IOWA CITY, Ia. — The future of the Iowa wrestling program will be on display here this weekend.
Two future Hawkeyes, Jesse Ybarra and Patrick Kennedy, are competing in Flowrestling’s "Who’s Number One" showcase inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The event, scheduled for 5 p.m. on Saturday, is among the most prestigious high school wrestling competitions in the country.
Put on by FloSports’ wrestling website, the event is a dual-style competition featuring the nation’s best high school wrestlers. Nine weights will be contested, and the winners will earn Flowrestling’s No. 1 spot at their respective weights ahead of the 2019-20 season.
Lehigh’s Grace Hall had played host to this event for the past six years. Flowrestling brought it to Iowa City this year partly because of the attendance track record, partly because of the knowledgeable fan base, and partly because of the two Iowa commits competing.
Ybarra, an Arizona native who committed to Iowa in September 2018, is competing at 120 pounds. The senior from Sunnyside High School is a 2018 Cadet freestyle national champion and reached the finals of the Cadet freestyle world team trials this past summer. He is wrestling Jakason Burks, a Nebraska native and past Cadet Greco-Roman world team member.
“Man, words can’t even explain it,” Ybarra told the Des Moines Register this week. “I’m so pumped. The Iowa crowd I know is ridiculous. It’s crazy. I’m so excited to wrestle in that atmosphere.”
Kennedy, a Minnesota native who committed in June 2018, is wrestling at 170. The senior from Kasson-Mantorville stormed to a Junior freestyle national title in July, wherein he went 7-0 and outscored his opponents 72-5. He will face Alex Facundo, a Michigan prep and two-time Cadet freestyle world medalist.
“It’s going to be fun,” Kennedy said Friday. “You hear that Carver is the best place to wrestle. It’s pretty close to home, too, so a lot of people from my community will be supporting me. I’m ready for a great atmosphere.”
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A few current Iowa wrestlers have competed at previous "Who's Number One" events.
Michael Kemerer, the Hawkeyes' presumed starting 174-pounder, was included in the first one in 2013. Gavin Teasdale, who transferred in from Penn State this offseason, competed at WNO every year from 2014-17. Current true freshman Abe Assad, who won a 2019 Junior freestyle national title, wrestled in it last year.
For Ybarra and Kennedy, it will be the first of many opportunities to wrestle on Carver’s floor.
Ybarra has come to Iowa City on visits, but never during the season. He spent the earlier part of this week watching duals online. He kept returning to the 2018 Iowa-Oklahoma State dual, when an announced 13,485 packed Carver as the Hawkeyes beat the Cowboys, 20-12.
That’s fitting, considering Burks is an Oklahoma State commit. That’s not lost on Ybarra.
“I’ve definitely framed that in my mind,” said Ybarra, who beat Burks, 4-1, at the Cadet world team trials earlier this summer. “It’s a big match. It’ll be a lot louder in the arena because he’s Oklahoma State and I’m for Iowa. I’m looking forward to it.
“He’s pretty fast. I know he has a good double, but he goes upper-body ties, too. I’m looking forward to it.”
Kennedy has been to Carver for a couple of duals over the last few years. He also made the trip to watch the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, when 44,254 fans attended over two days. He doesn’t remember specific matches, but he remembers the noise.
“It gets loud in there,” he said and smiled.
Come Saturday night, Kennedy could ignite more cheers from the Iowa fans who choose to attend. His match against Facundo is considered the showcase’s “main event,” according to Flowrestling editor and writer Willie Saylor.
Facundo is considered the No.1 pound-for-pound wrestler in the 2021 class. He’s being recruited by all of the big-name programs, who value his elite defensive skills, dominant top game, and masterful duck-under. Kennedy, the No. 6 overall prospect for 2020 (Ybarra is No. 16), has the ability to score points in bunches, often times by a catch-and-release method.
“I think this matchup is incredible for a lot of different reasons,” Saylor said. “I don’t think you can predict how this match is going to go at all.”
Added Kennedy: “I’ve been raised to wrestle a wide-open but controlled style. I can wrestle in positions. You don’t scramble very often, but I can wrestle with guys in there.
“There’s no special tactics going into this match. I’m just going to wrestle.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
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Flowrestling’s 'Who’s Number One'
When: 5 p.m., Saturday
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, IA
Tickets: Click here.
132: No. 1 Jesse Mendez, IN vs. No. 4 Ryan Jack, CT*
132: No. 2 Dom Serrano, CO vs. No. 3 Shayne Van Ness, NJ*
120: No. 1 Jesse Ybarra, AZ vs. No. 2 Jakason Burks, NE
113: No. 1 Richard Figueroa, CA vs. No. 2 Stevo Poulin, NY
145: No. 1 Victor Voinovich, OH vs. No. 2 Jesse Vasquez, CA
65-kg: Josh Saunders, MO vs. Anthony Echemendia, AZ*^
152: No. 1 Sonny Santiago, CA vs. No. 2 Travis Mastrogiovanni, NJ
160: No. 1 Paddy Gallagher, OH vs. No. 2 Keegan O'Toole, WI*
126: No. 1 Robbie Howard, NJ vs. No. 2 Trevor Mastrogiovanni, NJ*
138: No. 1 Beau Bartlett, PA vs. No. 2 Ryan Sokol, MN
170: No. 1 Alex Facundo, MI vs. No. 2 Patrick Kennedy, MN
132: Mendez/Jack winner vs Serrano/Van Ness winner*
*Indicates match will be wrestled in freestyle; all others will be in folkstyle
^Special exhibition, without No. 1 ranking up for grabs