Midlands Takeaways: Sorensen wins third consecutive crown, Iowa wins fifth straight team title

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Brandon Sorensen joined historic company last year when he joined the “20-in-4” club — that is, winning 20 matches at the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships in four years. He was the 24th wrestler in the history of the tournament to do so.

This year, Sorensen added another lofty accolade to his resume. On Saturday night, the senior defeated Central Michigan’s Justin Oliver 4-2 to win the 149-pound title at the 55th annual Midlands. He is now the 12th Iowa wrestler to win the tournament three times.

“I like those stats,” Sorensen said. “I think it was good. I did some good things.”

Iowa wrestler Brandon Sorensen wrestles against Indiana's Davey Tunon in the second round of the 55th annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships. Sorensen, a three-time All-American at 149 pounds, pinned Tunon in the third period.

Sorensen emerged victorious from perhaps the tournament’s deepest weight. Including him, there were eight wrestlers ranked by Trackwrestling in the bracket. That doesn’t include Pat Lugo, who wrestled unattached from Iowa, or Arizona State’s Jason Tsirtsis, who won an NCAA title with Northwestern in 2014.

It mattered not to Iowa’s three-time All-American. Sorensen bounced his way to the semifinals with a pin, a technical fall and a major. He scored a takedown in sudden victory to top Tsirtsis, pushing him to Saturday night’s final.

There, Sorensen scored a takedown in the third period and added a riding-time point to beat Oliver, who is ranked third by Track. Sorensen is No. 2, now 12-0 on the year, and believes his best wrestling is still ahead of him.

“I opened the gap on an opponent I wrestled earlier this year, but there were also a couple where I thought I could do better,” Sorensen said. “Did some good things, but I have some things to work on.”

Hawkeyes win 5th straight team title

Before the finals even began, the Iowa wrestling team sewed up first place in the team race on Saturday. The Hawkeyes ended with 156.5 points, outpacing Rutgers (109.5), Central Michigan (108) and Arizona State (106.5). (Iowa’s unattached wrestlers actually scored enough points, 58.5, to take ninth.)

Iowa's Michael Kemerer turns Brown's Justin Stuadenmayer at the 55th annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in Evanston, Illinois. Kemerer, a sophomore, reached the finals at 157 pounds.

Iowa had five champions and seven total place-winners. Count in the unattached guys, and the Hawkeyes brought home 10 different pieces of hardware to help commemorate their 27th overall Midlands team title.

“This was a midseason test,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “Where we have to go from here to the next one is a significant step or two. A lot of work still to do. We’re not waiting until March, right? That’s a cram.”

Joining Sorensen at the top of the podium was Michael Kemerer (157) Alex Marinelli (165), Cash Wilcke (197) and Sam Stoll (285). It was the first time in the program’s storied history that they took home five champions.

Hawkeye-on-Hawkeye matches at 197, 141

Twice on Saturday, two Iowa wrestlers shook hands and wrestled each other. One was a rematch from the team’s wrestle-offs back in November. The other pit the present against the future.

Cash Wilcke and Jacob Warner met in the semifinals at 197 pounds. The match was a little weird. Wilcke broke a 1-1 tie with a superb duck-under in the third period, and Warner tied the match with an escape and a second stall warning against Wilcke right as regulation ended.

Wilcke then muscled Warner to his back off a re-shot and secured a pin in 7 minutes, 25 seconds, sending him to the finals. It served as a small bit of revenge as well — Warner won the wrestle-off, 4-3, early last month.

“It was just another match,” Wilcke said. “He’s my teammate. We’re really good friends off the mat. We went out there and wrestled hard for seven, eight minutes. That was good stuff, two guys in our room (reaching the semifinals).”

Wilcke ultimately won the weight, using a takedown in overtime to beat Penn’s Frank Mattiace 3-1 in the finals. Warner dropped all the way to sixth, losing to both Purdue’s Christian Brunner in the wrestlebacks and Princeton’s Pat Brucki in the fifth-place match.

The second Iowa-on-Iowa matchup occurred in Saturday night’s session, where Carter Happel and Max Murin dueled for fifth place at 141 pounds. Murin used a takedown in the second period and another in the third to win, 5-2.

Murin, a true freshman in redshirt, put forth a stellar weekend as well. Competing unattached, the Pennsylvania native went 7-2 overall and rattled off four straight wins in the wrestlebacks to reach the podium. 

Happel entered the weekend in a battle with Vince Turk for the starting spot at 141 pounds. While Turk went 3-2 and failed to place, Happel made a run to the quarterfinals, then came back to take sixth. He will likely be the starter moving forward after his performance this weekend.

Lee drops semifinal bout

Spencer Lee followed up his stellar first day with a loss.

Lee, Iowa’s talented true freshman, lost to Oregon State’s Ronnie Bresser, 3-1, in the semifinals at 125 pounds during Saturday’s first session. Bresser, a junior who’s ranked 14th nationally by Trackwrestling, scored on an inside trip in the third period to stun Lee and reach the finals.

Oregon State's Ronnie Bresser connected on an inside trip to score a takedown and beat Iowa's Spencer Lee, 3-1, at the 55th annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in Evanston, Illinois. Bresser reached the finals at 125 pounds while Lee defaulted out of the tournament.

It was a match that featured plenty of strategy from Bresser and unfolded much the same way how Lehigh’s Darian Cruz beat former Iowa wrestler Thomas Gilman in last year’s NCAA semifinals. Lee defaulted out of the tournament for precautionary reasons.

“We’re just going to keep communicating,” Brands said. “He’s new to the program. There’s expectations, and he knows what those expectations are, and we’ll keep moving forward with him.”

Former Iowa preps reach Day Two, but fall short

Two former Iowa high school wrestlers reached Day Two here, though both of them failed to reach the podium.

Jack Hathaway, a former standout from Iowa City West where he won 200 matches and was a four-time state medalist and a state champion in 2011, competed for Oregon State. He reached the Round of 12 at 141 pounds, but lost Northwestern’s Yahya Thomas to fall short of the podium.

Kyle Springer, a multiple-time state medalist from Davenport Assumption, also reached the bloodround at 149 pounds. After a first-round loss to Cal Poly’s Joshua Cortez, Springer tallied four straight major-decision victories. He ultimately piled up 59 total match points, the third-most of any wrestler on Day 1.

But early on Saturday, Springer lost to North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor by pin in the second period, ending his tournament.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

55th annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships

Finals Results
125: Nick Suriano (Rutgers) over Ronnie Bresser (Oregon State) 2-1
133: Seth Gross (South Dakota State) over Bryan Lantry (Buffalo-Unattached) by fall, 2:47
141: Mason Smith (Central Michigan) over Cole Weaver (Indiana) 6-0
149: Brandon Sorensen (Iowa) over Justin Oliver (Central Michigan) 4-2
157: Michael Kemerer (Iowa) over Joshua Shields (Arizona State) 5-2
165: Alex Marinelli (Iowa) over Jon Schleifer (Princeton) 3-1 (OT)
174: Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) over David Kocer (South Dakota State) 18-7
184: Emery Parker (Illinois) over Nate Jackson (Princeton-Unattached) 8-2
197: Cash Wilcke (Iowa) over Frank Mattiace (Penn) 3-1 (OT)
285: Sam Stoll (Iowa) over Tanner Hall (Arizona State) 2-1

Final Team Scores
1. Iowa, 156.5
2. Rutgers, 109.5
3. Central Michigan, 108
4. Arizona State, 106.5
5. South Dakota State, 99