Iowa Hawkeye wrestling returns plenty of firepower from national championship squad

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

The Iowa wrestling program sold out its 2021-22 season tickets last week.

That’s a little over 12,000 tickets for six home duals. Two of them, Jan. 7 against Minnesota and the highly-anticipated Jan. 28 matchup against Penn State, are both sold-out completely.

The limited number of tickets for the other four home duals — Princeton on Nov. 19, Oregon State on Nov. 27, Purdue on Jan. 9, Wisconsin on Feb. 5 — will be made available in the weeks ahead of those duals.

That’s a little insane, and puts the Hawkeyes on pace to shatter home attendance records once again. The wrestling capacity for Carver-Hawkeye Arena is 14,905. Iowa averaged 12,568 home fans across seven home duals during the ’19-20 season.

More:The Big Ten Conference released the '21-22 wrestling schedule. Here are Iowa's key dates.

There’s two reasons for this. First, of course, is the COVID-19 pandemic, which kept fans from watching the ’20-21 Hawkeyes in-person. People are antsy to get back to live events — especially the always-passionate Iowa wrestling fans.

And two, the Hawkeyes have been college wrestling’s best team for the last two years. They were the prohibitive favorites to win during the ’19-20 season, until COVID-19 canceled the NCAA Championships, then actually won it during the ’20-21 season, their first national team title since 2010.

Nearly everybody is back this season, and the goal is simple: run it back. The Hawkeyes’ starting lineup for ’21-22 looks just the same as it has the last few years. Here’s a full breakdown of what to expect this season:

Iowa's Spencer Lee carries his headgear and a brace during a NCAA Hawkeyes men's wrestling practice, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

125 pounds

Starter: Spencer Lee

Others To Watch: Aaron Cashman, Charles Matthews

Analysis: Duh. Lee is attempting to make history this season, chasing a fourth NCAA title. Barring something unforeseen, he will be the regular guy and get the nod come the postseason. But do not be surprised to see Aaron Cashman or even Charles Matthews in spots this season. Drake Ayala and Jesse Ybarra, two others listed for Iowa at 125, will be redshirting this season.

Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands talks with Austin DeSanto during a NCAA Hawkeyes men's wrestling practice on Thursday at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

133 pounds

Starter: Austin DeSanto

Others To Watch: Charles Matthews

Analysis: Same rule applies. DeSanto is a two-time NCAA All-American who is 52-12 since joining Iowa after a year at Drexel. He is a title contender this season after putting up 19.5 team points at the NCAA Championships last season. He’s hardly ever missed time when healthy. Cullan Schriever, who wrestled a few extra matches last season, figures to be the future here and will redshirt this season.

Iowa's Jaydin Eierman listens to music before a NCAA Hawkeyes men's wrestling intrasquad match on Friday at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

141 pounds

Starter: Jaydin Eierman

Others To Watch: Drew Bennett, Leif Schroder

Analysis: Again, duh. Eierman is a four-time NCAA All-American, taking fifth, fourth, third at Missouri, then second last year with the Hawkeyes. He opens the year ranked second nationally at this weight by InterMat. Drew Bennett, who joined the Hawkeyes in the offseason after three years at Northern Iowa, will likely be the primary backup while Wyatt Henson redshirts.

Iowa 149-pound wrestler Max Murin poses for a photo during Hawkeyes men's wrestling media day on Oct. 27.

149 pounds

Starter: Max Murin

Others To Watch: Vince Turk, Cobe Siebrecht

Analysis: Things get a little interesting at this weight.

Max Murin is the returning starter here, and has twice reached the bloodround at the NCAA Championships. But Vince Turk has returned to the program after a year off with the military. Turk was an NCAA qualifier in 2018, went 3-2 and reached the round-of-16. He’s 46-15 all-time. 

Not much separated Turk and Pat Lugo in ’19-20. Lugo went on to win both the Midlands Championships and Big Ten Championships that year. It should not surprise anybody if Turk and Murin go back-and-forth here. Murin will likely start with a small lead in this race, but Turk is plenty capable of winning this spot and doing some damage.

Iowa's Kaleb Young laces up his shoes before a NCAA Hawkeyes men's wrestling intrasquad match on Friday at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

157 pounds

Starter: Kaleb Young

Others To Watch: Joe Kelly, Sebastian Robles

Analysis: Young is another two-time returning All-American, previously taking fifth and seventh. Since dropping to 157 — he wrestled both 165 and 174 previously — he’s 49-15 overall and also has a Big Ten finals and NCAA semifinals appearance. Joe Kelly and perhaps even Sebastian Robles will be the primary backups while Bretli Reyna redshirts.


Iowa's Alex Marinelli warms up before a wrestling intrasquad match last Thursday.

165 pounds

Starter: Alex Marinelli

Others To Watch: Joe Kelly

Analysis: Marinelli is back again for one more go at 165 this season. He’s a three-time Big Ten champion and two-time NCAA All-American. He’s 73-10 over the last four seasons. His health will be something worth monitoring at the start of this season, but as long as he’s been healthy, he doesn’t normally miss time. Kelly could be a backup here, too. Patrick Kennedy, the future of this weight, will redshirt this season.

Iowa 174-pound wrestler Michael Kemerer poses for a photo during Hawkeyes men's wrestling media day on Oct. 27.

174 pounds

Starter: Michael Kemerer

Others To Watch: Nelson Brands, Brennan Swafford

Analysis: Kemerer is a three-time NCAA All-American and a returning NCAA finalist with a lot of miles on his personal odometer. If you count his redshirt season, he’s 110-10 overall since ’15-16, his redshirt season. Barring something unforeseen, he’ll be the guy come the postseason and for the bigger duals and competitions.

There’s a history of Iowa coach Tom Brands giving Kemerer some extra rest from time to time. In those scenarios, guys like Nelson Brands, an NCAA qualifier, and Brennan Swafford, an NAIA transfer, could see time in spots.

Iowa head coach Tom Brands, left, talks with Abe Assad earlier this month.

184 pounds

Starter: Abe Assad

Others To Watch: Myles Wilson, Nelson Brands

Analysis: This is another weight where things are a little interesting, at least to start the year. 

Tom Brands said Assad, Nelson Brands and Myles Wilson are all in contention here. Assad and Nelson are both NCAA qualifiers, and Wilson is a U23 world-teamer who’s battled injuries throughout his career. We’re giving Assad the lead here after his solid performance at the program’s intrasquad matches last week.

But this is some really solid depth, and it should not surprise anybody to see them all used in spots throughout the year, especially early on. Assad didn’t claim the starting role until after the Midlands Championships during the ’19-20 season.

Iowa's Jacob Warner puts his mouth guard in last Friday at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

197 pounds

Starter: Jacob Warner

Others To Watch: Zach Glazier

Analysis: Warner, a two-time NCAA All-American, is clear-cut leader here, with a 55-14 career record heading into the ’21-22 season. Zach Glazier, who is 21-3 overall and made the finals of the Junior world team trials (and lost to the eventual world champ), will provide great depth here and could spell Warner from time to time.

Iowa's Tony Cassioppi, right, celebrates with Iowa head coach Tom Brands after scoring a fall at 285 pounds during a dual last season against Illinois.

285 pounds

Starter: Tony Cassioppi

Others To Watch: Aaron Costello

Analysis: Iowa’s lineup ends with a world champion in big Tony Cassioppi. He’s 33-6 in his two seasons as the Hawkeye heavyweight and actually kicked off his season by winning a U23 world title in early November. He’s also a returning All-American and will score big points for Iowa this season. Aaron Costello could see time in spots, too.

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