Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands recaps the first day of the 57th Midlands Championships Hawk Central
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Day One of the 57th Ken Kraft Midlands Championships looked a lot like what 28 previous runnings of this tournament have looked like — with the Iowa wrestling team out in front by a large margin.
The top-ranked Hawkeyes sit atop the team standings entering Day Two of the Midlands here at Sears Centre Arena, with 115.5 points. Northern Iowa is in second, with 69.5, one point ahead of third-place Wisconsin (68.5). Illinois (57) and Princeton (53.5) round out the top five.
Iowa brought 22 to compete this weekend — the Midlands allows teams to bring more than the standard 10 — and 14 advanced to Monday afternoon’s second session. That includes 10 in the semifinals, more than Northern Iowa (4) and Wisconsin (4) combined.
As such, a 29th Midlands team title appears imminent for the Hawkeyes, barring a colossal collapse. The Panthers can make it a second-straight year of Iowa and Northern Iowa finishing one-two here with a strong performance Monday.
Here are 13 things we learned from Day One at the Midlands:
1. One of the fun parts about the Midlands is that teams can bring more than just the standard 10 guys. For Iowa, that means an opportunity to showcase the program’s overall depth.
Specifically, the Hawkeyes showed extreme depth at 149 pounds. All three wrestlers — Pat Lugo, Vince Turk, Jeren Glosser — reached the quarterfinals. Lugo and Turk advanced to the semifinals, while Glosser nearly upset North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor, the weight’s unanimous No. 1-ranked wrestler nationally.
The Lugo-Turk bout at Iowa’s preseason matchups in November showed little separation between the two. Both were mighty impressive on Sunday. Lugo recorded a pin, technical fall and two major decisions. Turk had two majors, a pin and a 3-1 sudden-victory win over a talented Kanen Storr (from Michigan).
Add Glosser to the mix — who picked off two other ranked opponents en route to the quarters — and it’s clear that Iowa is loaded at this weight.
Until proven otherwise, this weight belongs to Lugo, but it’s not that wild of an idea to think all could push for podium spots in March.
2. Another fun part is getting to see the redshirts compete against some stiff competition.
For Iowa, that meant true freshman Abe Assad, who reached the semifinals at 184 pounds and looked every bit like the blue-chip prospect Iowa believed it was getting when it recruited him.
Assad went 3-0 and flashed both his elite-level talent and some superior mental strength. He opened with a 17-2 technical fall, then recorded back-to-back decisions — 5-3 over Princeton’s Travis Stefanik (who beat Nelson Brands in the Iowa-Princeton dual), then 8-6 over American’s Tanner Harvey — to come within a win of the finals.
His last two wins were particularly impressive. Stefanik was actually awarded a takedown at the end of the third period and originally won the match, but a review waived it off. Assad then corralled his ankles to win in sudden victory.
Then, against Harvey, Assad gave up a takedown with 16 seconds left and trailed 6-4, but he scored a reversal to force overtime, then picked up a single and scored to win and advance.
Before this weekend, Assad was asked about where he’s made the biggest strides during his redshirt year and said this:
“Just my mindset … having a strong mind and strengthening my mindset, with everything Tom and Terry are telling me, that’s helped me a lot and will continue to help me.”
He sure showed it in those last two matches.
3. While Assad stole the spotlight at 184, the battle for the starting spot may be officially decided on Monday, as Nelson Brands and Cash Wilcke will wrestle each other in the bloodround.
Nelson, this weekend's 2-seed, reached the quarterfinals on back-to-back decisions before losing to Illinois's Zachary Braunagel, 3-2. Wilcke lost to Wisconsin’s Johnny Sebastian, 3-2, in the Round-of-16, then won back-to-back wrestleback matches by a combined 22-5.
Now they’ll wrestle each other for a spot in the top-eight — and perhaps a lot more.
“Good,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “We’ll find out a lot there.”
4. One last thing on 184: Nelson’s second win, a 15-9 decision over Campbell’s Caleb Hopkins, included an impressive 10-point outburst in the third period: a reversal, followed by four takedowns in the final 75 seconds.
After each takedown, Terry Brands, Iowa’s associate head coach — and Nelson’s dad — shouted “Again,” from the corner. And Nelson proceeded to gift Hopkins an escape and then take him down again.
It was not unlike that scene from the 2004 hit film “Miracle” — except just really cool instead of cinematic.
5. At 141, Max Murin appears to be the guy. He reached the semifinals by outscoring his three opponents by a combined 28-7. The other guy contending, Carter Happel, went 2-2.
