Wrestling Mailbag: Early impressions of Iowa, Iowa State, Spencer Lee and Pat Lugo

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

We’re now two weeks into the college wrestling season, which is exciting and fun, but those of us who follow the sport religiously know it really runs all year long.

The college season is the beast that runs from November to March, but with freestyle and Greco-Roman gaining in popularity, there appears to be something every month that wrestling diehards can follow.

April had both the UWW Freestyle World Cup and the U.S. Open.

May had the World Team Trials Challenge and Pan-American games.

June had Final X.

July had Fargo and the Cadet World Championships.

August had the Junior Pan-Ams.

September had Junior Worlds.

October had Senior Worlds and various high school tournaments, events and showcases.

Mixed into all of that, of course, is recruiting — visits, commitments, transfers, the whole nine. That part never stops.

Pat Lugo warms up before at 149 during the wrestle-offs on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Which brings us to November. The folkstyle season returns, but there’s still so much going on. Over in Bucharest, Romania, the U23 World Championships, another age-level international tournament, began this week as well.

And, of course, there’s an Iowa tie, because there’s always an Iowa tie. Forrest Molinari and Kayla Miracle, both of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, as well as Rachel Watters, a former Iowa prep wrestling star at Ballard, are representing the United States on the U23 women’s freestyle team this week. They all compete on Thursday. If they win, they go Friday.

All of this is to say that, yes, wrestling is back, but in a way, it never really left. I’m sure people outside of the wrestling bubble feel differently, but for someone like me, who writes about it for a living and geeks out about it at every opportunity, it’s been fun.

Now, then. Onto the wrestling mailbag.

Most everybody has some form of competition in the books now, and the high school season officially started with the first day of practice on Monday. Time to really get this thing rolling.

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

No. Well, not exactly. Maybe don’t be worried with that he lost, but with how he lost.

For those that missed it, Pat Lugo lost to Cal State Bakersfield’s Russell Rohlfing, 10-9, over the weekend. It was Lugo’s debut in an Iowa singlet, and he started fast and looked good early but made a few too many mistakes on which Rohlfing capitalized.

Lugo’s a good wrestler. He can be wickedly aggressive when he keeps his hands and feet moving. He’s built, too, so he can add strength to that speed. It makes him dangerous at times.

But against Rohlfing, Lugo allowed Rohlfing too many opportunities on his legs. Lugo scored two really nice takedowns in the first period, but near the end, Rohlfing scored on an easy ankle pick and came out from behind for two, and Lugo didn’t do much to stop him.

Iowa's Pat Lugo wrestles against Brown's Zach Krause in the preliminary round of the 55th annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships. Lugo, who transferred to Iowa from Edinboro, beat Krause 4-2 to advance at 149 pounds.

Same thing happened in the third period. Lugo escaped to tie it 5-5, then gave up the ankle again, and Rohlfing came out from behind and scored a takedown again. Same thing happened later in the frame when Rohlfing scored the match-winning takedown.

Rohlfing is a a two-time NCAA qualifier, so he’s not bad. He’s also a long and lanky dude, and that can be a challenge for someone compact like Lugo. But if it’s simple leg defense or scramble situations to avoid giving up takedowns, then that’s teachable and can be fixed moving forward. 

If Lugo continues to struggle giving up his ankle and not being able to defend after an opponent grabs a leg and is underneath, then maybe there’s a problem. He may soon find out, too — the road doesn’t get easier this Friday with Princeton’s Matthew Kolodzik coming to town.

The encouraging part is that Lugo bounced back with a first-period pin in the very next dual against Kent State. Iowa coach Tom Brands told Flowrestling that Lugo’s weight cut may have been an issue, but that he wasn’t worried. Take that however you will.

@Macgrote: Kaleb Young looked pretty good this weekend, really like his potential.  After trying to bulk up to 174 last year, is 157 his natural weight or will the cut be a challenge as the season progresses?

