Wrestling mailbag: Summing up girls' state, plus extra matches, Spencer Lee, Abe Assad, Iowa State
There were so many great stories that came out of the girls' state wrestling tournament last weekend, and I wish we could've gotten to more than we did.
There was Charles City's Lilly Luft, of course, and her remarkable story of winning a state championship in honor of her late brother. The Diaz sisters moved to Waverly-Shell Rock from Florida and both won titles. Their teammate, Annika Behrends, won two thrilling matches to return to the top of the podium.
There were more — Ella Schmit, Abby McIntyre and Millie Peach all repeated; Independence's Rachel Eddy took second last year, then won it this year; Naomi Simon, just a freshman from Decorah, pinned her way through the tournament; and Samantha Spielbauer became Clayton Ridge's first state wrestling champ, boy or girl.
But another girl who really left me in awe Saturday night was Morgan Smith, a senior from Denver. She won at 170 pounds, going 4-0 with four pins.
The dominance is one thing, but consider this: Smith went 1-2 at last year's state tournament and failed to place. She was the No. 3 seed last weekend after losing to both Humboldt's Kendal Clark, the 1-seed and returning state champ, and Muscatine's Virginia Cacho, the No. 2 seed. Both of those losses came just weeks before state.
Smith ended up pinning both of them on Saturday. She pinned Cacho in the semifinals in 4 minutes, 25 seconds, then stuck Clark in the first period of the championship bout.
What really made Smith's story so memorable was her post-finals interview. She was initially asked about this year's tournament and the growth in participation, and said:
"This is huge. Girls’ wrestling in Iowa — I went last year to Waverly, and it was tiny. Just to see the amount of growth that not only me and my team have gone through, but every girl in this state. If you look at last year, then look at this year, we’re a completely different team and program.
"It just needs to keep going. This is a huge stage. This is a huge point for us to get sanctioned, and get this to where it should be."
Then she was asked what wrestling has done for her, and what she hopes it’ll do for more girls in the future:
"If you want something to push you to places you’ve never been, and to make you a better person, no matter what the score is — you can lose, and I still know that I did my best, and that I’ve improved. Those losses will turn into wins, just like here. I lost to both of the girls I pinned today, badly, but I came out here and I did my job.
"Off the mat, it has made me physically stronger — and just so much confidence. I wrestle 170, and this world is very hard on females. This sport has taught me that I am tough, and that I can do it, even though I’m a girl."
This girls' wrestling movement is about so much more than wins and losses and state titles. It's about creating opportunities and helping these girls reap the benefits wrestling offers — to build the physical and mental fortitude required to be the best version of yourself, and then showcasing the best version of yourself at every opportunity.
That's what wrestling did for Morgan Smith, and for all 457 girls who wrestled at Xtream Arena last weekend, and for the 683 who wrestled around Iowa this past season and for the thousands upon thousands that wrestle around the country, whether their state offers it as an official sport or not.
"Go out," she implored afterward. "It’ll change your life."
That is what the girls' wrestling movement is all about. That is what we, as wrestling fans, are fighting for — the opportunity. "If you believe in all the things wrestling teaches," USA Wrestling women's freestyle coach Terry Steiner, a former Hawkeye wrestler, once said, "why would you want to teach it to only half the population?"
These girls can take over the world one day, and wrestling is one vehicle to help them get there. Morgan Smith got to experience that firsthand. Here's hoping more will continue to follow her lead, both on and off the mat.
Now, then. Onto the mailbag. Today marks one year since Kobe Bryant died. I was sitting at Hilton Coliseum covering Iowa State-Oklahoma State dual that day. Not much else I remember from that day, to be honest. Rest In Peace, Mamba.
Please give me a follow on Twitter (@codygoodwin) and on Instagram (@codyjgoodwin) and I’ll keep you guys up to date on all things wrestling in Iowa. Don't forget to tune into the Register's wrestling podcast, In the Room, each week as well. You can find the latest episodes below.
Thanks for your help here, and for reading.
These extra matches are basically taking the place of events such as the Lindenwood Open, UNI Open, Grand View Open, Cyclone Open, and the like. Instead of multiple matches in a single day, most wrestlers get one or two before, during or after the main duals.
I can see a world where they stay once we're out of this pandemic. Think of them as an undercard to the main dual. It would've been pretty cool, for example, if like Iowa and Penn State had five or six matches before their epic dual a year ago. It just adds to the presentation of the thing.
Perhaps there's a way in the future to get those extra matches on a live stream, like a normal UFC undercard would be. Tune into BTN+ to catch these six matches. You can watch those for free, then you have to pay for the real thing — or just find a TV with Big Ten Network.