6. On the whole, the Hawkeyes dominated Sunday’s competition. The 14 still competing combined for 29 bonus-point wins — 12 pins, 12 major decisions, five technical falls. That doesn't include Assad, who is competing unattached.
They also did all of this without Michael Kemerer, by the way, who is ranked second nationally at 174 pounds but is not competing this weekend.
“It’s December, and we’re going to do the best thing,” Tom Brands said. “If this was the Big Ten Championships, he’s going.”
Still, much of the bonus-point output came from the expected, as well as, well, everybody else.
Spencer Lee, just a week removed from winning a U.S. Senior Nationals title, went pin, pin, tech at 125. Austin DeSanto went tech, major, major at 133. Alex Marinelli recorded four-straight pins to reach the semifinals at 165. Jacob Warner had three-straight majors. Tony Cassioppi had two pins.
You get the idea.
“Bonus points is a prevalent discussion in our wrestling room,” Brands said. “Bonus points come from dominant mentalities. They’re not an afterthought, I can tell you that right now.
“Bonus points are hard to get. You have to work hard to dominate. You have to work hard to have lopsided wins. You have to work hard to wrestle in the top, bottom and neutral positions and be dominant in all three positions.
“It’s not easy, but, you know, keep doing it.”
► MORE WRESTLING COVERAGE FROM THE DES MOINES REGISTER
- ALL-DECADE: The best Iowa, ISU, UNI wrestlers from the 2010s
- FOOTBALL AND WRESTLING: Stories from Ferentz, Brands, Gable, more
- MIDLANDS: Tom Brands' coaching tree on display at 57th Midlands
7. Northern Iowa’s second-place position is anchored by four semifinalists: Max Thomsen (149), Bryce Steiert (174), Taylor Lujan (184) and Carter Isley (285).
Isley might be the one surprise, but he’s continuing the strong wrestling he first showed at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. He took fifth there. Here, he outscored his first three opponents 21-6. He’s wrestled really well.
8. Isley’s path doesn’t get much easier, either. He gets Iowa’s Cassioppi in Monday’s semifinals.
9. He’s not the only one with a Hawkeye in his path, as Thomsen has Lugo in the semifinals, too.
10. Northern Iowa also has four wrestlers still alive in the wrestlebacks: Jacob Schwarm (125), Jack Skudlarczyk (133), Michael Blockhus (141) and Austin Yant (165). All are in Monday’s bloodround.
Blockhus fell in the quarterfinals to Ohio’s Shakur Laney, losing 5-3 in sudden victory. Schwarm recorded back-to-back wrestleback pins after losing in the Round-of-16. Skudlarczyk won three-straight wrestleback decisions after losing in the first round.
Yant won three-straight 1-point decisions after falling in the first round, too — 2-1, 1-0 then 2-1 again.
11. Regarding Northern Iowa’s few lineup battles: Yant seems to have a grasp on 165. At 157, Paden Moore advanced the farthest, though neither him, nor Keaton Geerts or Derek Holschlag placed. That one might still be up for grabs moving forward.
Schwarm and Skudlarczyk also seem to have a strong grip at 125 and 133, respectively, as Kyle Biscoglia and Drew Bennett both were eliminated during Sunday’s action at the same weights.
12. Former Southeast Polk star Cade DeVos advanced to Monday thanks to four-straight wrestleback wins at 157 pounds. DeVos, competing unattached for South Dakota State, outscored his four wrestleback opponents by a combined 26-11 to advance to the bloodround. His fourth win was a 3-2 decision over Illinois’s Eric Barone, a two-time NCAA qualifier.
DeVos’s only loss came to Army’s Markus Hartman, who reached the semifinals after knocking off Princeton’s top-seeded Quincy Monday, arguably the biggest upset of the tournament so far. DeVos gets North Carolina’s A.C. Headlee for the right to finish on the podium Monday.
13. DeVos is one of three former Iowa high-schoolers still competing this weekend.
Bryce West, formerly of Highland (Riverside) and Solon, went 4-1 with two pins and reached the bloodhound at 125. He lost to Northwestern’s Michael DeAugustino, 8-2, in the Round-of-16.
The other: Harvard’s Nolan Hellickson, another Southeast Polk alum who is also in the bloodround. He won twice to reach the quarterfinals — including an 8-2 win over Northern Iowa’s Biscoglia — before falling to Iowa’s Spencer Lee by a 16-1 technical fall.
Monday’s first session begins at noon (central time), with the bloodround and semifinals.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal.
57th Ken Kraft Midlands Championships
Team Standings after Session II
- Iowa, 115.5
- Northern Iowa, 69.5
- Wisconsin, 68.5
- Illinois, 57
- Princeton, 53.5