Iowa coach Tom Brands reacts after the Hawkeyes clinched third place in the team race at the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Jason Renteria’s commitment to the Iowa wrestling program Sunday brought with it excitement and, for some, a little bit of curiosity. His addition makes what was once a weakness for the Hawkeyes — that is, 133 pounds — into a spot with both strength and depth.
But what, exactly, is Renteria bringing to the room? Here’s what we know off hand:
He’s talented. Coming out of Oak Park and River Forest High School in Illinois, Renteria was the No. 32 overall recruit in the 2017 class. He qualified for the NCAA tournament this past year as a true freshman, after taking fifth at the Big Ten Championships at 133 pounds.
He can be an immediate All-American threat. Renteria beat one of the podium finishers at this year’s national tournament — Rutgers’ Scott DelVecchio, who finished sixth at 133. Renteria actually beat DelVecchio three times in the span of seven weeks. That’s really hard to do.
But he’s also got some room for improvement. He only wrestled 12 matches during the 2017-18 season, going 8-4. He also missed weight at the NCAA Championships, which is something of a sin that induces plenty of scrutiny and — well, at the Division I level, you just can’t do that.
The following is an attempt to break down Renteria’s wrestling. This assessment includes observations from nine of his 12 matches from the 2017-18 season, and looked primarily at his on-the-mat skill, but also at why perhaps his missing weight in Cleveland was something Nebraska was worried about all year.
We’ll also take a peek at how Iowa might be able to shuffle its lineup over the next couple of years so as to make this depth work.
There’s a lot to like about Renteria’s offense
Renteria only wrestled 12 matches last season, but he won eight of them — three by fall, and the other five by a combined 46-23. Of his four losses, one came in sudden victory, another was a one-point defeat, and the other two came handily against Michigan’s Stevan Micic, an NCAA finalist.
But his numbers are encouraging, and that’s because Renteria boasts a strong, effective offensive repertoire when he's on his feet.
He tends to favor an underhook to start, which he uses to open up his offense. He's effective at creating angles and setting up different drags and shots. He’s also comfortable in a front headlock position if his opponent takes the underhook to the mat.
Against Maryland’s Danny Bertoni, Renteria immediately fought for an underhook, and actually worked his way to a double-underhook situation that led to a slide-by and a takedown. Later in the first period, Renteria again went for double-unders that led to a body-lock and a trip, which Renteria used to pin Bertoni in one minute, 48 seconds.
Against Northwestern’s Colin Valdiviez, Renteria again went for an underhook. Valdiviez fought it off, but when Renteria worked ties to set up another underhook situation, Valdiviez stepped away, which helped Renteria work an arm drag for a takedown.
In that same match, Renteria got an underhook again and applied pressure, walking Valdiviez around the mat and forcing him off balance, allowing Renteria to score off a foot sweep. Moments later, Renteria fought for inside control, faked for an underhook and dropped into another takedown.
Renteria went for underhooks in every match reviewed for this story, and by doing so, he was able to gain leverage and use his strength to dictate the pace of the match and control his opponents. In his first match against DelVecchio, he used the underhooks and transitioned to a slide-by, allowing him to get behind DelVecchio and return him to the mat for a takedown.
Against Michigan State’s Logan Griffin, Renteria was in a front headlock position after trying for yet another underhook. As such, Renteria used his quickness to find an angle, which he used to score a takedown near the edge after Griffin tried standing up.
Savviness is a plus, but weaknesses exist
Renteria is a savvy defensive wrestler — and also quick. His first line of defense is usually a head-and-hands defense, meaning he’ll meet his opponents’ shots with a combination of an inside tie and, well, his head. If an opponent gets in, he can sometimes roll his way to a stalemate, or even funk his way to setting up an angle for a re-shot. He never truly panics either, which is a plus.
Against Valdiviez, Renteria showed his savviness by countering Valdiviez’s counters. He attempted a drag, but Valdiviez responded by matching Renteria’s speed and snatching one of his legs. Renteria quickly shifted his hips to the outside and muscled his way behind Valdiviez for two points.
Against DelVecchio, Renteria fought off a deep shot from DelVecchio. Renteria used balance and strong hands to thwart DelVecchio’s attempts to finish. He then worked his way to his feet and found an angle that allowed for a shot, which Renteria finished by simply running his feet.
But for all the great things he can do offensively and defensively, Renteria did show one glaring weakness — and Michigan’s Micic exploited it masterfully.
In both matches against Micic, Renteria worked for inside ties. He’ll club his opponent's head and then work for an underhook. He attempted to set this up against Micic, who simply brushed Renteria’s outside elbow away and dropped his stance right into a single leg shot. Micic hit this multiple times in both matches, which he won 14-3 and 19-3.
Renteria didn’t have an answer for it, and in both matches, he maybe got an underhook against Micic once. Without that underhook, Renteria looked for two-on-ones and other setups, but he lacked the same confidence he had when he employed his underhook.
Another position that gave him fits was when opponents worked a two-on-one. Illinois’ Dylan Duncan did this in a 9-8 win at the Big Ten tournament. Duncan used it once to score out of a merkel position (think of the move that Cory Clark used to score on Nathan Tomasello in the 2017 NCAA Semifinals).
The second time, Renteria muscled his way to a takedown. That shows in-match adjustments, which is also a good thing.
MORE IOWA WRESTLING COVERAGE
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- Hawkeyes land commitment from Aaron Cashman, a 2016 Cadet world teamer
The weight issue, and looking at Iowa’s future
So Renteria missed weight at the NCAA Championships. Not ideal. He was replaced in the bracket by Valdiviez, who ended up making it to Friday morning, one win away from the blood round.
As it turns out, this may have been an issue for Renteria all year long. Consider this Omaha World-Herald article from late January, after Renteria beat both Valdiviez and DelVecchio in the same weekend.
Here’s one quote from Nebraska’s Tyler Berger, an All-American this past season at 157 pounds:
“He’s going to be a stud,” Berger said. “I told him when he walked off the mat, ‘You take care of your weight, you’re going to be competing for a national title.’”
Here’s another from Nebraska coach Mark Manning:
“We knew Jay Renteria had it in him; it was a matter of discipline — getting him down to weight.”
So, yeah, maybe a bit of foreshadowing there in hindsight. When asked by the Register on Sunday about what weight he might go, Renteria said he’d prefer to stay at 133, but would be open to 141 or even 149 if that’s what the coaches ask of him.
“Whatever weight they need me at, I’ll be at,” Renteria said. “Preferably, I’d like to go 133, but if they need me at 141 or 149, I’ll make the commitment to getting bigger.”
If he’s able to make 133 — and if Drexel transfer Austin DeSanto can also make 133 — that bodes well for Iowa. Both wrestlers still have their redshirts available, so one could conceivably wrestle this year while the other redshirts, and then they could flip-flop next season.
After two years, Pat Lugo, the assumed starter at 149 pounds for 2018-19, will have exhausted his eligibility, allowing either one of them or one of the many 141-pounders — Max Murin, Vince Turk, Carter Happel — to bump up and fill that lineup spot, should they grow or spend a summer or two in the weight room.
The addition of Renteria, as well as DeSanto and Aaron Cashman, allows for this kind of flexibility. It is both a short-term and a long-term fix for what was once Iowa’s slimmest and weakest lineup spot.
In short: The Hawkeyes are in good hands moving forward.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.