In 2018, 34 Iowa high school wrestlers earned All-American honors at the Cadet and Junior Freestyle and Greco-Roman National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota.
Before we get into the Iowa wrestling program’s recruiting wins and a conversation about the future, let’s go back 200 days, to the 2018 NCAA Championships, inside the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Spencer Lee is at the lectern after winning the title at 125 pounds. You know the results by now — tech, tech on Thursday; pin, pin on Friday, and a 5-1 win in the finals over a guy who hadn’t allowed a point all week. People will remember that tournament for a long, long time.
Then a true freshman, Lee sparked the Hawkeyes’ third-place team finish, but his championship run undoubtedly left an impression on the many recruits following the action. After winning on Saturday night, he offered up this quote that likely helped set the next six months in motion:
“The whole team is about improving,” Lee said. “The coaches, they tell us we’re a family; Iowa is our home. And that’s what I want everybody to know about the University of Iowa — we’re not these robots or whatever the stigma was a long time ago.
“We’re a family, and we love each other and we want to be national champs.”
This brings us to the Iowa wrestling program’s recent recruiting wins. Every month following Lee’s NCAA title run featured some sort of success in the form of high-profile transfers, big-time recruits announcing commitments and others showing interest.
The following is a breakdown of what it all means now and moving forward.
“We’re excited,” veteran Iowa coach Tom Brands said on Takedown Radio this weekend. “I’ll tell ya, there’s a reason that reception — on Saturday night during the football game (against Wisconsin on September 22) — there’s a reason that reception was so enthusiastic from 70,000 Hawkeye fans: People are paying attention to wrestling.
“I listened to that reception, and that’s a pretty good indication of the excitement level going on in Iowa City.”
Here’s a rundown of Iowa’s success on the recruiting trails, dating back to March:
- March: Lee wins NCAA title; the team takes third with tons of bonus points.
- April: Iowa hosts UWW World Cup; Austin DeSanto transfers in from Drexel.
- May: Aaron Cashman commits as part of 2018 recruiting class.
- June: Jason Renteria transfers in from Nebraska; Patrick Kennedy commits to kick off 2020 recruiting class; 2019 recruit Zach Glazier commits at month’s end.
- August: Abe Assad, a Cadet world medalist, commits to bolster 2019 class.
- September: Jesse Ybarra and Cullan and Colby Schriever all commit on the same day to bolster 2020 recruiting class.
And that list doesn’t include all the hardware won in between — Jeremiah Moody and Jacob Warner won UWW Junior national titles; Warner made the Junior world team; Thomas Gilman made the Senior world team; Tony Cassioppi won freestyle and greco-roman national titles in Fargo; and Moody and Cassioppi won gold at the Junior Pan-American Championships.
That’s a lot of Iowa successes in a short span of time, and it’s easy to see why optimism is high around the program. Further, nearly every single commitment came with some sort of comment on Lee or the upward trend of the program.
Said DeSanto: “In my mind, it’s awesome because I get a really, really good training partner to work with and so many other training partners who are going to make me better.”
Said Cashman: “You know, Spencer Lee and the coaches, Tom and Terry … just being in that room and watching — that made me want to go to Iowa.”
Said Renteria: “I came down for the visit, saw everything, and then Spencer Lee and I worked out — we rolled around for an hour and 15 minutes and we just clicked.”
Said Glazier: “They’re building and wanting to win national titles … the energy in the room is completely different than anywhere else I had been.”
Said Cullan Schriever: “Just being around dudes on the team and knowing that’s who you can be around every single day — motivated people like that — I mean, the whole thing was good.”
Said Ybarra: “The atmosphere, the people there, and them being so big into wrestling — that really made me want to be in that spotlight and want to wrestle for the university.”
You get the point. But now let’s get to the fun part. Where and how do all of these guys fit into future lineups?
This is purely theoretical. The 2020 guys are still juniors in high school, for one, and things change over the course of a few years. But let’s give it a whirl, starting with this coming season’s projected lineup:
- 125: Duh.
- 133: Austin DeSanto/Jason Renteria
- 141: Max Murin/Vince Turk/Carter Happel
- 149: Pat Lugo
- 157: Kaleb Young/Jeremiah Moody/Jeren Glosser
- 165: Alex Marinelli
- 174: Michael Kemerer
- 184: Cash Wilcke
- 197: Jacob Warner
- 285: Sam Stoll
Now, a look at 2019-20, during which Glazier and Assad will be in the room:
- 125: Still duh.
- 133: Renteria/DeSanto
- 141: Murin/Turk/Happel
- 149: Lugo
- 157: Young/Moody/Glosser/Nelson Brands
- 165: Marinelli
- 174: Kemerer
- 184: Wilcke
- 197: Warner
- 285: Tony Cassioppi
Now, a look at 2020-21, during which Ybarra, Kennedy and the Schrievers will be in the room:
- 125: You guessed it.
- 133: Renteria/DeSanto
- 141: DeSanto/Renteria/Happel
- 149: Murin/Zach Axmear/Happel
- 157: Young/Brands/Axmear
- 165: Marinelli/Brands
- 174: Zach Glazier/Myles Wilson
- 184: Abe Assad
- 197: Warner
- 285: Cassioppi
Now, a look at 2021-22, when presumably other new guys will be in the room, but this will be the season many of the recent commits finally break into the lineup:
- 125: Cullan Schriever
- 133: Ybarra/Cashman
- 141: Ybarra/Cashman
- 149: Murin/Axmear
- 157: Brands/Axmear/Colby Schriever
- 165: Patrick Kennedy/Brands
- 174: Glazier/Wilson
- 184: Assad/Wilson
- 197: Warner
- 285: Cassioppi
I put multiple names on multiple lines because kids might grow and I’m not sure where some of them might be, weight-wise, from one year to the next. Remember: Purely hypothetical situations here. Also, regarding DeSanto/Renteria the next two years, they each still have a redshirt year to use, so I imagine whoever doesn't go this year will redshirt and then flip-flop next year.
Moreover, these are just factoring in the recruits who have already committed. Nothing is guaranteed until they sign, of course, but others are still in play for both 2019 and 2020.
Iowa is still in pursuit of Brevin Balmeceda, a Florida standout who is considered the No. 12 overall 2019 prospect by Flowrestling. He visited the weekend of the Wisconsin game. He attends South Dade, which is where Pat Lugo went to high school.
The Hawkeyes are also in pursuit of Robert Howard, a New Jersey lightweight who is considered the No. 3 overall 2020 wrestler by Flo. Howard attends Bergen Catholic — the same high school as Rutgers’ Nick Suriano — and has twice made the Cadet World team.
Balmeceda* would be a major player at both 157 and 165 pounds in college, while Howard would be another big name to watch at both 133 and 141. Another 2020 name to watch: Southeast Polk’s Gabe Christenson, who was in Iowa City with the Schriever brothers in early September. They would all add talent and depth to a lineup that already has plenty moving forward.
*Balmeceda announced his commitment to Oklahoma State on Monday night, after this story was published.
The future looks bright for Iowa wrestling, and may still get brighter yet. Lee’s NCAA title run last March was a big win for him and the current team, and laid the foundation for every recruiting victory since.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.