There's some cool opportunities that wrestling could capitalize on with these extra matches, especially if they find a way to fold in guys who are redshirting, too. I'm not sure how they'll do that, but the more opportunities for guys that get matches, the better.
This is a case where there's some wicked depth in the room. Abe Assad learned that last season, emerging out of a three-way battle between him, Cash Wilcke and Nelson Brands. You'd rather have that depth than not.
Now Brands has taken the lead in this two-horse race, at least for now, and if he keeps doing what he's doing, he'll be the guy at the Big Ten Championships come March.
The message Assad is probably receiving is to stay ready and keep preparing as if you are the guy. Anything can happen, especially in a year like this, so it's always important to stay ready.
But perhaps he'll use this as fuel, too.
Clearly Brands did. I'm not speaking for him, but my guess is he saw the lineup and felt his best chance was to just bulk up and get to a heavier weight. We had already seen him wrestle Alex Marinelli, and he presumably can't beat Michael Kemerer, either. Then Assad won the job last year and now we're seeing the result of that.
Maybe seeing Nelson doing what he's doing will push Assad to improve and he'll earn the spot back. There might be a path to get them both into future lineups, depending on how guys grow and what's available, but that's more down the road.
There's a lot of options here. But this much is true: Assad was the guy who stepped up last year. This year, it's Nelson Brands. Now, it's on Assad to respond.
EDIT: I asked Iowa coach Tom Brands about Abe Assad during his Tuesday press conference — if we'd see Assad in extra matches, and about his message to guys who might not be starters but are starting capable. Here's what he told me:
"Abe Assad is definitely crucial, critical to our program, for sure. There's things going on there that we don't talk about, and when it's time for him to be on the mat, he'll be on the mat, absolutely, 100%. Our team is best with Abe Assad in the mix.
"The message is the same as it's been since I came to school here, and, actually, since I wrestled for Sheldon's fifth-grade club team, and that's be ready. Know your role, be ready, at any time, you could get called to the mat.
"If you're eating popcorn and playing checkers in the back room getting ready for your match, then your name gets called, when you walk out on that mat, you better be ready to go. He has to be ready to go. We talk about it all the time. There's no ambiguity and no miscommunication there. Abe Assad has done that well, and he's doing what he's supposed to be doing right now to get on the mat really well as well. No issues there."
That tells me he's hurt, and we may not see him for a while, but that we'll see him soon.
From @Dargan_Southard: How many weight classes can Spencer Lee go up and still maintain a winning record?
Honestly, he could bump up to 149 and still be pretty competitive.
I mean, he's not a massive 125-pounder. But he's got a lot of strength and power and quickness. He's savvy enough to come up with a game plan to wrestle guys who are bigger than him.
Since he's been at Iowa, Spencer Lee has wrestled plenty of guys in the room who are bigger than him — Paul Glynn, Austin DeSanto, now Jaydin Eierman, and others I'm probably missing. I'm not sure how high up he's gone with bigger guys in the room, but then I remembered this moment ahead of the 2019 NCAA Championships:
I know, I KNOW, they're just hand-fighting and working ties and it doesn't look real serious. But it still made me laugh.
Over the past two years, at 125 pounds, Lee is 20-0 with 19 bonus-point wins. I imagine he could bump up to 133 and still be an All-American, if not a title contender. He'll likely see a lot of these guys in his Olympic pursuit, anyway, such as Oklahoma State's Daton Fix, Michigan's Stevan Micic, Rutgers' Nick Suriano.
I believe he could jump to 141, too, and still beat good guys, but there might be some size issues against guys such as Eierman or Penn State's Nick Lee or Iowa State's Ian Parker or Nebraska's Chad Red. At that point, he's giving up 16 pounds. That matters.
The bump to 149 would just make those size and strength differences even larger, against guys such as North Carolina's Austin O'Connor, Ohio State's Sammy Sasso and others. That's probably where he'd run into some serious trouble. You're talking 24 pounds between them. That's a lot.
But it's a fun thought.
If I were a betting man — and I'm not — I'd go with DeSanto.
Eierman's 22-9 major decision win over Minnesota's Marcos Polanco last Friday was impressive. I can't remember the last time I saw him put on a takedown clinic like that. It was also the seventh time in his college career that he scored 20-plus points.
The match before, DeSanto beat Boo Dryden by 21-2 technical fall. That's his second 20-point match this season, and the 22nd such match of his career.
You read that right.
DeSanto has wrestled 86 career matches, with 71 wins, and he has scored 20-plus points 22 times. By comparison, Eierman has wrestled 102 career matches, with 91 wins. But in just seven, he's hit 20 points in a single match.
