Iowa coach Tom Brands reacts after the Hawkeyes clinched third place in the team race at the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
The crowd and atmosphere inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena made for a heck of a venue for the UWW Freestyle World Cup in early April. But for Aaron Cashman, it was taking a peek inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex that fascinated him the most.
Cashman, a Minnesota native who’s spent his senior year of high school training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, was in Iowa City with the U.S. National Team. He participated in the weeklong camp leading up to the World Cup.
That’s when he first got a glimpse of Tom Brands, the head coach of the Iowa wrestling program.
“When I got to Iowa City and got to see the first practice, I really liked how Tom and (associate head coach Terry Brands) coached,” Cashman told the Register. “The intensity of the practice was my type of style and how I like to practice.
“Just being in that room and watching — that made me want to go to Iowa.”
On Tuesday, Cashman made that dream a reality by giving his verbal pledge to the Hawkeyes. He projects at 133 pounds, and will join the program as part of Iowa’s 2018 recruiting haul, which includes, among others, senior signees Nelson Brands and Tony Cassioppi and Drexel transfer Austin DeSanto.
Cashman, who picked Iowa over Cornell, Ohio State and Iowa State, brings his own set of sterling credentials. He was a 2016 Cadet world team member and a three-time Minnesota state medalist, including a 2017 state champion. He is the No. 80 overall 2018 recruit, according to Flowrestling. He was a first-team selection for The American Family Insurance ALL-USA Wrestling Team for the 2016-17 season.
Cashman compiled a 118-5 overall record during three high-school seasons — his first two at Mound Westonka, his third at Shakopee. As a junior, he won a state title at 113 pounds, scoring bonus points in all four matches at the state tournament.
In 2016, Cashman made the Cadet world team, competing at 50 kilograms, (roughly 110 pounds). He joined the likes of David Carr, a future Iowa State wrestler, and Yianni Diakomihalis, a 2018 NCAA champion for Cornell. Cashman reached the world quarterfinals in Tbilisi, Georgia, but lost to eventual world silver medalist Amir Aliakbar Parasteh of Iran, 7-1.
After his junior season, Cashman left for Colorado Springs and spent a year training at the OTC under Kevin Jackson, the former Iowa State coach who is now an assistant freestyle coach with USA Wrestling. He said a year of expedited development intrigued him more than another prep season in Minnesota.
“Being coached by Kevin Jackson, one-on-one, for my whole senior year — it really can’t get any better than that,” Cashman said. “That’s really why I made my decision to go to the OTC for a year.
“Every day, I got one percent better. If you focus on getting one percent better, that’s all you need. I loved it. I loved being coached out there.”
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While training at the OTC this past year, Cashman competed in both collegiate open tournaments and overseas. He wrestled at 125 pounds in Wyoming's Cowboy Open, the Northern Colorado Open and the Wilkes Open in North Carolina.
In February, Cashman won a gold medal in Junior men's freestyle at the Flatz Open in Austria. Competing at 57 kilograms (roughly 125 pounds), he went 4-0 with two pins and winning his other two matches by a combined 20-2.
“Aaron had an outstanding tournament,” Jackson told USA Wrestling afterward. “He continues to make great connections, improving in all areas. He outclassed all opponents with superior skill and condition. I am very proud of Aaron’s championship effort.”
Cashman finished fourth this month at UWW Junior World Team Trials at 57 kilograms (125.5 pounds). A week later, he took another visit to Iowa City, where he was sold on both the direction of the program and the practice partners already in the room.
“You know, Spencer Lee, and the coaches, Tom and Terry,” Cashman said. “At the World Cup camp, Bill Zadick and Kevin Jackson were mostly running practices, so I didn’t get to see too much of Tom, but the little I did see of him, I adored his intensity and how he coached.
“Really, when I went on my visit last week, I got to see just him coach all the other guys. That really caught my eye.”
Cashman will now join an Iowa program that's fresh off a third-place finish at the 2018 NCAA Championships and seemingly on the rise. The Hawkeyes took nine wrestlers to the national tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, and returned with five All-Americans that helped score 97 points, finishing behind only Penn State (141.5) and Ohio State (134.5).
In March, 133 pounds was the lone weight at which the Hawkeyes didn't qualify a wrestler for the big dance. Now, in the span of a month, that hole has been filled by two capable wrestlers with bright futures ahead.
“I’ve heard and seen the Iowa crowds on TV, and I love it,” Cashman said. “That’s what you work so hard for.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.