Wrestling Takeaways: Hawkeyes flash strength and depth on Midlands opening day

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — The Iowa wrestling team wasn’t at its absolute best on Saturday, but it flashed moments that showed why these Hawkeyes are considered by many to be the second best team in Division I wrestling.

The Hawkeyes stormed to a ginormous lead after the first day at the 2018 Midlands Championships here at the Sears Centra Arena. At the conclusion of Saturday night’s action, Iowa totaled 114.5 points, which was 38.5 points clear of second-place Northern Iowa.

This was a dominating performance from most angles — though not all. Iowa, ranked second nationally by Trackwrestling, pushed eight wrestlers into the semifinals at their respective weights. Another three remain alive in the wrestlebacks. The primary starters went 30-3 overall with 22 bonus point wins. Four of them scored bonus points in every match they wrestled.

Iowa sophomore Alex Marinelli wrestles Army's Cael McCormick at the 2018 Midlands Championships on Saturday at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Marinelli pinned McCormick in 6 minutes, 33 seconds.

“That was the plan,” said Spencer Lee, who secured a pin and two technical falls en route to the semifinals at 125 pounds. “Yeah, everybody has things to improve on, but I like the way they wrestled. We’re out there to score points and get bonus points."

“We’re getting ready for a big tournament. The Midlands is a big tournament. It’s the biggest thing on our schedule because it’s the next one. The guys came ready to go.”

This is the kind of team performance the Hawkeyes needed to put forth if they want to be considered one of the country’s best teams. This was the first real look at them in a tournament setting and, all things considered, they deserve a passing grade after Saturday’s performance.

It’s been 21 days since Iowa last took the mat, and its 28-14 win over Lehigh earlier this month was the end of an up-and-down start to the season that was littered with small injuries and tough opponents. That time off allowed the Hawkeyes to heal, and Saturday’s showing provided small glimpses into how good they can be when everybody is good to go.

“Any time you have a team that’s beat up, you want time,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “We needed the break and we used the break well. I think our guys learned something from some of the carnage. We have to wrestle harder and work harder when we’re out on the mat.

“The bonus points are good … the positives, we have to build on those.”

The day was not perfect. Iowa brought 21 wrestlers to this year’s Midlands, and 13 made it to Day Two. Mitch Bowman debuted at 174 pounds, but went 2-2 and was eliminated from the tournament. Jacob Warner went down in the quarterfinals by technical fall to South Dakota State’s Tanner Sloan, a true freshman. Sam Stoll medically forfeited after reaching the quarterfinals.

“That’s precautionary,” Brands said. “That’s the smart thing to do.”

But overall, this Iowa team looked good on the first day of a tough tournament. It may not be as big as, say, the Big Ten tournament or the NCAA Championships, but against a field that the Hawkeyes should beat handily, it’s encouraging to see them leading the field by a sizable margin. 

“There are still things we can improve on,” said Kaleb Young, who secured three technical falls and a pin en route to the semifinals at 157 pounds. “But we have some pretty good guys on our team who can get some things going and put a beatdown on people.

“It’s awesome going out and whupping some people yourself, but watching the guy to your left and right doing it, too, that makes it even better.”

Iowa's Cash Wilcke wrestles Brown's Anthony Pedro during Session I of the 2018 Midlands Championships on Saturday in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Wilcke beat Pedro, 5-0, and reached the semifinals at 184 pounds.

Depth on display

In addition to the usual starters, Iowa received some stellar performances from some of their reserves as well.

Paul Glynn was perhaps the biggest surprise. The junior entered the tournament unseeded and strung together four-straight decisions to reach the semifinals at 133 pounds. He allowed just one point in those four matches.

“I’m just having fun out there,” Glynn said. “It sounds so cliche, like ah, I’m just going out there and having fun, but really, that’s when I think I wrestle my best. You’ve wrestled so many matches in your life, so you know what it feels like to win and you know what it feels like to lose.

“I’m just going out there with the mentality that I’m going to wrestle every position as hard as I can.”

In addition to Glynn, Vince Turk recorded back-to-back major decisions to reach the quarterfinals at 141 pounds. At 157, Jeren Glosser won five straight consolation matches after losing in the first round. At heavyweight, Aaron Costello won twice in the wrestlebacks to reach Day Two.

Tony Cassioppi lost

Star true freshman Tony Cassioppi dropped the first match of his college career on Saturday night.

Iowa’s heavyweight redshirt phenom won the first 13 matches of his college career, including 11 by fall. That string came to an end on Saturday when Cassioppi lost to Campbell’s Jere Heino by an 11-3 major decision.

Cassioppi fell to the wrestlebacks, where he will begin when competition resumes on Sunday.

Nelson Brands, another true freshman who is redshirting this season, was slated to compete this weekend too. He did not end up wrestling, indicating the decision on his Instagram on Friday night.

“Nelson’s good,” Tom Brands said. “We’re nursing some things. We have to be smart in more ways than one.”

Northern Iowa pushes six into semifinals

The Northern Iowa wrestling team is the first team behind Iowa in the team race after the first day at the Midlands. If not for the Hawkeyes storming to the top, the Panthers might’ve garnered more love, as they pushed six wrestlers into Sunday’s semifinal round.

Josh Alber (141), Max Thomsen (149), Bryce Steiert (165), Taylor Lujan (174) and Drew Foster (184) all rolled into the semifinals at their respective weights, anchoring the Panthers’ 76 team points. They lead third-place Wisconsin by seven. Northwestern and Princeton round out the top five.

The sixth Panther semifinalist is a true freshman. Michael Blockhus, who is redshirting this season, also made the semifinals at 141 pounds. He will face Iowa’s Max Murin during Sunday’s first session.

Northern Iowa has one other wrestler still competing. Kyle Biscoglia, a true freshman from Waukee who is also redshirting this season, is alive in the wrestlebacks at 125 pounds. 

Tanner Sloan of Alburnett wins the state championship at 195 pounds against Hunter DeJong ofSibley-Ocheyedan Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018.

Hello, Tanner Sloan

After the quarterfinal round on Saturday, every wrestling fan likely spent some time Googling the name “Tanner Sloan.”

Here’s a quick rundown: Sloan is a true freshman at South Dakota State. He’s originally from Alburnett, where he won two state titles in 2016 and 2018. He’s redshirting for the Jackrabbits this season.

On Saturday, Sloan beat Iowa’s Jacob Warner in the quarterfinals at 197 pounds — and he didn’t just beat him, but beat him badly by an 18-3 technical fall. Sloan reversed Warner in the second period to lead 4-3, then went tilt happy to lead 14-3 entering the third. One final 4-point tilt secured the technical superiority.

Sloan advanced to the semifinals, where he’ll face Northwestern’s Lucas Davison during Sunday’s first session.

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

2018 Midlands Championships

Team scores after Day One

1. Iowa, 114.5
2. Northern Iowa, 76
3. Wisconsin, 69
4. Northwestern, 68.5
5. Princeton, 62