he returns more than 18 months later feeling as good as he did then.

“It’s not even about whether he’s ready or how his rehab is going. It’s time to go,” 12th-year coach Tom Brands said. “What have we seen from him? He’s a guy that’s back to his old form. He can hand-fight with the best of them.”

Stoll arrived to Iowa from Kasson, Minnesota, as one of the top high school heavyweights in the country and took the lineup baton from three-time all-American Bobby Telford.

He got off to a fast start in 2015-16 and owned a 20-2 record and No. 7 national ranking — not shabby for a redshirt freshman — until his left knee buckled in the national duals against North Carolina State two-time NCAA champ Nick Gwiazdowski.

He gutted out an eighth-place finish at the Big Ten tournament, then had surgery (and went through rehab) before returning to the mat last winter ... only to have the same thing happen to the same knee, this time against Oklahoma State’s Austin Schafer on Jan. 15.

“He was in on a shot on the right leg. So, I was planted on the one I had surgery, just trying to finish, and I felt it buckle and pop and then it buckled again,” Stoll recalled. “I looked over (at the coaches), and they said they knew right away because of how my face looked.”

A second ACL tear. A second surgery.

"Frustrated, angry, all sorts of different emotions,” he said. “Eventually, you’ve got to figure out how to move forward. That’s what I did. I moved forward the right way.”

This rehab has been more calculated and disciplined than the first.

Stoll said his weight hit 300 pounds after the first knee operation; this time, he’s kept it in the 265 range. He looks slimmer, leaner.

"That’s 30, 40 pounds less on my joint,” he said. "... I like wrestling around that weight anyway."

Instead of going back home to Minnesota, he rehabbed in Iowa City from late January to June.

Brands has liked what he’s seen from the talented and nimble heavyweight, while noting as a coach he’s in uncharted waters. Brands couldn’t remember having a wrestler try to come back from two ACL surgeries in the same knee.

“He’s done A, B, C, D, E and F things … to make himself more resilient, tougher,” Brands said, “where we’ve got an edge going for us in this rehab.

“He’s done everything he can to make this the best it can be.”

Stoll is one of many wild cards in this Hawkeye season. He absolutely has the potential to be an all-American, if all goes well.

Trackwrestling’s early-season rankings peg Stoll as the No. 23 heavyweight; other services have him as high as No. 7.

College wrestling programs get 9.9 scholarships. Injuries like Stoll’s take a large bite out of a team’s NCAA-scoring potential. Ideally, he’s the guy for Iowa the next two years until Aaron Costello or incoming recruit Anthony Cassioppi takes over.

The Hawkeyes need Stoll, among other things, to turn this rebuilding year into a potential top-five national year.

But more importantly, Stoll deserves a stretch of clean health.

“My expectations are to wrestle at a high level and score points and win matches,” Stoll said. “I think that’s everyone’s goal.”

Iowa wrestling season openers

What: Iowa City Duals; 3 bouts vs. Iowa Central CC (10 a.m.), Buffalo (11:30 a.m.), North Dakota State (1:30 p.m.)

When: Friday, Carver-Hawkeye Arena; admission is $12 for adults, $8 for youths, free for UI students or ages 5 and under.

Tom Brands says: “North Dakota State’s a team with five ranked guys; Buffalo’s a team that has three ranked guys. … So this isn’t just practice, like throwaway matches. This is for real.”

Iowa’s listed probable lineup

125: Justin Stickley (frosh.)

133: Paul Glynn (soph.) or Phillip Laux (sr.)

141: Vince Turk (soph.)

149: Brandon Sorensen (sr.)

157: Michael Kemerer (soph.) or Keegan Shaw (soph.)

165: Kaleb Young (frosh.)

174: Joey Gunther (soph.)

184: Mitch Bowman (jr.)

197: Cash Wilcke (soph.)

Hwt.: Sam Stoll (jr.)