Wrestling Mailbag: Kaleb Young’s amazing headlock, Spencer Lee's mini-funk and the future Big Ten schedule

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

Iowa downed Minnesota pretty handily on Sunday, and that's an encouraging thing to see, because the Hawkeyes are about to enter the stretch of their season where they need to be doing that to just about everybody.

The schedule has been well-discussed since its release in August, and the biggest gripe was who wasn't on the slate. No Michigan. No Ohio State. No Penn State.

Additionally, the home portion of the schedule is, well, not great. The Cyclones might very well be Iowa's toughest home opponent this year, and that dual happened more than 40 days ago.

There will be some tough individual matchups here and there, but by-and-large, the Hawkeyes should breeze through this conference schedule with much of the same dominance they showed Sunday. The toughest remaining Big Ten opponents are, arguably, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Iowa faces both of them on the road next month.

Iowa volunteer assistant coach Bobby Telford (left) and head coach Tom Brands congratulate Cash Wilcke after he scored a decision over Lehigh at 184 during a NCAA wrestling dual on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

The dual at Oklahoma State saves the schedule, at least in my eyes, and perhaps that's when we'll get a glimpse of what this Iowa team is truly made of. That's another team that has an NCAA trophy in its sights this season.

The rest of this schedule should feature a lot of lopsided Iowa victories. Perhaps that means we'll get to see some wrestlers we don't normally see, like Paul Glynn or Jeremiah Moody or Connor Corbin or others. I'm not saying that because I know something. I'm saying that because it's a possibility.

But enjoy the ride. Before we know it, March will arrive and the season will sprint to its finish.

Now, then. Onto the wrestling mailbag. Big things are on the schedule this week. Iowa-Rutgers on Friday, then the girls' high school wrestling state tournament on Saturday at Waverly-Shell Rock High School. Iowa State is on the road both Thursday and Sunday. Northern Iowa is at Missouri on Thursday, then home against Air Force on Sunday.

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

So some of you guys …

… have questions about …

… Spencer Lee.

Look, I can’t fully speak to what Spencer might be going through. Each time we’ve asked if he’s OK, he’s said he is, that he needs to work harder and trust his wrestling. 

His quote after his match on Sunday was indeed interesting:

“I was really focusing on my training, believing in my coaches. I need to believe in myself more and the way I can wrestle, and I feel like I haven’t shown that yet. I’m still getting ready to do what I do best, and that’s wrestle and have fun out there.

“Toughness is everything. That’s why I love this sport. People don’t know what you’re going through, and everybody has something that they’re fighting through. This sport, it just makes you grow up and makes you as tough as you have to be to be good in this sport. Toughness is one of the main aspects in this sport — mental toughness, all of it. This sport is a great example of that.”

What I can say is this: Purely from an on-the-mat standpoint, there is now a full year of college tape on him. College coaches are smart. Guys are going to employ strategies when they wrestle him. Spencer is good enough that he’ll tech-fall many dudes, but others are going to keep it close and give him a match.

His run to an NCAA title last March was otherworldly. Even I wrote that it was a performance befitting the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler. But I think a lot of people had this idea that he’d never lose another college match after that. Spencer Lee is incredible, but not even Dan Gable turned in an undefeated college career.

These top-level guys are going to give Spencer a match; that's the point. There’s tape on how to beat him. Sebastian Rivera did it at the Midlands. Ronnie Bresser did it last year. Nathan Tomasello did it at the Big Tens. 

After each of those losses, Spencer came back stronger. Minnesota’s Sean Russell is a past All-American who’s wrestled him before, and Spencer held him scoreless.

I know I’ve written that before, and here I am saying it again: Until I see something to the contrary, I have every reason to believe he’ll be fine.


Since Spencer’s pin over Tomasello in the NCAA semifinals last year.

That’s the immediate one that comes to mind. There are others, of course. Cory Clark’s takedown against Tomasello the year before. Tony Ramos’s two-point nearfall against Tyler Graff in the 2014 national finals. 

The beauty of Spencer’s pin was the calmness to it. Got dinged for stalling. Dove for Tomasello’s ankles. Built up into a double-leg finish. When Tomasello passed the leg, Spencer just sat his weight on Tomasello’s chest. The official starts counting for back points, and Spencer, already with one leg in hand, realizes his position and scoops Tomasello’s head for the pin.

But, I mean, holy cow. In a vacuum, Kaleb Young’s headlock might be the single most aesthetically pleasing move I’ve ever seen. There’s so much genius to it. Steve Bleise gets backed up toward the edge, then high-dives into Young for a body lock. Looked like Bleise had him, too. I thought for sure Bleise had a takedown coming.

But Young never panicked. Similar to Spencer’s pin, he stayed calm. He fought Bleise’s hands, maintained his balance, and even posted his right arm on the mat so as to adjust the rest of his body for that mean headlock sequence. Planting his arm allowed him to adjust his hips, set his feet and throw that move.

I’ve never seen anything like it. Watch it below. I’m more impressed by it the more I watch it.

I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I noticed upon rewatching the dual that Jacob Warner wore what appeared to be a brace on his right ankle. But overall, I thought Warner looked solid on Sunday.

