Wrestling Mailbag: Hawkeyes lost once, Cyclones lost twice; on Pat Lugo and looking forward

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

Wrestling can be funny sometimes. Perceptions and opinions can change with just one performance. Either the party will continue, or the sky will start falling.

Take this past weekend, for example. Iowa was in Stillwater for a dual against longtime rival Oklahoma State, billed as the biggest contest of the Division I season. Iowa State, meanwhile, entered two big duals to close what has been a strong second year under Kevin Dresser.

And, well, you guys know what happened.

The Hawkeyes got beat decisively by a very good Cowboy team — seven matches out of 10  and all of a sudden, an undefeated season is gone in a flash and worry festers among Iowa fans (or at least the ones who decide to tweet at me).

The Cyclones dropped back-to-back duals to a couple of very good teams in Northern Iowa and Missouri. They competed well in both, but came up just a little short, ending a solid 10-4 dual season with a sour taste.

Follow HawkCentral on YouTube for all of our Iowa wrestling videos

Here’s the thing: The Big Ten and Big 12 tournaments are next weekend, and the NCAA Championships are two weeks after that. If both teams produce strong postseasons, everybody will forget about this past weekend.

We saw this just last year. The Hawkeyes didn’t exactly wrestle to their potential at the Big Ten tournament, then came out like gangbusters and racked up bonus points en route to third place at nationals. People still talk about that.

For the Cyclones (and Northern Iowa, for that matter), the postseason presents another chance to show growth. They made waves during the regular season, but will ultimately be remembered by how they fare at the conference and national tournaments.

So, really, new opportunities await both Iowa and Iowa State. This past weekend was rough, but three days in March will determine how this season gets remembered. Same with Northern Iowa, who finished 7-5 in duals but will carry loads of potential into the postseason once again.

Like I said, wrestling can be funny sometimes.

Now, then. Onto the mailbag. Before we get into the Division I postseason, don’t forget that the NAIA National Championships are this Friday-Saturday in Des Moines, where Grand View is going for an eighth straight national title.

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.

Too many. Way too many.

"Worried" probably isn’t the right word. I mean, Oklahoma State is good, you guys. That Iowa lost shouldn’t be a shock to anybody.

But I think this showed just how tough that fight for second place nationally behind Penn State is going to be.

The Cowboys have a lot of really good wrestlers. They’ve got depth, firepower, experience and talent. I’ve always considered them among the teams in the mix for second. At times, they’ve probably been the front-runner for second. After Sunday, I’d love to see them wrestle Penn State.

This was always going to be Iowa’s toughest dual of the year. There were an insane amount of swing matches — 133, 141, 184, 197 and heavy, all of which the Cowboys won. Oklahoma State snagged a big upset at 125. Iowa got one back at 149 (more on this later). If you go by the rankings, it mostly went chalk otherwise.

I do think this performance will be something of an eye-opener, in much the same way that the Big Ten tournament was a year ago. I’m not saying that the Hawkeyes will come out and run roughshod at the conference tournament in two weeks, but I do think we’ll see growth from a handful of guys.

It’s going to take one heck of an effort to win a trophy this year. Penn State is far and away the favorite to win, but then there’s a mix of Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Missouri, Michigan and Iowa there. Even Cornell, Nebraska and Minnesota will fight for the remaining three trophies.

The NCAA Championships will be so much fun through that lens. If Iowa wants to come home with some hardware, it’ll need to be at its best those three crucial days in March.

We already knew this. Sunday only reinforced that.

Iowa's Jacob Warner, right, wrestles Maryland's Niko Cappello at 197 during a NCAA Big Ten Conference wrestling dual on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.


In a sentence, Iowa’s schedule provided some tests, but not very many true tests, if that makes sense.

The Hawkeyes wrestled some tough teams this season, such as up-and-coming Iowa State, Minnesota and Nebraska. Wisconsin would’ve been fun, but the Badgers put forth an abbreviated lineup. Rutgers was scrappy. Iowa also saw Northern Iowa, Arizona State and a few others at the Midlands.

But … Iowa is always going to be measured against the likes of Penn State, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Michigan, among others. By virtue of the Big Ten scheduling cycle, the Hawkeyes didn’t get to compete against Penn State, Ohio State or Michigan this season.

It remains to be seen if that will help or hurt them. There’s something to be said about wrestling those teams and being able to get your hands on those guys at least once before the postseason. 

From my perspective, not seeing Iowa wrestle these teams makes it a little harder to see where they truly stack up. You get small glimpses here and there, such as when Spencer Lee and Kaleb Young wrestled Sebastian Rivera and Ryan Deakin, respectively. But nothing like when the Hawkeyes wrestled Oklahoma State on Sunday.

