Happy January. We’ve entered the second half of the wrestling season, which means we’re going to open today’s mailbag with a quick look back at the first half.
For each of the Big Three — Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa, if this is your first mailbag — we’re going to list some highlights, look at what’s coming and offer a grade.
Feel free to disagree with me, if you feel so inclined. These are just my quick thoughts. Or maybe you’ll agree.
- 4-0 in duals, in which the Hawkeyes won by an average of 28 points;
- Team title at 57th Ken Kraft Midlands Championships, which included a new tournament scoring record and five individual champions;
- All 10 presumed starters are currently ranked in the top 10 at their respective weights, including nine in the top five;
- Unanimous No. 1-ranked team in the country;
- Spencer Lee won the U.S. Senior men’s freestyle national championships to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
- Figure out the starter at 184 pounds;
- Stay healthy;
- Win the big duals;
- Perform in March.
Hard to complain if you’re an Iowa fan right now. Things have gone swimmingly. The second half of the season will get tougher, with duals against No. 7 Nebraska, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 2 Penn State coming this month, and No. 5 Minnesota and No. 15 Oklahoma State awaiting in February.
Then comes the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. The latter, especially, will be where the Hawkeyes need to be at their best, for their performance over those three days in March will ultimately be how this season is remembered.
- 2-1 in duals, with sound victories over both Bucknell and UT-Chattanooga;
- Sixth-place finish at Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational;
- Gannon Gremmel winning the Southern Scuffle;
- Floated in and out of top 10 in national polls, consistently in top 15, and nine of 10 presumed starters are nationally ranked, with six in the top 10.
- Get everybody healthy (Jarrett Degen, Austin Gomez, among others), and then stay healthy;
- Figure out starter at 197;
- Contend for Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles;
- Top-10 finish at NCAA Championships.
We’ll learn a lot more about the Cyclones in the second half of the season, but the pieces are there for a top-10 finish come March. Enough guys have progressed to the point that we could be talking multiple All-Americans at this year’s national tournament. Their showing in Vegas was good. Not great, but good to the point that they flashed their potential.
But the big thing for Iowa State is simply getting healthy. Coach Kevin Dresser send a bunch of younger, inexperienced guys to the Scuffle simple to gain experience while the primary starters trained and rested some. A big second half awaits.
- Fourth-place finish at Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational;
- Second-place finish at Midlands, which included Taylor Lujan’s title at 184 pounds;
- Floated in and out of top 10 in national polls, consistently in top 15, and seven of 10 presumed starters are nationally ranked, with four in the top 12.
- 1-2 dual record, and both losses were winnable;
- Get healthy, especially Jacob Holschlag;
- Solve lineup battles (157, primarily);
- Contend for Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles;
- Top-10 finish at NCAA Championships.
Much like Iowa State, we’ll learn a lot more about the Panthers during the second half of the season. They’ve flexed their muscles a little harder in tournaments than they have in the few dual opportunities, which could be a good thing come March.
More importantly, the Panthers are still seeking that complete team performance. Perhaps they’ll put all the pieces together during the second half of the season. Many opportunities await, including ones against Missouri, No. 15 Oklahoma State and No. 11 Iowa State.
The first half of the season was pretty fun. Buckle up for the second half. It’s going to be a wild ride.
Now, then. On to the mailbag. We’re back with some regularity now that we made it through the holiday season. Having Christmas and New Year's on Wednesdays really put me in a pickle.
Please give me a follow on Twitter (@codygoodwin) 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.
A number of them have been impressive for a number of reasons, so I refuse to just pick one. The best way to attack this might be with … wait for it … a list? A list!
1. Austin DeSanto. I know I’ve said this before, but his progression from Year 1 to Year 2 in the Iowa room has been incredibly impressive.
He made a jump from the bloodround to the podium at NCAAs during his first season as a Hawkeye, and now, he’s made another jump from All-American to legitimate national title contender. He’s more versatile offensively, gets out from the bottom and has added turns to his top game.
It shouldn’t surprise anybody if he’s in the finals in March.
2. Pat Lugo. He just seems more confident in his abilities. You saw it at the Midlands, where he blitzed a field made up of his own teammates, past All-Americans and a handful of other tough competitions. He’s scoring off his attacks, his opponents’ attacks, is defending well and is just wrestling tough.
If the Lugo that showed up at the Midlands shows up again in March, he’s absolutely an NCAA title contender.
3. Tony Cassioppi. The development he made during his redshirt year is on display this season. Last year, Central Michigan’s Matt Stencel pinned him at the Midlands. This year, Cassioppi beat him soundly (5-1) in the Midlands finals. Bigger foes are coming up, of course, but that’s just one small example of the progress he’s made.
4. Alex Marinelli. Seemed like he spent much of the first part of the season winning tough. He showed a lot of dominance last year, but winning tough, close matches is important, especially in March. At the Midlands, Marinelli returned to the form we saw last year. I think he’s in for a big second half.
5. Max Murin. We hadn’t seen much of him until the Midlands, but he looked really solid there, especially with a starting spot on the line. Tougher opponents await, especially in January, but good on him to run through a tough Midlands field.