Part of this is because Eierman pins more people. He has 38 career pins, DeSanto just seven. That plays into this question and why I think DeSanto will score more points in a single match. Eierman's style lends itself to more pins. DeSanto is a catch-and-release artist who will score takedowns until sometime tells him to stop.
That's just my two cents.
Probably not until February. That's straight from coach Kevin Dresser after last Sunday's dual.
If everybody is healthy and ready to go, here's who I see as Iowa State's starting lineup:
- 125 pounds: Kysen Terukina
- 133: Zach Redding
- 141: Ian Parker
- 149: Jarrett Degen
- 157: David Carr
- 165: Isaac Judge
- 174: Julien Broderson
- 184: Sam Colbray
- 197: Marcus Coleman
- 285: Gannon Gremmel
A few disclaimers here:
Alex Mackall was thought to be the guy at 125 pounds before the season started, but Kysen Terukina has beaten him in some wrestle-offs. I don't think that's the best way to go about deciding a lineup spot, but that's what Dresser rolled with to start the year. Also, Terukina has looked quite impressive.
I'm also not entirely sure who will go at 197. Yonger Bastida has manned that spot since Coleman has worked back from an injury. Bastida has looked impressive in spurts, and then not as much in others. Coleman is a pretty steady presence all the way around. I'm not sure if that matters, but that's something to think about.
Expect the Cyclones to try and get their best lineup on the mat next month. Unfortunately, that means this weekend's dual against Oklahoma State might be an ugly one.
This seems like a good spot for a match-by-match prediction!
We're going to use the same lineups that wrestled last for both teams. Here's how I see this going down:
- 125: Spencer Lee over Justin Cardani by fall
- 133: Austin DeSanto over Lucas Byrd by major
- 141: Jaydin Eierman over Dylan Duncan by major
- 149: Max Murin over Michael Carr by decision
- 157: Kaleb Young over Johnny Mologousis by major
- 165: Alex Marinelli over Luke Odom by fall
- 174: Michael Kemerer over DJ Shannon by major
- 184: Nelson Brands over Zach Braunagel by decision
- 197: Jacob Warner over Matt Wroblewski by major
- 285: Tony Cassioppi over Luke Luffman by decision
What's that, 41-0?
I think 149 is more of a swing match, between Murin and Carr. Same at 184, between Brands and Zach Braunagel. Also, assuming everybody is healthy, Marinelli will likely wrestle Danny Braunagel at 165. He's good, so that might not be a pin.
But there's a real chance at a shutout here if everybody brings their best, which would be impressive because there's a lot to like about this Illinois team. Lucas Byrd is a fun, exciting wrestler. Dylan Duncan and Michael Carr are tough-nosed and experienced. The Braunagels are talented. Luke Luffman has notched some great wins already.
But this could turn into another example of just how good Iowa really is compared with the rest of the country.
We'll use 41 points for the sake of the question, and I think the Chiefs will surpass that. I mean, did you see that offense against Buffalo? I know they only put up 38, but that's a unit that's impossible to stop when they click like that. Good luck, Tampa.
We'll go class-by-class.
In Class 3A: I'm a big fan of 132 pounds. Part of this, I think, is the product of Fort Dodge's Drake Ayala being at 126. Because at 132, you've got Waverly-Shell Rock's Ryder Block, Southeast Polk's Ayden Kingery, Linn-Mar's Bryce Parke, Indianola's Ryder Downey, Mason City's Jace Rhodes and more.
That's a combined … *checks notes* … one state title, two state finalists and two more state medalists, just in the top five.
Plus, how much more fun would this weight be if Ayala decided to stay at 132 for the postseason? That's two more state titles and another finals appearance added to the group. Just insane.
In Class 2A: I love 120 pounds. At the top, there's Greene County's McKinley Robbins, Center Point-Urbana's Cole Whitehead and Burlington-Notre Dame's Blaine Frazier, who are all past state finalists. There's also Central DeWitt's Keaton Zeimet, a three-time state medalist who just hit 100 career pins.
That's top-heavy. You won't want to miss those semifinals.
In Class 1A: 126 pounds, by far. Midland's Damon Huston, Woodbury Central's Beau Klingensmith, Central Springs' Clayton McDonough, West Sioux's Cameron Clark, Underwood's Stevie Barnes, Don Bosco's Michael McClelland, Lisbon's Cade Siebrecht.
Those names amount to a combined five state finals appearances, three more third-place finishes and five more podium finishes at the state tournament. That's also just insane.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.