It sure looks like 157 might be his natural weight, though he does look like a decent-sized 157-pounder. Brands said on media day that Young’s high metabolism kept him from really bulking up this offseason, and he was always around 165 and could cut down to 157 in a pinch.

We’ll see moving forward if the weight cut is an issue. Against maybe not the toughest competition this weekend, he looked good wrestling two matches in the span of two hours after an hour weigh-in. He beat Cal State’s Wyatt Gerl, 13-4, and then pinned Kent State’s Richard Jackson in the second period. Between those two matches, Young put up 21 points on nine takedowns. He looked good.

We’ll get to see Young wrestle stiffer competition over the next month, against Purdue’s Griffin Parriott, who’s ranked No. 16 at 157 by Trackwrestling, and Lehigh’s Ian Brown, who’s ranked No. 11 (Young is No. 14). Maybe we’ll see if the cut affects him then, but so far, it doesn’t look that bad.

Iowa's Kaleb Young (right) wrestles Jeren Glosser at 157 during the wrestle-offs on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

I’m not, but you are. Let me paint both sides.

Max Murin also made his Iowa debut this past weekend, picking up two wins at 141 pounds. He won his first match by an 18-4 major decision and won his second by fall. He looked big and aggressive and rolled against competition he should roll against.

Generally speaking, I like Murin’s wrestling style. He attacks and can finish attacks and won’t let other dudes push him around. He can string set-ups and shots together in neutral and can escape from bottom and has shown he’s got a solid top game. There’s a lot to like.

That said, Murin’s big. I asked him about the weight cut at media day, and he laughed and said he was cutting a little bit and openly talked about the idea of moving up to 149 once Lugo graduates. There might be a small worry there that the weight cut might catch up with him down the line.

That remains to be seen, but on top of that, 141 is an open weight class. You can probably mark down five guys that will be in the mix to win it in March: Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis, Ohio State’s Joey McKenna, Mizzou’s Jaydin Eierman, Penn State’s Nick Lee and Oklahoma State’s Kaid Brock.

After that, it’s anybody’s game for 6-8. Illinois’s Michael Carr is good. Minnesota’s Mitch McKee bumped up and looks strong. Old Dominion’s Sa’Derian Perry finished as an All-American last year. Nebraska’s Chad Red is tough.

And then there’s Murin, who still hasn’t proven himself against some of those tougher dudes yet. He’ll get his shot down the road — Iowa wrestles Minnesota on Jan. 13, Illinois two weeks later and Nebraska in the first week of February. Old Dominion is scheduled to be at the Midlands in December.

I agree that Murin still hasn’t really proven anything yet. He’s beaten both Vince Turk and Carter Happel to win the spot, and that’s nice. But he’s got to start beating other dudes to prove he can contend for a podium finish in March. We’ll see.

Iowa's Max Murin (left) and Vince Turk wrestle at 141 during the wrestle-offs on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.


Oh man. Half the lineup is new, and I’m really intrigued by many of them. We’ve talked about Lugo, Young and Murin here, and I wrote about Austin DeSanto out of media day. To answer your question, I’m excited about the prospect of Young and DeSanto. They fill holes, are exciting to watch and have potential to do cool things.

But I’m really interested in seeing Jacob Warner finally getting back on the mat.

Warner is so fascinating to me. He’s coming into a deep weight as a redshirt freshman and he’s expected to contribute right away. His credentials are sterling — Junior world teamer, Cadet world medalist, top-10 pound-for-pound recruit out of high school.

But, man, 197 looks like a beast this season.

Check out these names: Penn State’s Bo Nickal, Kent State’s Kyle Conel, Ohio State’s Kollin Moore, Northern Iowa’s Jacob Holschlag, Iowa State’s Willie Miklus, as well as other guys like Oklahoma State’s Preston Weigel, Princeton’s Pat Brucki, Purdue’s Christian Brunner, Lehigh’s Chris Weiler and so many more.

