Wrestling: Tony Cassioppi’s pin highlights Iowa’s season-opening win over Chattanooga

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Sometimes, when he’s bored — or, perhaps, motivated — Tony Cassioppi will flip through the Iowa wrestling media guide. The Hawkeye heavyweight spends a lot of time on page 54, which is titled “Individual School Records.”

There, part of the program’s storied history is on display in the form of lists — for most single-season wins (Barry Davis, 46, in 1981-82), most career wins (also Davis, at 162) and, among others, consecutive matches won (Jim Zalesky, 89, from 1981-84).

Cassioppi has honed in on two in particular: the career pin record, held by Ed Banach, who recorded 73 from 1980-83, and the single-season pin record, which is 23, by Bruce Kinseth in 1978-79.

The redshirt freshman wants them both.

“A pin is always my goal,” Cassioppi said last week. “I was looking at the media guide one day and was like, ‘I can do that.’”

Sunday’s season-opening dual here at Carver-Hawkeye Arena was a good first step.

Cassioppi recorded a first-period pin over UT-Chattanooga’s Grayson Walthall in his official Hawkeye debut. It served as an electric ending to the second-ranked Hawkeyes’ 39-0 season-opening victory over the Mocs.

Before an announced 10,466, Iowa dominated nearly every facet of this contest. The Hawkeyes took all 10 bouts and scored bonus in four. They rolled up 33 takedowns and allowed six, and scored 119 total match points while the Mocs tallied 38.

There were some small irregularities in the Hawkeyes’ lineup.

At 133 pounds, Paul Glynn got the nod over Gavin Teasdale — who competed at the Luther Open on Saturday, placing third. On Sunday, Glynn overcame three first-period takedowns to score three of his own and beat Wade Cummings, 11-7.

At 184, Nelson Brands go the nod over senior Cash Wilcke, who also competed at the Luther Open, placing first. Brands, listed at 165, said he weighed in at 176.5, then rolled up three takedowns and defeated 21st-ranked Matthew Waddell, 8-4.

“We’re going to keep getting guys ready to go,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “This was our best team today, because Wilcke wrestled yesterday. We’ve got work to do to get all of our guys ready to go.

“There’s certain team things that you’re working on, and then there’s more specific teams. There’s a reason why Wilcke went to (Luther).”

There was little drama elsewhere. Spencer Lee opened with a 16-5 major decision at 125 pounds. Austin DeSanto, up at 141 — though Brands said he weighed in as a 133-pounder — racked up six takedowns in a 23-4 technical fall. Michael Kemerer made his debut at his new weight after missing last year with an injury, and rolled to a 20-0 technical fall.

“It felt good,” Kemerer said. “It was a long time, but it was good to be back out there. It feels good. I feel like I can still hit my leg attacks, hit my turns on top, get out from bottom. It doesn’t matter the weight class, it’s about wrestling every position hard. Just need to keep building.”

Cassioppi ended the dual with a pin in one minute, 45 seconds. After a quick takedown, he methodically turned Walthall for the pin, igniting the Carver crowd.

One down, 72 more to go.

Something like that,” Cassioppi said and smiled. “It felt good.”

Iowa's Tony Cassioppi reacts after pinning University of Tennessee-Chattanooga's Grayson Walthall at 285 pounds during a NCAA non-conference wrestling dual, Sunday, Nov., 17, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

This is just one dual, of course, but Cassioppi has always thought big when it came to things he hoped to accomplish. He was the No. 14 overall recruit in the 2018 class when he signed with Iowa, and during his redshirt year, he went 20-2 with 14 pins.

It’s easy to joke about him scanning the program’s media guide, but in a way, he views those stats as things worth chasing.

Kinseth pinned his way to a national title at 150 pounds at the 1979 national tournament. He was named both the outstanding wrestler and the Gorriaran Award winner, given to the wrestler with the most pins at the NCAA Championships.

Banach’s 73 pins means nearly 19 per season. He had one year with 22 (1982-83) and another with 19 (1981-82). Davis averaged more than 40 wins per season in order to set the program’s all-time mark. Brands is second, with 158.

Those numbers might be harder to chase nowadays, since Cassioppi doesn’t anticipate wrestling as much as those guys did each year. A few trips to some early-season open tournaments might be necessary to give himself a fair shot.

For the record, Cassioppi laughed at that idea.

“I don’t know about that,” he said. “The most important thing is getting an NCAA title.”

The road to the top starts with one step forward, and Cassioppi put forth a performance that emulated Iowa’s past heavyweights. Bobby Telford made his Carver debut in 2011, and recorded a pin in 2:17. In 2015, Sam Stoll did the same in 1:36.

Cassioppi’s first step came on Sunday. There was the takedown, then the pin, then the roar of the crowd, sparking the smile of a big man with a big, big future in front of him.

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

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No. 2 Iowa 39, UT-Chattanooga 0

  • 125: Spencer Lee (IA) maj. dec. Fabian Gutierrez (UTC) 16-5
  • 133: Paul Glynn (IA) dec. Wade Cummings (UTC) 11-7
  • 141: Austin DeSanto (IA) tech. fall Aidan Murphy (UTC) 23-4
  • 149: Pat Lugo (IA) dec. Tanner Smith (UTC) 9-4
  • 157: Kaleb Young (IA) maj. dec. George Carpenter (UTC) 16-6
  • 165: Alex Marinelli (IA) dec. Drew Nicholson (UTC) 9-4
  • 174: Michael Kemerer (IA) tech. fall Hunter Fortner (UTC) 20-0
  • 184: Nelson Brands (IA) dec. Matthew Waddell (UTC) 8-4
  • 197: Jacob Warner (IA) dec. Rodney Jones (UTC) 
  • 285: Tony Cassioppi (IA) pins Grayson Walthall (UTC) in 1:45