Reloaded Iowa Hawkeye wrestling lineup ready for 2022-23 season

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — Tom Brands settled into a chair inside the Feller Club Room on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was media day for the Iowa wrestling program, and Brands, now in his 17th year as the Hawkeyes’ head coach, was as direct as ever.

“We have to be able to put our best wrestlers on the mat,” he said. “If we can do that, we like where we're at.”

Easy enough, right?

The Hawkeyes begin the 2022-23 season ranked second in InterMat’s Division I poll, behind only top-ranked Penn State, which returns four NCAA champs. That’s the team Iowa is chasing this year, and who the Hawkeyes must beat pretty much every year.

This year, Brands and company will attempt to run down the Nittany Lions, national team champs in nine of the last 12 years, with a reloaded lineup — a strategic blend of experienced point-scorers, new faces, and young guys eager to join the hunt.

RELATED:Iowa wrestler Tony Cassioppi wins another medal at U23 world championships

The returning guys are well-known.

Spencer Lee, fresh off double-ACL surgery last January, will attempt to win his fourth national title this season, something achieved by only four wrestlers in NCAA history. There’s also Jacob Warner, a returning national finalist; Tony Cassioppi, a two-time All-American and now a two-time Under-23 world medalist; plus Abe Assad and Max Murin, two multi-time NCAA qualifiers who have All-American capability.

But gone are program cornerstones Michael Kemerer and Alex Marinelli and Kaleb Young. Gone are impact transfers Jaydin Eierman and Austin DeSanto. They were all vital in Iowa’s climb from consistent contender to 2021 national team champions, the 24th in program history but first since 2010.

In their place are the new faces and younger guys eager to make their mark.

Iowa's Real Woods poses for a photo during Hawkeye wrestling media day, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

There’s Real Woods, an All-American who transferred in from Stanford in April. He is the latest high-profile transfer who will make an immediate impact for the Hawkeyes, a two-time Pac-12 champion who finished sixth at 141 pounds at least year’s national tournament. He begins the season ranked second at the weight by InterMat.

“I don’t only want to win for myself,” Woods said. “I want to win for my team and win for the fans. I’m here to represent Iowa wrestling, not just Real Woods. That was a big part of me coming here.”

There’s Patrick Kennedy, only a redshirt freshman despite this being his third year in the program. Seems like it’s been even longer, since Kennedy committed to Iowa after his sophomore year of high school. He lost a wrestle-off to Marinelli last year in the Luther Open finals, forcing him to ride the bench. This year, he’s the guy at 165.

“People loved watching Marinelli wrestle because he went out there, fought hard, wrestled hard, and put it on the line,” Kennedy said. “I don’t expect anything less from myself. I want to go out there, impose my will, score as many points as I can, and get my hand raised every single time.”

Iowa's Patrick Kennedy poses for a photo during Hawkeye wrestling media day, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

More:Iowa wrestler Patrick Kennedy wins U23 men's freestyle national title

There’s Nelson Brands, an NCAA qualifier at 184 in 2021 who is now down at 174, a more optimal weight. Brands told HawkCentral he underwent collarbone surgery in October after a motorcycle crash but expects to return by December. Brennan Swafford, who transferred in last year from NAIA's Graceland, will likely man the spot in the meantime until a wrestle-off decides the long-term starter.

“Both Iowa products,” Tom Brands said. “That's exciting.”

The other spots will be filled by whoever emerges from various lineup battles.

DeSanto, a three-time All-American after transferring from Drexel, was a high-powered force at 133 pounds. This year, Brands said three guys — sophomores Cullan Schriever and Jesse Ybarra, plus junior Brody Teske (another transfer, from Northern Iowa) — are vying for that starting role in one of the more intriguing lineup battles in the country.

Young, a two-time All-American for the Hawkeyes, was steady and consistent at 157. This year, Brands mentioned as many as four guys — Bretli Reyna, Cobe Siebrecht, Caleb Rathjen, Joe Kelly — competing for that starting spot, which may end up being a crucial weight when it comes to Iowa's postseason odds.

“No prediction,” Tom Brands said, then added: “How would I assess it? I'll assess it as being incredibly exciting.”

Iowa's Brody Teske poses for a photo during Hawkeye wrestling media day, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

From June:Tom Brands on Iowa wrestling’s future, new facility, Real Woods, Max Murin, and more

Whoever wins those spots will have big shoes to fill and bigger expectations to carry, and how far these new guys can go will determine how high this Iowa wrestling team ultimately climbs.

Tough tests await — against No. 14 Iowa State in December; No. 10 Nebraska, No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 1 Penn State in January; then No. 8 Minnesota and No. 6 Michigan in February. Those duals will help dictate what’s possible come March.

Patience might be required as the new guys learn what’s required to compete at the highest level. The best version of this Iowa team might not come into focus until later in the season — which is fine, considering that the sport's biggest prizes aren't available for five more months.

The time between now and then will be spent ensuring that Iowa’s best wrestlers emerge, for one, and also prepare for that opportunity when those three days in March finally arrive.

Easy enough, right?

Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands and head coach Tom Brands speak to wrestlers before a practice following Hawkeye wrestling media day, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

“The funny thing about anything in life is if you’re not the best, then you’re not the best,” Brands said. “When you're on that mission, it doesn't mean that if I don't accomplish what I'm after, there's not satisfaction. Satisfaction can come in a lot of different ways.”

He continued: “A carrot dangled in front of you can be a catalyst, and it can keep you going, and it's addictive. When you don't accomplish what you set out to accomplish as a competitor, there are two responses.

“Anything from not caring to just quitting is the same. That's one response. The other response is to keep fighting for what I know is going to be mine. That quest is where the value is. That’s what’s most important.”

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