Nickal through Miklus are all returning All-Americans. Everybody else will be a strong podium contender, Warner included. 

So I’m curious how he’ll do. Warner is technically sound and wrestles at a demanding pace. How will he fare against some of these bigger, stronger 197-pounders? That remains to be seen.

He looked good in spurts during his redshirt year. He beat both Miklus and West Virginia’s Jacob Smith. He went basically untouched en route to a Junior World Team. Brands said he’ll either go this coming week against Princeton, or next week against Purdue.

From there, we’ll see how he does.

Iowa's Jacob Warner (left) wrestles Connor Corbin at 197 during the wrestle-offs on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Nothing as of now. It’s been pretty quiet since Iowa received commitments from Jesse Ybarra and the Schriever brothers back in September. 

I do know that Robert Howard plans on visiting later this month. Something to keep an eye on.

And no, Joey Gunther is no longer on the team. He transferred to Illinois and is wrestling at 165 this year. He actually beat Missouir’s Connor Flynn in his Illini debut on Nov. 3.

I will take the over on both.

So far, Spencer Lee has wrestled 26 matches in his Iowa career. He’s won 24 of them — 10 by technical fall, nine by fall, one by major, four by decision. His two losses were both by decision. 

Off the top of my head (I don’t have all the stats in front of me right now), he had seven matches go all seven minutes last season, and many more reach the second period. Now that he’s fully healthy and rolling, I expected many fewer matches to go the full distance this season.

Over the course of his career, I believe other wrestlers will start trying to strategize against him to try and frustrate him, which means he won’t be able to score points near as quickly. He’ll still score them, because he’s Spencer Lee, but those tactics by opposing wrestlers will probably cause matches to reach the second period and perhaps the full seven minutes. 

But we’ll see.

Iowa's Spencer Lee has his arm raised after winning a match at 125 during the wrestle-offs on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

I think you should buy a lot of stock from this Iowa State team. They’re young but they’re talented, and they’re only going to get better.

It’s important to note that, no, I don’t think the Cyclones are going to contend for national team titles immediately. It will be a while before we can even have the NCAA trophy conversation, but they’ll put themselves in trophy contention (read: top 10) much sooner than people think.

Iowa State is trending upward, and the story of this season will be their overall progress and how they finish in March. Sunday’s curb-stomping of SIUE was a dual they wouldn’t have won last year. (Heck, in their dual at Stephens last year, they did lose, to Rider.)

As for who you should buy the most stock from, I suggest Austin Gomez. He’s the real deal at 133 pounds, and will make a lot of noise in March — and I say that knowing full well that 133 is one of the deepest weights in the country. Buy your shirts now. He’s got the potential to be a multi-time All-American and even national champion when it’s all said and done.

Outside of Gomez, look at Ian Parker or Jarrett Degen. I’m particularly high on Marcus Coleman and Gannon Gremmel as well, but time will tell with them as they continue to wrestle better competition.

Things are looking up in Ames, perhaps faster than even they expected. They’re going to be fun and competitive this season. Time to start paying attention.

Iowa State's Austin Gomez celebrates after winning his match against SIU-Edwardsville's Jacob Blaha at 133 during a dual between the two schools on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, in CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames. Iowa State won the meet 37-3.

Full disclosure: I don’t think I can pin any of Iowa’s wrestlers. I haven’t been on the mat in about eight years, and my technique was never very good to begin with. I wouldn’t take this bet.

But former work buddy Scrivner is here with the nonsense questions, so my answer is probably Perez Perez, and this is not a slight on Perez Perez by any means, but I’d chose him only because I think I have a sizable weight advantage — he wrestles at 125, I’m up to about 178 — and I would need every advantage at my disposal if I’m going to wrestle somebody out of the Iowa room.

Even then, his technique is probably a million times better than mine, and being that he’s a senior in the Iowa wrestling room, his conditioning is no doubt far better than mine. My only hope would be to probably hit a headlock or get lucky with a cradle.

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