In that dual, you had a lot of All-Americans going at each other and a handful of other contenders scrapping. By the end of it, it really showed where Iowa stood, head-to-head, against the Cowboys.

A lot can change in March, but in a small way, Sunday’s dual revealed a lot more about Iowa than the previous 14.

I’ll take the over on Big Ten Champs. I think it would be unwise to bet against Alex Marinelli, the way he’s been wrestling this season. If not for guys such as Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf, I believe Marinelli would be in the Hodge Trophy conversation. He’s been dominant. 

I think you have to include Spencer Lee and Austin DeSanto as well. Lee maybe hasn’t been as all-world as he was a year ago, but if he’s on at Big Tens, watch out. DeSanto didn’t lose during any of the Big Ten duals, but he didn’t wrestle Michigan’s Stevan Micic.

Otherwise, I think if the Pat Lugo who showed up on Sunday shows up in Minneapolis, he could win a wide-open weight. Cash Wilcke and Jacob Warner have to get through Myles Martin and Nickal. Young would have to beat Deakin, Tyler Berger and Nolf. Heavyweight and 141 are both tough fields, too.

As for the team finish, I’ll take the under (worse). Third sounds about right after Sunday’s dual, maybe even fourth. I’m really curious to finally see Iowa against Michigan and Ohio State (and also Penn State, for that matter).

The Big Ten tournament should be a lot of fun. 

Iowa's Austin DeSanto gives head coach Tom Brands a high-five before his match at 133 a NCAA Big Ten Conference wrestling dual on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

That loss to Russell Rohlfing seems like forever ago, doesn’t it?

I tweeted this Sunday, and I’ll say it again here: Pat Lugo looked as good as I’ve ever seen him in his win over Kaden Gfeller. He finished shots, defended well, pushed the pace, took ground and looked every bit like an All-American threat at a weight that is incredibly wide-open.

Lugo impressed in a lot of ways. He had to work to finish his shots against Gfeller, and methodically finished twice for two points. He gave up two reversals, but calmly escaped both times. He worked his underhooks, where Gfeller is pretty comfortable, and displayed stellar defense when Gfeller got in on shots.

That win pushed Lugo to 14-7 overall. He’s won seven in a row and 13 of 16 dating to the Midlands. Tough matchups still await — the Big Ten tournament features Rutgers’ Anthony Ashnault and Ohio State’s Micah Jordan, among others. I’m curious to see how he does against these other Big Ten 149-pounders.

But if Lugo continues to wrestle like he did on Sunday, you can reasonably expect him to finish on the NCAA podium.

Iowa's Pat Lugo, right, wrestles Indiana's Fernie Luigs at 149 during a NCAA Big Ten Conference wrestling dual on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

I have a lot of thoughts on Iowa State, many of which are good. I feel that the Cyclones have made an enormous amount of progress in a short amount of time. I mean, Cam said it — they won one dual two years ago. They won 10 this season.

This is great for wrestling, and especially great for wrestling in Iowa, that Iowa State is on the up again. They have an exciting group of wrestlers, and more talent is on the way. David Carr, Joel Shapiro and Francis Duggan all redshirted. Aden Reeves, Julien Broderson and Pennsylvania prep Ryan Anderson are joining the program soon.

Here's the wet blanket: the 10 teams Iowa State beat went a combined 69-90. That record is mostly weighed down by SIUE (2-13) and West Virginia (4-14). If you remove those two, the record of the other 12 is still 63-63 — five teams with a winning record, five teams with a losing record.

The four teams Iowa State lost to — Iowa, Oklahoma State, Northern Iowa and Missouri — went a combined 52-7, and that includes Northern Iowa’s somewhat misleading 7-5 record. Take that out, and you're at 45-2.

Iowa State Coach Kevin Dresser calls out to Gannon Gremmel as he wrestles Missouri's Zach Elam at 285 during the Cyclone's last dual of the season on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, in Hilton Coliseum.

So, this is really the best way I can describe the Cyclones' regular season: They beat the teams they should have, and lost to the more elite competition. There’s nothing wrong with that. Rebuilding a Division I program takes many steps, and one of them is beating the teams you should. The Cyclones did that. Give them some kudos.

There’s still a postseason to go.. It’s not unreasonable to think they could get eight guys through to the NCAA Championships, and it’s not unreasonable to think they could potentially have five All-Americans.  That would be an incredibly successful season.

But it’s also not unreasonable to think they could finish with just one All-American, or push only four or five guys through to the national tournament. The college wrestling postseason can be a beast. It will be interesting to see how they do after a solid regular season.

Regarding Spencer Lee: I do believe guys are learning how to wrestle him differently. This happens all the time at wrestling’s elite levels. There’s film out there, and guys figure out a plan of attack and have found success. I was not surprised at all that Lee lost on Sunday. I was surprised that he got pinned.

We’ll see what happens in March.

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