Wrestling Mailbag: More Spencer Lee, Iowa’s offseason and looking ahead to 2018-19

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

It was another strong year for college wrestling in Iowa. 

Across all divisions — that’s NCAA I, II, III, plus NAIA and the junior-college levels — Iowa schools were mainstays at the top, be it through team races or individuals winning titles. 

Iowa's Spencer Lee wrestles Rutgers' Nick Suriano in the 125 pound national championship at the NCAA Wrestling Championships at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on Saturday, March 17, 2018. Lee won by decision, 5-1.

A quick rundown:

In Division I, Iowa placed third at the national championships with five All-Americans and a national champion in Spencer Lee at 125 pounds. Northern Iowa chipped in another podium finish with Jacob Holschlag. Iowa State’s lone qualifier, Jarrett Degen, was a win away from bringing home hardware.

In Division II: Upper Iowa held it down with a fourth-place finish at nationals. The effort featured four All-Americans, including Josh Walker, who took first at 133. 

In Division III: Wartburg brought home a national team title, as seven Knight wrestlers earned All-American honors. Three — Brock Rathbun at 133, Cross Cannone at 149 and Kyle Fank at 197 — won national championships. Behind them came Coe College with three All-Americans, Cornell College with three, and Central College with one. 

Grand View continued its reign over the NAIA ranks, using 10 All-Americans — and three national champs in Grant Henderson (165), Evan Hansen (197), and Dean Broghammer (285) — to win the national team title for the seventh straight season. Northwestern College also had an All-American.

Finally, the junior-college schools showed out as well, as 19 wrestlers from Iowa schools earned All-American honors, led by Iowa Central’s Todd Small and NIACC’s Austin Anderly, who won individual titles at 133 and 141, respectively. 

If you’re keeping count, that’s 55 collegiate All-Americans and 10 national champs from the state of Iowa this season. That’s a lot, and helps explain why so many people associate wrestling with this state.

Even though the Hawkeyes haven’t won the big Division I team title since 2010, wrestling remains strong here at all levels, and that’s cool to see. 

Now, then. Onto the mailbag, the last of the season. It's kind of sad, but I hope you guys enjoyed it as much as I did. It was fun interacting with you, and though the mailbag is on hold until next year, wrestling coverage is not — the UWW Freestyle World Cup is just a few weeks out!

Please follow me on Twitter, and I’ll keep you guys up to date on all things wrestling in Iowa. Thanks so much for your help here, and for reading.

I would wager that Lee’s run ranks among the best. We’re talking about a true freshman who won a national title at a weight featuring two past NCAA champions, two past finalists and seven total returning All-Americans. He went tech, tech, pin, pin and then won 5-1 in the finals over a guy who hadn’t allowed a point all tournament.

The last Iowa true freshman to win, Lincoln McIlravy, wasn’t as dominant en route to his title in 1993 — he went tech fall, 8-7 decision, 12-7 decision, 12-7 decision over the No. 1 seed, 16-15 decision in the final over the No. 2 seed. But that doesn’t lessen the accomplishment, of course.

Another way to measure it: Lee scored 27 total team points (out of a possible 30), the most of any individual wrestler in the tournament. Just last year, Zain Retherford scored 28 by going tech, tech, tech, pin, tech to win at 149. Teammate Jason Nolf scored 27 by going tech, tech, pin, major, major to win at 157. Another Penn State wrestler, Bo Nickal, scored 27.5 by going tech, pin, pin, pin, decision to win at 184.

So yeah, Lee’s run was pretty dominant. I found that Bruce Kinseth, Iowa’s 150-pounder back during the 1978-79 season, pinned his way to an NCAA title that year. Hard to be more dominant than that.

I think, in some ways, Lee has already had a big impact on that wrestling room. Throughout the week in Cleveland, his teammates spoke highly of him, calling him fearless and explaining that his mindset is already rubbing off. Heck, Brandon Sorensen even said everybody was following Lee’s example.

MORE ON SORENSEN: How he prepared for his final NCAA Championships

It remains to be seen what his ultimate influence will be, but he made his goals pretty clear when he spoke after his finals match on Saturday night. Here’s his full quote:

“We're a family,” he said. “Every person in that room wants the best for each and every person. I see guys wrestle off, then they go in the locker room and they're sitting there telling each other what they could have done better.

“The whole team is just about improving, and the coaches are like — they're family. They tell us we're family. Iowa is our home. And that's what I want everyone to know about the University of Iowa.

“We're not these, whatever, robots, or whatever that stigma was a long time ago. We're a family and we love each other, and we all want to be national champs. And that's the goal. That's what we want to be known as.”

Sounds like Lee’s already become the leader of the program. 

MORE ON THE HAWKEYES: Why Iowa appears back on the right track

You pretty much nailed it. They need to get healthy — not just from the three-day grind in Cleveland, but from the long season. Wrestling at the Division I level can take a wicked toll on the mind and body. Getting healthy is probably priority No. 1.

But then recruiting is a sure bet, whether that’s landing commitments from kids who will graduate in a few months or finding a graduate transfer or scanning the junior-college ranks for someone who wants to come up.

