Lookahead: Iowa wrestling’s championship window remains open in 2020-21

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

The 2019-20 season for the Iowa wrestling team was, in a word, special.

The Hawkeyes went 13-0 in duals and posted record-setting attendance at all seven home contests. They set a new scoring record at the Midlands Championships without the full use of two key starters. They won both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles and were heavily favored to win the 2020 NCAA Championships.

But that special season came to a screeching halt, with a global pandemic being the only thing capable of stopping this Iowa team's title mission.

The novel coronavirus forced the cancellation of the NCAA Championships for the first time since 1943-45, during World War II. This year’s national tournament was supposed to be the largest wrestling celebration ever, with more than 40,000 tickets sold for all six sessions at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. COVID-19 put the kibosh on that.

A record-setting crowd seemed like the perfect stage for the Hawkeyes’ long-awaited coronation to cap a wire-to-wire campaign. Despite that disappointment, the championship window that opened for Iowa this season will remain next year.

The competition will be tougher, with the additions of incoming recruits and other guys who redshirted this past season. Everyone who took an Olympic redshirt will likely be back, too. Iowa will have to take down the likes of Penn State, Cornell, Michigan and N.C. State, among others, in order to win next season.

But these Hawkeyes will be up for the challenge — perhaps even with some extra motivation after the way this year ended.

Here’s a breakdown of what Iowa’s lineup might look like in 2020-21:

Key departures

There were 11 total seniors on Iowa’s roster this past season — 12 if you count Michael Kemerer, who should be a lock to land a medical hardship waiver after missing the 2018-19 season — but only one was in the final starting lineup: Pat Lugo.

Lugo transferred in from Edinboro and flourished after redshirting his initial season. He became an All-American last season, then went 21-1 this year and won a Midlands title and a Big Ten title before earning the 1-seed at 149 pounds for the NCAA Championships.

The other 10 guys were a combination of past starters, backups and others who had moments in the spotlight throughout their careers.

Cash Wilcke, Paul Glynn and Vince Turk were all starters at one point. Wilcke twice reached the bloodround at NCAAs. Turk scored crucial bonus points at the 2018 national tournament. Glynn might be the most popular guy in the room.

Jeren Glosser could’ve been an All-American contender had he gone anywhere else this season. Jeremiah Moody won a United World Wrestling Junior men’s freestyle national title, beating 2019 NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech along the way. Keegan Shaw successfully filled in at 174 for a time last season, even though he normally wrestled 157.

The others — Aaron Meyer, Danny Murphy, Sam Cook and Steven Holloway — all have unique tales, and Iowa coach Tom Brands has often contended that the 2019-20 Iowa wrestling team’s full story would not be complete without them.

But Lugo was the only one in the postseason lineup.

Iowa's Pat Lugo has his hand raised after a match at 149 pounds during a NCAA Big Ten Conference wrestling dual against Penn State, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Top returners

The other nine postseason starters, all of whom qualified for the NCAA Championships, will return for 2020-21.

There’s Spencer Lee, the two-time champ at 125 pounds and the 2020 Hodge Trophy winner. There’s Alex Marinelli, a two-time All-American who was the No. 1 seed at 165. There’s Kemerer, also a two-time All-American who was the 2-seed at 174.

MORE: Tom Brands hints at appeal for Spencer Lee's eligibility

Five of the remaining six were all seeded eighth or better at the national tournament. Austin DeSanto, the 6-seed at 133; Max Murin, the 7-seed at 141; Kaleb Young, the 8-seed at 157; Jacob Warner, the 5-seed at 197; and Tony Cassioppi, the 3-seed at 285. The other: true freshman Abe Assad, who was the 11-seed at 184.

DeSanto, Young and Warner were all All-Americans in 2019. Murin was one win from the podium that same year. Cassioppi had the look of the third-best heavyweight in the country. Assad was a legit podium contender at perhaps the most wide open weight.

That’s a lot of returning firepower — and more is coming, too. Keep reading.

A handful guys who provided depth will also return. Aaron Cashman filled in for Lee against Princeton. Carter Happel took the reins at 141, while Murin battled back from an injury. Nelson Brands was the leader to start at 184 for a time. There’s also Myles Wilson and Aaron Costello, talented backups at 174 and 285, respectively.

New additions

Here's where Lugo’s spot in the lineup will be made up.

Jaydin Eierman, a three-time All-American for Missouri, transferred to Iowa for his final season of eligibility. Eierman, a U-23 world-teamer in 2019, took an Olympic redshirt this past season but is already in Iowa City. 

His exciting style of wrestling — he posted a 67-percent bonus rate in his 89 career wins at Mizzou, which included 38 pins — will surely captivate Iowa wrestling fans and help the Hawkeyes' overall scoring potential.

Eierman said back in November that he plans to wrestle 141. Should he win the spot, that would force Murin and Happel to bump to 149, something Murin has previously discussed and is open to.

Additionally, Cobe Siebrecht and Zach Glazier will be available after redshirting in 2019-20. Siebrecht won state for Lisbon in 2018 and wrestles at 149. Glazier won two Minnesota state titles and was a Junior freestyle All-American, and will go at 184 or 197.

Iowa's Spencer Lee, left, talks with Mike Eierman and Jaydin Eierman during the first day of preseason Hawkeye wrestling matches, Thursday, Nov., 7, 2019, inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Incoming recruiting class

The Hawkeyes’ incoming 2020 recruiting class is among the best in the country, with four top-60 recruits among its seven total signees, according to MatScout’s latest Big Board — only Oklahoma State has more, with six.

The class is littered with talent in all directions. There’s Patrick Kennedy, a four-time Minnesota state champ and Junior men’s freestyle national champ. He’s considered the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2020 class and projects at 165/174.

There’s also Jesse Ybarra, a national champ from Arizona who, like Kennedy, won Flowrestling’s Who’s Number One showcase last fall. He is considered the No. 35 overall prospect and projects at 125/133.

We can't forget Bretli Reyna, a Florida native and one of the nation’s top middleweight prospects at No. 53 overall; or Mason City’s Cullan Schriever, a three-time Iowa state champ and two-time national champ who’s No. 57 overall; or Southeast Polk’s Gabe Christenson, a two-time state champ, Junior All-American and No. 113 overall.

The other two signees are Colby Schriever, Cullan’s twin brother who was a two-time state medalist and 2019 finalist; and Leif Schroder, a four-time Montana state champion.

All of them are expected to redshirt in 2020-21, then will begin fighting for lineup spots the following season to help keep the Hawkeyes in contention for years to come.

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

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