Drake Ayala returns to Iowa wrestling’s starting lineup in 20-15 win over Nebraska

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

LINCOLN, Neb. — The second-ranked Iowa wrestling team opened strong but finished slow in a 20-15 win over 12th-ranked Nebraska on Sunday at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.

Iowa closed the ’21-22 regular season with a 14-1 dual record and a 7-1 mark against Big Ten opponents. That’s good for second in the Big Ten regular-season standings, and on par with how dominant the Hawkeyes have been over the last four years, during which they’ve compiled a 46-2 overall dual record and a 30-1 mark against conference opponents. 

But on Sunday, the primary feeling leaving the Devaney Center was frustration. Iowa won five of the first six matches for a 17-3 lead. Four matches later, that advantage turned into Tony Cassioppi needing to ride out Christian Lance in the third period to win a winner-take-all match at heavyweight (Cassioppi won, 3-0).

“We definitely have to keep getting better and improving,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said afterward. “We have to make sure we’re strong and getting stronger down this home stretch of the season.”

Iowa wrestler Drake Ayala returned to the Hawkeye lineup on Sunday in Iowa's 20-15 win over Nebraska at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln. Ayala beat Jeremiah Reno, 13-6, at 125 pounds.

Iowa and the rest of the conference will return to Lincoln in two weeks for the Big Ten Championships, and the Hawkeyes will take aim at the team title for the third straight year. To do that, they’ll need to wrestle more like they did during the first half of Sunday’s dual.

Iowa was pacing toward a blowout win over Nebraska, now 6-5 and 3-5, on the Huskers' Senior Day, winning five of the first six matches by a combined 56-24. That dual-opening run was sparked by Drake Ayala’s return to the starting lineup. He promptly scored five takedowns for a 13-6 win over Jeremiah Reno at 125 pounds.

“When he wrestles with a high pace, it favors him,” Brands said of Ayala after his first match since January 21 against Ohio State. “Hasn’t had a lot of practice time, but it doesn’t matter. He’s a competitor from the word go.”

The other highlight of the first six matches was earning two top-10 victories. At 141, Jaydin Eierman beat Chad Red, 6-3. Red scored a takedown in the first period, but Eierman tied it on a pair of escapes, then took the lead at the end of the second by catching Red on his back out of a scramble that netted a takedown and two back points.

At 157, Kaleb Young closed the dual’s first half with another 6-3 victory, over Peyton Robb. Young scored a takedown in the first period, Robb countered with a reversal, but two escapes gave Young a 4-2 lead to begin the third. Robb again tried for a reversal, but Young took him to his back for two back points to ice the match.

“Guy’s good at rolling,” said Young, who has rallied from his 6-5 start to win his last eight matches. “He reversed me in the first period with a granby. I need to be more aware of it. I think I was aware of it, but I wasn’t ready. I let it slip.

“Later in the match, I was more ready for it, and that’s what happens. You catch positions where you get back points. I need to be more ready for that earlier in the match so I don’t get reversed after a takedown.”

Alex Marinelli opened the dual’s second half with an 8-2 win over Bubba Wilson at 165, wherein he scored three takedowns. Iowa finished the dual with a 20-6 advantage in total takedowns, but scored only two after Marinelli’s match. They also outscored the Huskers in total match points, 68-36, though the final dual score tells a different story.

That story began at 174 pounds, where Mikey Labriola upended Michael Kemerer, 6-5. Kemerer scored a takedown in the first period, but Labriola reversed him late to make it 2-2 after the first period. In the third, tied 3-3, Labriola won a scramble for a takedown, which held up as the match-winner.

At 184, Taylor Venz followed with an emphatic pin over Abe Assad, sending the Husker fans into a frenzy. Assad used a first-period takedown to build a 3-1 lead entering the third, but Venz escaped, then went upper-body and planted Assad on his back for the fall in 6 minutes, 13 seconds. Assad has lost four of his last five matches.

At 197, Nebraska won again by scoring third-period points. After a scoreless first, Jacob Warner used a strong ride in the second to accumulate more than a minute of riding time, then escaped to start the third to maintain that riding-time advantage, then Schultz connected for a takedown on the edge to erase that advantage and win, 3-2.

“Kemerer is going to be fine,” Brands said. “Assad, he’s going to have to pick it up a little bit. Warner, you’ve got to wrestle the third period. If we can wrestle full matches, we’re going to be great.

“We’ve got work to do at every weight class.”

Those three straight wins brought the Huskers within 17-15 with just one match left. Cassioppi provided a clutch performance with a 3-0 win over Christian Lance at 285, utilizing a second-period escape and a third-period rideout (plus a point for stalling) to seal Brands’ 250th career dual victory, and his 13th over Nebraska in as many tries.

“It’s good to win the dual for the team,” Cassioppi said. “We had some adversity in those upper weights. It was tough sitting there watching my teammates wrestle those matches. I needed to stay in my match.

“Honestly, I think I let my nerves slow me down. I could’ve opened that match up, but I got the win and won the meet for the team.”

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

#2 Iowa 20, #12 Nebraska 15

  • 125: #12 Drake Ayala (IA) dec. Jeremiah Reno (NEB), 13-6
  • 133: #3 Austin DeSanto (IA) tech. fall Alex Thomsen (NEB), 22-7
  • 141: #2 Jaydin Eierman (IA) dec. #10 Chad Red (NEB), 6-3
  • 149: #7 Ridge Lovett (NEB) dec. Vince Turk (IA), 3-1
  • 157: #12 Kaleb Young (IA) dec. #10 Peyton Robb (NEB), 6-3
  • 165: #5 Alex Marinelli (IA) dec. #30 Bubba Wilson (NEB), 8-2
  • 174: #6 Mikey Labriola (NEB) dec. #2 Michael Kemerer (IA), 5-4
  • 184: #20 Taylor Venz (NEB) pinned #16 Abe Assad (IA) in 6:13
  • 197: #3 Eric Schultz (NEB) dec. #4 Jacob Warner (IA), 3-2
  • 285: #4 Tony Cassioppi (IA) dec. #12 Christian Lance (NEB), 3-0