Wrestling: Iowa recruits win big at Junior freestyle national championships

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

The Iowa wrestling team’s strong recruiting efforts over the last year have many picturing a bright future for the program, both in the long and short term. On Tuesday, many of those recruits showed why.

Four future Hawkeye wrestlers became All-Americans at the Junior freestyle national championships this week. Two of them, Illinois prep Abe Assad and Minnesota standout Patrick Kennedy, won national titles. Two others, Southeast Polk star Gabe Christenson and another from the Gopher State in Zach Glazier, finished in the top eight at their respective weights.

Assad and Kennedy were both masterful during their runs to first place. Assad, a 2019 signee who will be in Iowa City this fall, went 6-0 and won at 182 pounds. Kennedy, a 2020 commit who will sign in November, went 7-0 and won at 170.

Assad, a graduate of Glenbard North High School, won what many called the tournament’s toughest weight. Among those competing were three previous freestyle national champs, a Junior world team trials finalist, a folkstyle national champ, and a couple of freestyle national finalists. That doesn’t include Assad, who won a Cadet world bronze medal in 2018.

And none of that really mattered this week. Assad outscored his six opponents by a combined 57-6. He won four matches by technical fall. In the finals, he soundly beat future Oklahoma State wrestler Dustin Plott 8-2. The whole week was a masterclass in freestyle wrestling.

Kennedy was just as impressive. Ranked No. 1 at 170 by Flowrestling, he blasted through his competition, recording six technical falls in seven matches. His first three matches lasted a combined 1 minute, 49 seconds. Three of his next four didn’t make it past the first period — including his 10-0 technical fall victory over Pennsylvania prep Gerrit Nijenhuis in the finals.

“I feel like I wrestled really well,” Kennedy said afterward. “Good feeling, too, knowing that your training and what you’re doing in the dark paid off. I’m doing the right things and have the right lifestyle. I’m giving myself the best opportunities to do the things I want to do.”

Even more, Christenson, a 2019 Class 3A state champ and part of the 2020 recruiting class, took fifth at 220. He went 6-2 with four technical falls and two pins. Glazier, who signed with Assad as part of the 2019 class, went 7-3 and won four times in the wrestlebacks to take sixth at 182.

“It’s nice to know that we all are on the same page, just mindset wise,” Kennedy said. “We want to go out there and not just wrestle, but dominate. We’re doing the right things.

“We want more than just these national titles. We want the big ones when we’re all in Iowa City.”

This annual tournament is considered one of the country’s toughest high school competitions. College coaches pile into the FargoDome every July to seek out the nation’s best prep wrestlers. In a way, it serves as a proving ground for high-schoolers with college aspirations.

And by the look of it, Iowa’s future looks pretty, pretty good.

Kasson-Mantorville's Patrick Kennedy takes down Plainview-Elgin-Millville's Dustin Dittrich in the AA state finals at 182 pounds. Kennedy won the match, 9-2. The rising-junior also committed to the Iowa wrestling program on Monday.


Three future Panthers earn All-American status

Iowa’s recruiting class may have stolen the show thanks to Assad’s and Kennedy’s titles, but a trio of future Northern Iowa wrestlers also produced All-American performances.

Parker Keckeisen, Lance Runyon, and Cael Happel all finished on the podium at the Junior freestyle national championships this week. Keckeisen finished third at 182 pounds, Runyon took sixth at 170, and Happel placed third at 132.

Keckeisen, who nearly made the Junior world team earlier this spring, went 7-1 en route to bronze, losing only to Plott in the semifinals. He produced a strong showing in the same grueling bracket that Assad won, collecting four technical falls along the way.

Runyon, a past 16U/Cadet double All-American, went 7-3 overall, an effort that included four-straight wins in the wrestlebacks on his way to a podium finish. In that, he recorded five technical falls and another pin.

Happel, like Runyon, made a strong run through the wrestlebacks on his way to third, winning four in a row after losing in the quarterfinals. The three-time Class 1A state champ ultimately went 8-1 overall, picking off a slew of ranked opponents along the way.

Keckeisen and Runyon have both already signed as part of Northern Iowa’s 2019 class, and will be on campus as freshmen this fall. Happel became the Panthers’ first 2020 commitment in late February

Combine them with the fact that Northern Iowa recently made some history with its best NCAA team finish under head coach Doug Schwab this past March, and Drew Foster winning a national title along the way, and it’s easy to see that big, big things are brewing up in Cedar Falls.

Nicolet's Parker Keckeisen (top) dominates during his 19-4 win over Menomonie's Sam Skillings in the 182at the WIAA State Wrestling Tournament Division 1 182 pound championship round Saturday, February 23, 2019 at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.


ISU recruit Fisher earns AA honors

Woodward-Granger’s Cody Fisher was the lone Cyclone recruit to earn All-American honors this past week. The 2019 state champ went 5-2 to take seventh at 220. He stormed to the quarterfinals, then battled back through the wrestlebacks to finish on the podium.

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

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Junior Men’s Freestyle National Championships

Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa Recruits