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Wrestling Mailbag: Women's wrestling, no Iowa-Penn State, Tony Cassioppi, Doug Schwab's jacket

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

No Iowa-Penn State this Friday. Cue the sad trombone.

The top-ranked Hawkeyes are on pause for the time being, which means Friday's highly-anticipated dual against the third-ranked Nittany Lions won't happen. That's a shame — for both fan bases but also for general wrestling fans at large, too.

But fear not, there are plenty of other options this weekend.

If ACC wrestling is your thing — and it should be after last Friday's tremendous dual between Virginia Tech and North Carolina State — this weekend's slate features Virginia Tech-Pitt and Duke-NC State on Friday, plus Virginia-North Carolina on Saturday.

If Big Ten wrestling is your thing (and it always should be), a fun weekend awaits: Ohio State-Michigan and Wisconsin-Minnesota on Friday, plus Wisconsin-Northwestern on Sunday.

If you'd rather stay in-state, the 13th-ranked Cyclones are hosting a Valentine's Day quadrangular with No. 8 Arizona State, Northern Colorado and Northern Iowa — and yes, we'll finally get the long-awaited Iowa State-Northern Iowa dual at 4 p.m. that day.

There's also regional duals this week — Class 2A and 1A go tonight, Class 3A tomorrow — and the high school district tournaments taking place this Saturday, if you're more interested in the prep side of things (and we all should be, to an extent).

But I'd like to draw your attention to another event taking place here in Iowa this week.

Sarah Hildebrandt, left, reacts after winning the 50kg final against Amy Fearnside during the USA Wrestling Senior National Championships, Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, at the Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa.

USA Wrestling, in tandem with Flowrestling, is hosting the Captains' Cup at Xtream Arena this weekend. It's a women's freestyle dual competition that runs Saturday-Sunday and will feature the best women's wrestlers in the country and the world.

Like, the best, you guys: Tamyra Mensah-Stock, Jacarra Winchester, Sarah Hildebrandt, Kayla Miracle, Victoria Francis, Jenna Burkert, and so many more. Mensah-Stock and Winchester are both world champions. Hildebrandt is a world silver medalist. Miracle, Francis and Burkert were all on the 2019 Senior world team.

Those six were selected as team captains, and they did a fantasy-style draft to pick their teams. Their teams will wrestle in pool formats on Saturday to decide which teams will wrestle for fifth, third and first on Sunday. There's $50,000 in prize money up for grabs.

Flowrestling will carry the broadcast, and so many of the sport's rising stars will compete this weekend: Macey Kilty, Alex HedrickPrecious Bell, Erin Colston, Emily Shilson, Emma Bruntil, Skylar Grote, Iowa's own Felicity Taylor, and so many more.

All of this is taking place on the same floor that hosted the girls' state wrestling championships just a few weeks ago. That's a heck of a thing for the many girl wrestlers around the state to see, that some of the best in the world are wrestling in the same venue where they just competed. Perhaps that'll inspire them to keep wrestling, too.

It's a busy time of the year, made busier by wrestling's continued push to open up more freestyle opportunities. I urge you to consider this event as part of your weekend programming. Who knows — it may end up being your favorite.

Now, then. Onto the mailbag. Before we get to the show, I wanted to highlight two more things: the NWCA's efforts to sponsor a Division III national tournament, and former Penn State wrestler Jason Nolf's campaign to help his sister. You can click on both links if you want more information. 

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.

Mark looks like a genius with this question. This question came about four hours before Iowa announced that the wrestling program would pause.

We'll talk more about this later in the week, but honestly, this was the right thing to do.

I'm under the presumption that this pause will go for, at least, two weeks. That means Iowa could come back, in theory, on Feb. 22. That gives them two weeks to get ready for the Big Ten Championships, which are set for March 6-7.

By then, you hope, that head coach Tom Brands should be back healthy, Alex Marinelli will have gotten through his 17 days, and Kaleb Young will come off his 17 days on Feb. 24. If anybody else has it — and I'd peg those odds as more than likely — now's the time to isolate and get healthy so you're ready to go for the postseason.

Because that's really what matters here, that Iowa is ready for the postseason and gives themselves a chance to compete in March. 

There's an argument to be made that Iowa shouldn't have wrestled this past weekend against Purdue and Ohio State. When one wrestler gets it, that's one thing, because weird things happen. When the head coach gets it, that's when you should probably take a look in the mirror and put things on hold for a minute.

Now you've got three, maybe more. Had they kept going, they would've risked exposing other teams, for one, but also prolonged the likelihood that the virus would've stayed in the program longer. Do that, and you risk your chances of competing next month.

This season will be remembered by what the Hawkeyes do during those three crucial days in March. Everything else they do this season is a build-up toward that — every practice, every dual, every match at the Big Ten tournament, it's all on the path toward setting themselves up for the big dance in St. Louis in mid-March.

But that opportunity doesn't come if Iowa's roster is short-handed. That's how it normally goes even in a normal year. Take care of your grades, your diet, your mental and physical health. It all is part of your wrestling.

This year, you can add coronavirus mitigation to the list. They've stumbled over this hurdle now, but they have time to get this reasonably under control in the weeks ahead. 

Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands

The more we watch heavyweights this year, the more it's clear that the weight is divided into three main tiers.

There's the top tier, which includes two wrestlers: Minnesota's Gable Steveson and Michigan's Mason Parris.

There's the second tier, which, right now, includes Iowa's Tony Cassioppi and nobody else.

