Wrestling lookahead: Iowa Hawkeyes return, and will add, plenty of firepower for 2018-19
Shortly after Iowa clinched a third-place finish at the 2018 NCAA Wrestling Championships, head coach Tom Brands was asked how his Hawkeyes could catch up to the Penn State dynasty currently in progress.
“We need to have 10 weight classes, and we have to have consistency in 10 weight classes,” Brands said inside Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. “We have five All-Americans. Penn State and Ohio State have eight. That’s the difference.
“We have to put those guys on the stand, and put them as high up as you can.”
The Hawkeyes tallied 97 team points at the NCAA tournament, an effort anchored by 30.5 bonus points, the most they’ve scored since Dan Gable’s 1997 Iowa team put up 33.5 en route to the all-time tournament record (170). While Brands’ team was 17 points clear of the two fourth-place finishers, they were well behind Penn State’s 141.5 and Ohio State’s runner-up total of 133.5.
But of that total, 84 points return for Iowa next season, as senior Brandon Sorensen is the lone point scorer leaving. Even more, the Hawkeyes will add high-level talent to the mix for the 2018-19 season.
Here’s a way-too-early look at how Iowa’s lineup might look next season:
Sorensen’s departure will be a big one. That’s 127 career victories and four All-American finishes — the Denver graduate is the 20th Hawkeye to ever do that — which will be tough to fully replace.
“Invaluable to our program,” Brands said. “Great representative of what we’re about. I’ve talked about it a lot this year because he’s a senior. Zero drama, zero maintenance the entire time. He was raised right and handles himself right.”
Additionally, Phillip Laux and Logan McQuillen have also run out of eligibility. Laux contributed 22 victories over four years. McQuillen, a Monticello native, went 24-27, but never appeared in any duals.
The Hawkeyes bring back four All-Americans from the 2017-18 season.
Spencer Lee is the headliner after winning the NCAA title at 125 pounds. Back, too, is Michael Kemerer, now a two-time All-American at 157, as well as first-time podium finishers in Alex Marinelli (165) and Sam Stoll (285).
“We (had) one guy in the finals,” Stoll said in Cleveland. "But that means there are a lot of guys on the team that aren’t happy with their results. We’re kind of a young team. We all took some lumps this weekend, but the future looks great.”
Back as well will be the other NCAA point scorers in Vince Turk (141), Mitch Bowman (184) and Cash Wilcke (197). Joey Gunther (174), now a two-time NCAA qualifier, also returns. Paul Glynn pinned down the starting spot at 133, though failed to advance past the Big Ten Conference Tournament.
Even more, some wrestlers that both battled for spots and provided relief will be back for the 2018-19 season.
Carter Happel and Kaleb Young, who were both in competition with Turk and Gunther for the starting spots at 141 and 174, respectively, up until the week before the Big Ten tournament, figure to be in the mix again next season.
There’s also Jeren Glosser, who won four matches at the Midlands Championships at 149 pounds and filled in at 157 in the Michigan Dual in January. Justin Stickley, who manned 125 until Lee’s redshirt came off, will be back to provide lightweight depth.
Some talented wrestlers who red-shirtted this season will be ready to make an impact in 2018-19. The big names, of course, are freshmen Jacob Warner and Max Murin, and junior Pat Lugo, who figure to work into the lineup in and around 197, 141 and 149, respectively.
Warner went 15-4 during his redshirt season and actually beat two NCAA qualifiers in West Virginia’s Jacob Smith and Missouri’s Willie Miklus, the latter of whom finished as an All-American. Warner also dropped matches to three other qualifiers in Princeton’s Patrick Brucki, Purdue’s Christian Brunner and Wilcke.
Murin went 16-3 while redshirting and has a win over Illinois’ Michael Carr, the Big Ten runner-up who reached the round-of-12 at the NCAA tournament. Murin also beat Happel twice during the year. Two of his three losses came to NCAA qualifiers.
Lugo’s only competition was at the Midlands, where he went 7-2, placed fourth and pinned Princeton’s Matthew Kolodzik, who placed third at the NCAA tournament and beat Rutgers’ Eleazar Deluca, who also qualified. The Edinboro transfer has two years of eligibility left.
“We have a lot of young guys that bring in good vibes, always joking and smiling,” Marinelli said. “Everybody in that freshman class is great. They’re great guys. They love to work hard and they’re really talented. They’re going to do well.
“We have a great future ahead of us. We love to work hard. We love to get pins. We love to break guys. We’re a young team looking to win it.”
The two big names coming to the program are Anthony Cassioppi, the nation’s fourth-ranked heavyweight recruit out of Hononegah High School in Rockton, Illinois, and Nelson Brands, an Iowa City West senior who’s ranked 10th nationally at 160 pounds. (He’s associate head coach Terry Brands’ son.)
Cassioppi figures to take over at heavyweight once Stoll graduates after next season. Brands, who projects around 157/165, might have to either bulk up or drop down to find a way into the Iowa lineup after his redshirt season.
It remains to be seen if any graduate or junior-college transfers have Iowa City in their plans — Lugo didn’t announce his transfer to Iowa until July — but the Hawkeyes could certainly use another top-notch recruit or some sort of talented transfer to further bolster the lineup.
After all, Brands said depth and consistency is needed for the Hawkeyes to return to the top of Division I wrestling.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.