Iowa coach Tom Brands recaps the break after the Midlands, and discusses sophomore 125-pounder Spencer Lee and senior heavyweight Sam Stoll. Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Consider Sam Stoll ‘day to day’ moving forward.
The Iowa wrestling team’s senior heavyweight isn’t listed on the team’s probable lineups ahead of its dual at Minnesota this Sunday (12 p.m., Big Ten Network). Redshirt freshman Aaron Costello is expected to take the mat and wrestle the top-ranked Gable Steveson.
Iowa coach Tom Brands said Wednesday that he and his staff will likely pick and choose when to wrestle Stoll during the second half of the season.
“It’s a day-to-day process,” Brands said. “Our fans are excited to see him. Our coaches are excited to see him on the mat. I know that he’s excited to see the mat.
“All that being said, we have to make sure that he’s healthy and that’s where we’re at.”
Stoll has a history of knee injuries, of course — two ACL tears on his left knee. That was before this summer’s incident when he was hospitalized with a non-life threatening injury from a gunshot.
The returning All-American has only wrestled three times this season — against Iowa State’s Gannon Gremmel on Dec. 1 (a 5-1 win), then twice at the Midlands Championships, against Northern Iowa’s Izaak Shedenhelm (by fall) and North Carolina’s Andrew Gunning (a 3-1 win).
“Midlands, going two matches and pulling out, was probably more planned than not,” Brands said. “Not that there was a hard plan to wrestle two matches and then get out of the tournament, but it was talked about probably, at some point, not wrestle the whole tournament.”
Expect Brands to continue to be cautious with Stoll. Now in his 13th season, Brands wants Stoll healthy for the most important competitions of the season — the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. If that means holding Stoll out of a dual in early January, that’s what he’ll do.
The Hawkeyes have just nine duals left before the Big Ten Championships, set for March 9-10. It isn’t unreasonable to think that Stoll could enter the conference tournament with less than 10 matches under his belt.
“When you’re a fifth-year senior, and the end of the season is coming, you have no choice,” Brands said. “He knows that. He’s chomping at the bit. He wants to go. But we have to make sure this is the right time, the right situation.”
Brands held Stoll out of certain competitions last season — against Maryland and Ohio State, to name two — for precautionary reasons. Stoll ended up fourth at the Big Ten tournament and then recorded three pins and took fifth at the NCAA Championships.
Perhaps those results are what’s fueling these decisions this season.
“We knew what we had coming into this season, with the issues he had,” Brands said. “We’re going to do the right thing by him every time.”
► MORE WRESTLING COVERAGE FROM THE DES MOINES REGISTER
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- Takeaways: Iowa prep wrestlers shine at the Cheesehead, Clash, in Ames
- IWCOA announces high school girls' wrestling state tournament
- Grand View to add women's wrestling program
- After Midlands run, Alburnett native Tanner Sloan sees bright future
- Southern Scuffle: Austin Gomez storms to finals, ISU takes third
- Midlands: Alex Marinelli's big win, Spencer Lee's loss, Iowa's team title
Spencer Lee discusses Midlands loss
Iowa sophomore Spencer Lee spoke on Wednesday for the first time since his loss to Northwestern’s Sebastian Rivera in the finals of the Midlands. Rivera beat Lee, 7-3, at 125 pounds and has since claimed the unanimous No. 1 ranking in the national polls.
“I just have to relax more and just wrestle,” Lee said. “I was very tight, and he wrestled a great match. He’s a great opponent. He wrestled smart. He backed up and exploded. He’s quick. He’s a good wrestler. He’s strong. He’s fast. He’s an All-American.
“I have to find a way to wrestle my match. You have to get to your best things. He wrestled his match. That was the biggest thing … you always have to find that fire. Always. Maybe this helped me find more. I don’t know. I’m still working on it.”
The loss was Lee’s first of the season, and his first since the semifinals of last year's Big Ten tournament, where he lost to Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello, 2-1. Lee responded by winning his next seven matches and winning an NCAA title.
“Coaches did a great job of helping me move on to the next best thing,” Lee said. “The next best thing for me was practice and getting back to the drawing board and focusing on improvement.”
“I’m always going to be my biggest critic … I’m very hard on myself, and I take things to a different level, where it’s almost negative. That’s always been a flaw of mine since I was 8 years old.”
Lee said he’s already looking forward to his next match, which is this Sunday against Minnesota’s fifth-ranked Sean Russell. Lee beat Russell at the 2017 Midlands by technical fall. Russell is a past All-American who transferred to Minnesota from Edinboro this past offseason.
“He’s a great opponent,” Lee said. “It’s in his home gym, and he’s going to wrestle as hard as he can. It’s going to be a good match. We’re going to fight hard like two warriors are going to do. I’m looking forward to it.”
Watch a video of Spencer Lee below:
Iowa's Spencer Lee talks about moving forward after a loss. The sophomore lost in the finals at the Midlands Championships two weeks ago. Hawk Central
Trackwrestling’s newest rankings
Trackwrestling released its newest Division I rankings on Monday. Iowa checked in at No. 3, behind No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Ohio State. Oklahoma State and Minnesota round out the top five. Iowa State is ranked 18th. Northern Iowa is tied with South Dakota State at No. 19.
Individually, Iowa has 9 wrestlers ranked — Lee (2 at 125), Austin DeSanto (10 at 133), Max Murin (13 at 141), Pat Lugo (11 at 149), Kaleb Young (4 at 157), Alex Marinelli (3 at 165), Cash Wilcke (17 at 184), Jacob Warner (6 at 197) and Stoll (2 at 285).
Iowa State has 6 ranked wrestlers — Austin Gomez (9 at 133), Ian Parker (12 at 141), Jarrett Degen (8 at 149), Marcus Coleman (24 at 174), Sam Colbray (16 at 184) and Willie Miklus (4 at 197).
Northern Iowa also has 6 ranked wrestlers — Jay Schwarm (20 at 125), Josh Alber (10 at 141), Max Thomsen (9 at 149), Bryce Steiert (12 at 165), Taylor Lujan (8 at 174) and Drew Foster (6 at 184).
Busy stretch coming up
Once Sunday rolls around, it will have been 14 days since the majority of Iowa's wrestlers last saw the mat — the Midlands ended on Dec. 30; Sunday is Jan. 13. Brands allowed his guys time to heal during the time off.
“This year, our schedule fell where the Big Ten didn’t have anything scheduled,” he said, “and we took advantage of it instead of scheduling something in that time period. I think it’s very beneficial, especially for this team, with the injuries and some of the youth.
“We have a lot of first-time starters, and with the injuries having to heal, those types of things … I think you get a lot accomplished individually. You get a lot accomplished in a longer training phase.”
That lengthy break will be replaced by four Big Ten duals over a 15-day span, including three on the road.
After the Hawkeyes’ dual against No. 5 Minnesota on Sunday, they host No. 11 Rutgers on Jan. 18, then a Friday-Sunday road-trip doubleheader at No. 15 Illinois and No. 10 Northwestern.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.