He was really active in the first period. Rode really tough. Defended a couple of nice shots in the second period. Scored some backs in the third, and continued to ride tough throughout the period. Ultimately scored two takedowns.

Dylan Anderson’s takedown in the third was just on a quick counter. Give Warner a little bit of credit for cutting Anderson to try for the major. Maybe should've done it a little earlier in the period, and maybe shouldn’t have just gotten up. Put pressure on the head. Make it harder on him. Little things like that make a difference.

But overall, I thought it was a solid match. Yes, Warner walked back to the center of the mat each time while Anderson ran back. But both guys were breathing pretty hard in the third period. Warner led 7-2 with less than 30 seconds to go. Workmanlike.

Iowa's Jacob Warner has his arm raised after scoring a decision over Iowa State's Willie Miklus at 197 during a NCAA Cy-Hawk series wrestling dual on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Very important, and very encouraging, for a number of reasons.

Sunday’s match was just Bowman’s fifth since making the drop to 174 pounds. It’s not a massive sample size, but he is 2-3 overall, and we can glean a few things from those matches to at least monitor moving forward.

What I saw Sunday was that Bowman, even down at 174 pounds, still has his gas tank. And that’s important. That’s not something you want to rely on, but it’s a good thing to have. He came on strong in the third period, with three takedowns. I’d say another 10-15 seconds, and he may have had a fourth takedown to force overtime.

Now, again, you don’t want to rely on that all time. Bowman was down 7-1 midway through the second. But he did keep wrestling, which was good to see. His third-period surge arguably started with that reversal late in the second. A switch was flipped in that moment, and we saw it in the third period.

It was an encouraging performance, yes. If Bowman doesn’t dig himself a hole in that match, who knows what happens. That’ll be what you should monitor moving forward.

If you ask Max Murin, he’ll tell you he needs to win a national title.

But you asked me, and I say he needs to reach the podium.

As a weight, 141 is stacked this season. Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis is the returning national champ, followed by Ohio State’s Joey McKenna, Missouri’s Jayden Eierman and Minnesota’s Mitch McKee. That’s Trackwrestling’s top four.

But there’s also Illinois’ Michael Carr, Penn State’s Nick Lee, Michigan’s Kanen Storr, Old Dominion’s Sa’Derian Perry, Oklahoma’s Dom Demas, Buffalo’s Bryan Lantry, Northern Iowa’s Josh Alber, Iowa State’s Ian Parker … and then Murin.

It’s a tough weight. There are many other names lower down in Track’s rankings, like Nebraska’s Chad Red, Oklahoma State’s Kaid Brock and Wisconsin’s Tristan Moran.

I believe Murin is capable of finishing in the top eight.

At the same time, he hasn’t exactly shown it yet.

Murin has taken losses to McKee, Alber and Parker this season. He beat Storr at the UWW Junior men’s freestyle national championship last spring, but also lost to Demas in the finals of that same tournament. 

He’s still searching for that signature victory that will inspire the confidence needed to fully believe he will become an All-American. He’ll get more opportunities soon — Iowa wrestles at Illinois next week, so that’s a potential matchup with Carr.

Murin is a tough guy at a tough weight class. I think until he gets that signature win over one of those top-ranked guys, he’ll be stuck with the “darkhorse” label. 

► RELATED: Iowa coach Tom brands likes Max Murin because "he leads with his face"

Hoo boy. There are a lot of duals I’m looking forward to.

Penn State has both Michigan and Ohio State in early February. Michigan has Purdue this coming weekend, which I think could be sneaky good, and Ohio State the following week. Minnesota’s duals against Wisconsin and Nebraska should be really entertaining.

For Iowa, there are many duals and matchups I’m excited to see. I think Nebraska, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State could be really interesting duals. Nebraska has some great individuals, and Wisconsin, as a team, is tough as nails. 

But there are some great individual matches before then, too. This Friday, there’s the potential Austin DeSanto-Nick Suriano and Pat Lugo-Anthony Ashnault matchups. Against Illinois next week, there’s Warner-Emery Parker and Murin-Carr. Against Northwestern that same weekend, there’s Lee-Rivera and Young-Ryan Deakin.

Regarding the Badgers — they’re 6-3 overall in duals, but 1-3 against the Big Ten, which is good for 11th. According to Trackwrestling’s rankings, Wisconsin is No. 19, which is the 10th-highest Big Ten team.

I think they’ll do better than 10th, if that’s what you’re asking. I think they’re good enough to finish in the top six. They’ve been impressive so far.

Disclaimer: I put much more thought into this than I probably should have.

Because the song has to be perfect, from the beat to the lyrics. And you have to play it at the right time, whether that’s the chorus or the beginning or the bridge or whatever part of the song gets you the most pumped up for a match.

I’d probably go with “Can't Stop,” by Red Hot Chili Peppers. That guitar intro is a great way to build everything up, then the first lyrics are Can't stop, addicted to the shindig/Chop Top, he says I'm gonna win big. By then, the match might be underway.

Other considerations were: "Record Year," by Eric Church; "Emotionless," by Drake; "Centuries," by Fall Out Boy; "Greatest Show" by Panic! At The Disco; and "Rumble And Sway," by Jamie N Commons.

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