I would’ve had Michael Kemerer on this list, because he looks like an absolute bulldozer at 174, but he didn’t wrestle at the Midlands. I could’ve added Spencer Lee here, too, but let’s be honest, nothing he does should really surprise us anymore. He’s so good.
► MORE WRESTLING COVERAGE FROM THE DES MOINES REGISTER
- PANTHERS: UNI defeats Utah Valley for first dual victory of 2019-20
- MIDLANDS: 18 thoughts from Iowa's record-breaking Midlands performance
- SOUTHEAST POLK: Two former Rams shine at 57th Midlands Championships
I don’t really have any concern at 197, or at least I don’t see any reason for concern.
Jacob Warner ended up fourth at the Midlands, losing to Virginia’s Jay Aiello in the semifinals and Princeton’s Pat Brucki in the third-place match. He’s 8-2 this year and is ranked fifth in the country, per Trackwrestling.
We’re three years into the Jacob Warner Experience, and more and more, it just seems like the Midlands isn’t Warner’s tournament, for whatever reason. If you include his redshirt year, Warner is 12-7 at the Midlands and 32-5 everywhere else.
Based on the current state of 197 nationally, I think it’s safe to say Ohio State’s Kollin Moore is the favorite to win in March, but behind him, there’s a slew of other guys battling for podium spots: Brucki, Aiello, Purdue’s Christian Brunner (who won the Midlands), West Virginia’s Noah Adams, Cornell’s Ben Darmstadt, Stanford’s Nathan Traxler, Northern Iowa’s Jacob Holschlag and others, too.
Warner is in that mix. He’ll get to see Brunner and Moore this month, and will see various other tests through the second half of the season. He showed growth last year from the Midlands to the Big Ten tournament to the NCAA Championships. I have no reason to doubt he’ll make the same progression again.
With the right tournament, Warner could be in the NCAA finals. He’s got the talent. He could also take seventh again. I think that speaks more to the depth of 197 than anything else.
Todd is a good man who asked this question out of pure curiosity and at the same time also allowed me to link my story from Monday about Iowa coach Tom Brands’ comments on Abe Assad and his history with redshirts. For that, I thank you.
As for my personal thoughts? I think Assad will stay in redshirt and Cash Wilcke and Nelson Brands will continue to battle for the starting spot.
Wilcke’s performance at the Midlands will loom large — not just his head-to-head win over Nelson, but also the fact that he won six straight matches in the wrestlebacks en route to third place.
I think Wilcke will ultimately end up as the guy come March, but I also think Nelson will continue to push him as the season goes along, so maybe don’t be surprised to see Nelson from time to time in some duals this month and next.
I hope it happens, just because that means Brody Teske is back as the primary starter for Penn State. I love seeing Iowa guys find success at the next level, especially those I know and have talked to frequently.
It looks as if Teske is in a lineup battle of his own. Penn State has wrestled him and Brandon Meredith at 125 this year. Teske was the guy there to start, against Navy and Arizona State, then Meredith got the nod against both Lehigh and Penn. Both competed at the Army West Point Invite, where Teske took third and Meredith took fifth.
Penn State’s next dual is this Friday, against Illinois. The Nittany Lions will also compete against Northwestern, Rutgers and Nebraska before seeing Iowa on Jan. 31 in Iowa City.
Here’s hoping Teske can claim the spot between now and then.
As of right now, we’re looking at four total Olympic weights that the U.S. has qualified for Tokyo this coming summer: two in men’s freestyle, 74 kilograms (163 pounds) and 97 kilos (214), and two in women’s freestyle, 68 kilos (150) and 76 kilos (168).
That’s four out of 18 total, which is less than ideal. Those four are qualified because those four won medals at the 2019 world championships — Jordan Burroughs at 74 and Kyle Snyder at 97 for men, and Tamyra Mensah-Stock at 68 and Adeline Gray at 76 for the women.
The next opportunity to qualify the remaining weights for the Olympics will be the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier, set for March 13-15 in Canada. This is not the same as the Pan-American Championships. At the Pan-Am Qualifier, the top two finishers at each Olympic weight will qualify their country for the Olympics. USA Wrestling has often sent the previous year’s world-teamers to do this.
The final opportunity will be the Last Chance Olympic Qualifier, set for April 30-May 3 in Bulgaria. The finalists from that tournament will qualify their countries for the Olympics.
By then, USA Wrestling will have held the Olympic Trials, set for April 4-5. I would guess that those winners will be tasked with going to Bulgaria if their weight is not yet qualified.
Army fans were not, in fact, throwing produce on the mats. But there’s no other way to read this question than as an opportunity to plug Kaleb Young’s phenomenal quote about scoring late and banana peels.
“I think there’s confidence. I’m comfortable there. Probably more comfortable than I should be, because that’s not where I want to be. I don’t want it to come down to overtime or sudden victory.
“Because what if I slip on a banana peel? Or a guy from Army in the stands throws a banana down on the mat and I slip and give up a takedown? If I’m up 8-2 at the end of the match, or 13-1 at the end of the match, then it doesn’t have to come down to that. I don’t have to worry about slipping on a banana peel. If I do slip on a banana peel, I still win 13-3 and get the major.
“So I think there’s confidence, but that’s not where I want to be. It’s good to be comfortable in those situations, but it’s even better being comfortable whipping tail.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
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