Having more solid wrestlers in the room is never a bad thing, and Iowa obviously has a few holes to fill if they want to truly compete with the likes of Penn State and Ohio State. Tom Brands admitted as much over the weekend. 

I’m not exactly sure on the graduate transfers. My guess is they’ll start to surface over the next month or so and maybe continue through the summer. Between those and some of the major coaching vacancies — namely, Michigan and Wisconsin — this offseason will be an interesting one.

As for top 2020 recruits, there’s one here in-state — Cullan Schriever, a two-time state champion out of Mason City. Schriever has won the Super 32 Challenge and was a freestyle national champ before his freshman year. He’s currently No. 34 in the 2020 class, according to Intermat, and No. 3 at 106 pounds.

ALL-IOWA WRESTLING TEAM: The best in the state at every weight

I think you have to put Penn State at the top until proven otherwise. The Nittany Lions return 116 of their 141.5 team points, and really only lose Zain. Iowa returns 84, and really only loses Sorensen. Ohio State returns 76.5, but lose Nathan Tomasello, Bo Jordan and some guy named Kyle Snyder.

So, if I had to guess, I’d probably go Penn State, Iowa, Oklahoma State (which returns a lot and had some good guys in redshirt this year), and Missouri (the Tigers bring back every point-scorer except Joey Lavallee), at least at a quick first glance. 

As for Iowa’s projected lineup, this is currently how I see it:

125: Duh.
133: Paul Glynn
141: Vince Turk/Max Murin/Carter Happel
149: Pat Lugo/Jeren Glosser
157: Michael Kemerer
165: Alex Marinelli
174: Joey Gunther/Kaleb Young
184: Mitch Bowman/maybe Cash Wilcke/Jacob Warner
197: Cash Wilcke/Jacob Warner
285: Sam Stoll

There are multiple names on multiple lines because I’m not exactly sure how Iowa will figure some of those weights out. Some of these dudes could bump up or down, depending on how they spend their offseasons.

Speaking of … 

Can’t speak to what goes on in the practice room, but I do believe Murin will be the guy at 141 next year. He looks too big to drop to 133, and he beat Happel a couple of times this season.

Then again, Turk showed some good things in the postseason, so who knows? Maybe that confidence will carryover and he’ll own the spot. We’ll see.

As for whether Turk or Happel could make the drop to 133, I’ve thought about that, too. I think it’s possible, but it’ll take a disciplined offseason to do it. I also don’t know their bodies, so it may not be the healthiest thing for the wrestler.

I’ve always thought 133 would be the prime spot to bring in a transfer of some kind, too.

Tom was watching from one of the tunnels, I believe. Terry and assistant coach Ben Berhow were in Lee’s corner in the finals. Terry and Berhow were also in Cory Clark’s corner when he won it last year. 

I don’t know what the rhyme or reason on certain Iowa coaches being in the corner for certain wrestlers. Not sure if the Terry-Berhow combination for the finals is by design, but it is interesting.

Fair question. I think you'd have to see a huge program collapse for that thought to truly be entertained. Despite the lack of a national title since 2010, Tom Brands has led the Hawkeyes to a trophy finish at the NCAA Championships in 10 of his 12 years as the coach. Only one other Iowa coach has been more successful, and there's a bronze statue of him sitting outside Carver-Hawkeye Arena's main entrance.

This is important, too: Brands received an extension back in September, which has him signed through 2022-23. Along with his extension, Iowa’s athletic department announced a facility feasibility study, the first public step toward what Brands hopes to be a new home for the wrestling program.

This, to me, reads like Brands trying to keep up with Penn State and Ohio State and other programs who are getting brand-new wrestling facilities. He believes that, among other things, is vital for the Hawkeyes to get back on top. 

Among those "other things" is a talented recruiting base. Half the battle nowadays is simply recruiting. Cael Sanderson has run circles around most every other coach on the recruiting trail. His incoming recruiting class includes five of the nation’s top 15 seniors, and that doesn’t even include Fort Dodge’s Brody Teske.

This new facility, Brands believes, will help in recruiting. So once the facility gets built and the program gets a few recruiting cycles with it, then we can revisit this conversation. (We’ll probably know more about the facility’s potential timeline soon.)

You are asking the wrong guy. I am miserably colorblind, and green is one of the colors I struggle with.

Also, can we just take a moment and talk about how Cory Clark’s Shoulder has a Twitter account? What a time to be alive.

That’s not nice.

(But hey, Lee's 27 team points this year would've been good for 20th place on its own.)

Here’s what I’m seeing:

125: Alex Mackall
133: Austin Gomez
141: Ian Parker
149: Jarrett Degen
157: Chase Straw
165: Skyler St. John/maybe David Carr
174: Marcus Coleman
184: Danny Bush
197: Sam Colbray
285: Marcus Harrington

Pretty solid team there. I’ve heard that Carr will probably redshirt next year, but that’s one heck of a talent coming to Ames, along with a good recruiting class that features Francis Duggan, Joel Shapiro and a slew of others. The future is bright in Ames.

Hard to argue that one. This year, Penn State had eight All-Americans, five finalists and four champs to score 141.5 points. That 1997 Iowa team also had eight All-Americans, six finalists and five champions to score 170 points, which remains the all-time best.

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