Then there's the third tier, which includes, at least right now, everybody else.

There are other wrestlers who can jump into that second tier with Cassioppi. Central Michigan's Matt Stencel is more than just a pinning machine. Both Iowa State's Gannon Gremmel and Northern Iowa's Carter Isley have wrestled tough so far. Lehigh's Jordan Wood is good. I've long been a fan of Arizona State's Cohlton Schultz, too.

We'll see if those guys make that jump, because there's a clear gap between the top two and Cassioppi, and he's also shown that there's a pretty good gap between him and everybody else below him.

I mean, look at what he's done the last three weeks since losing to Steveson:

  • pinned Illinois' Luke Luffman, who's ranked No. 5, in a cradle
  • pinned Purdue's Dorian Keys, who has struggled but still
  • pinned Ohio State's Tate Orndorff, who's ranked No. 10, by going upper-body

The thing about that Orndorff pin is that Orndorff specializes in Greco-Roman. He made the U23 world team, reached the finals of the U.S. Open, but it was Cassioppi who beat him with some Greco tactics.

On his takedown in the first period, Cassioppi hit nice drag to open up the angle that led to his shot. In the second period, Orndorff forces an underhook, they lock up, and I'm thinking, OK, this could get interesting. On the replay, you can hear assistant coach Ryan Morningstar yell, "He wants to be there Cassioppi," from the corner.

They dance for a minute, Cassioppi breaks his tie then locks back up, then he forces Orndorff to his knee and runs him to his back, adjusts, pin.

Let this be another reminder that Cassioppi is good. Very good, in fact. To be third in the country at this weight, with as much overall depth and talent as there is, is no small feat. Please don't forget that when you see him take the mat.

It is going to be natural to compare him to Steveson and Parris, and I get it. They are the standard right now, and will be the standard moving forward, given their freestyle chops. So Cassioppi is going to be looking up to these guys for a while.

But Tanner makes a good point. Don't let their talent diminish what Cassioppi is capable of, because here's something else that's true: If Cassioppi finishes third at the NCAA Championships this year, that'd be the highest finish from an Iowa heavyweight since … Steve Mocco, who won it in 2003.

In between, Bobby Telford and Dan Erekson both took fourth, in 2014 and 2009, respectively. Telford took fifth twice (2012, 2015), Sam Stoll and Matt Fields also took fifth (2018, 2008) and Erekson also took seventh (2010). 

Cassioppi is the best heavyweight Iowa's had in a while. Don't get too caught up in the comparisons. Enjoy him. He is, as Tanner put it, quite nasty.

Purdue's Dorian Keys wrestles Iowa's Tony Cassioppi during a heavyweight bout in a Big Ten Duals wrestling match, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021 at Holloway Gymnasium in West Lafayette.

This was bananas, right?

Northern Iowa beat Northern Illinois, 27-9, last Friday, and, somehow, coach Doug Schwab was penalized for, uh, wearing a jacket.

Seriously.

Tony Ramos, a longtime friend of the mailbag, came quick with the rules to show that Schwab and the Panthers should not have been penalized. The official language states that "Institutional-logoed tops/jackets are permissible."

Which is exactly what Schwab was wearing — a grey Nike zip-up hooded sweatshirt with the Nike logo on the left and the Northern Iowa wrestling logo on the right.

He wore the same thing during the Northern Iowa-Oklahoma State dual last week. Didn't lose a point then, so what are we really doing here?

Add this to the lengthy list of odd refereeing that took place all over the country this past weekend. The good news is Schwab apparently asked to make sure what he was wearing was appropriate, so that he doesn't lose team points again moving forward.

And some people also got a kick out of the whole situation.

Also, the hat in my profile picture is a Dave Schultz hat from RUDIS, and he was as professional as it gets.

Northern Iowa head coach Doug Schwab, left, and Oklahoma head coach Lou Rosselli react during a Big 12 Conference wrestling dual, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Hope not!

I feel inclined to trust high school teams this season, because we've seen a number of them have to sit because of COVID-19 related issues. Iowa City West is the most notable, but City High had to sit for a while, too, and other schools went fully virtual and simply couldn't wrestle, especially at the start of the season.

Maybe that's naive of me. We'll see. I didn't think anything weird would happen during the football postseason, either, and then West Des Moines Valley had some positive results just a few days before the Class 4A state quarterfinals.

So I guess anything is possible?

Here's hoping the kids, coaches and everybody else involved stays safe and healthy. We're down to two weeks left in the high school wrestling season. I would hate to see a season end now because of something unfortunate or careless. 

Waukee junior Tanner Spyksma locks up with Waverly-Shell Rock sophomore Jake Walker in their match at 195 at Bettendorf High School in Bettendorf on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021.

Dude, not cool.

As magical as Patrick Mahomes has been — and he was nothing short of miraculous on Sunday night — I knew the Super Bowl would come down to the trenches, as football tends to do. Part of me thought Mahomes could overcome any deficiencies, but another, quieter part of me thought he, and in turn, the Chiefs, might be in trouble.

Mahomes had hardly any protection all night, and then on top of that, his receivers dropped passes they hadn't dropped all year. That doesn't help. They catch those passes, who knows where that game goes. Give Tampa Bay's defense some credit, those guys played fast and mean all night. It was impressive to watch.

We can talk about Tom Brady and the penalties and whatever, but the Chiefs picked a bad time to play a (very) bad game, is the point here. That's football sometimes. It's the ultimate team game for a reason. 

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