Wrestling Mailbag: Iowa State's 3-0 start, Iowa's lineup, Spencer Lee, true freshmen, and more
Welcome back to the Wrestling Mailbag, our weekly space to talk anything and everything wrestling, be it here in Iowa, across the country or around the world. It's a place for those of us in the wrestling bubble (and even those of you who aren't) to geek out and continue an ongoing wrestling conversation for the next five months.
The college season is well underway, and much of what we talk about here normally revolves around college wrestling — wrestle-offs, high-profile duals, tournaments, lineup battles, plus whatever else we find interesting. Makes sense, especially since the state has three Division I programs, in Iowa, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa.
But what caught my attention during college wrestling's opening weekend — aside from Iowa State's strong start down in Jacksonville (more on that in a moment) — was the number of former Iowa high-schoolers that are now scattered all over the country at Division I programs.
Here are a few that stood out:
- Hunter Garvin, a three-time state champ for Iowa City West who's now at Stanford, made the finals of the Menlo Open in California, recording three first-period pins before losing to Cardinal teammate Shane Griffith, a two-time NCAA finalist and 2021 national champ, in the finals, by a 4-1 score.
- Jacob Frost, a state finalist for Dowling Catholic last year, was one of the many Cyclone freshmen to get some run at the Battle in the River City on Saturday. Frost scored two takedowns in a 6-2 win over Little Rock's Jayden Gomez, part of Iowa State's 33-7 win. Can't forget Ames native Marcus Coleman, who went 3-0 for the Cyclones on Saturday, and Assumption grad Julien Broderson, who won his lone match, too.
- At the Southeast Open, the Virginia trio of Gabe Christenson (Southeast Polk), Robert Avila Jr. (Lisbon and West), and Nick Hamilton (Underwood before moving to Nebraska) all competed, as well as North Carolina's Cade Tenold (Don Bosco) and Jack Wagner (Bettendorf).
We could keep going. We probably will keep going as the season continues. There are more Iowa natives who wrestle for other schools in other conferences all over the country, and so many more who wrestle for the three big in-state programs.
This is what happens when the statewide talent level grows. Iowa has earned a lot of national-level wrestling success in recent years, spurring college coaches from all over who have come to Iowa to try and lure these talented kids to their own programs. Some have found success — looking at you, South Dakota State and Virginia — and others have lost recruiting battles to Iowa, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa.
The result is all these Iowa kids are all over the country competing for other programs, which is a cool thing to see. We aren't going to keep a running tally of how every single Iowa native does all season long, but consider this a reminder to scan the brackets at any given tournament and you'll likely find a few familiar names.
OK, onto the Wrestling Mailbag. It's a fully-loaded first edition for 2022-23. Topics this week include Iowa State's opening weekend, some Iowa lineup questions, recruiting stuff and the Iowa women's wrestling team's tentative schedule.
You can find the latest episodes below.
Thanks for your help here, and for reading.
More on Iowa State wrestling's impressive win over Wisconsin
I'll be honest, I figured there was a path for Iowa State to beat Wisconsin last Saturday, but that path did not include the Cyclones winning eight matches, going 5-0 against past All-Americans, and winning seven matches against wrestlers ranked in the Top-20 nationally at their weights.
No matter how you slice it, it was an impressive showing from Iowa State. They scored more total match points, 63-40, and far more takedowns, 23-6. They punched Wisconsin right in the teeth on their way to an 11-0 lead after four matches — and then just kept punching and won by 20.
I told this to a few people and ended up writing a version of it on Saturday night: the jury's still out if this Iowa State team can finally crack the Top-10 at the NCAA Championships since March is still five months away, but their performance against the Badgers is how a Top-10 team should start its season.
The trick now is sustaining this good energy, establishing consistency and keep building. We saw a lot of consistency and tough wrestling last year when the Cyclones went 15-1 in duals and took third at the Big 12 Championships.
But then they flopped at the national tournament and a lot of people quickly forgot about the Big 12 regular-season dual-meet title.
It's a long season, is what I'm saying, but Saturday was a great start for Iowa State.
Can Cobe Siebrecht crack the Iowa wrestling lineup?
I guess I have to see it first, as is the case with most anything, before I offer an honest assessment.
What we have seen from Cobe Siebrecht during his college career has all been at 149 pounds, just 22 matches in three seasons. He can be tough on top. His length gives guys issues. He fights hard. He's a little funky and can finish matches that way. He maybe relies on that funk a little too much while defending shots, which isn't really what you want, but that kind of comes with it.
I was impressed with the way he wrestled North Carolina State's Tariq Wilson, a three-time All-American, last January. Wilson won the match 7-3 and was never really in danger of losing it, but Siebrecht didn't back down and made adjustments as the match went on and even scrambled his way to a takedown at the end of the third period.
The other thing that stuck out, at least to me, was that Siebrecht looked smaller than Wilson — and that was at 149.
Fast forward to June, at the U23 national championships, where Siebrecht went 8-2 and took fourth at 70 kilograms (154 pounds), and he looked a little bigger. He lost the third-place match to Northwestern's Trevor Chumbley — the same Trevor Chumbley who beat Ohio State's Paddy Gallagher this past weekend at the Michigan State Open. I'm of the belief that Gallagher, and now Chumbley, will be a factor at 157 nationally this season.
But I need to see Siebrecht, and others, at 157 to get a better gauge of the situation, but there's definitely a high upside there. Call him a wildcard. Call that whole weight a wildcard until we gain some clarity. Wrestle-off results may not always provide that, since these guys probably wrestle each other in the room a lot.
Reading this back, it comes off like a long non-answer. But, hey, it's November. We'll learn more as the year goes on.
Can Spencer Lee stay healthy for Iowa?
I think one potential pitfall for Spencer Lee is Spencer Lee. By that, I think his biggest hurdle this year might be his own body.
He talked at media day about how he's excited to just feel fully healthy again. He alluded to the idea that he hasn't really ever been 100% during his college career. He came in healing from one ACL injury, then wrestled through more. It speaks to his otherworldly abilities that he not only continued to win, but flat-out dominated.
We've seen enough of Lee by now to know how freakishly good he is, and I feel comfortable writing right here, right now, that there's really nobody in the country at 125 pounds who can beat him. That seems outlandish, but the guy's won 38 consecutive matches and has outscored his opponents in that stretch by a combined 461-41 — again, all while not really being 100% healthy. Scary thought.
For what it's worth, he said during media day that he feels good, that he's ready to compete now, but that he's going to trust the doctors and coaching staff. That's worked out well for him thus far. History is within reach this season, so you know he's chomping at the bit to get going.
As for Iowa's spot in the overall title chase, InterMat has them tabbed second — behind Penn State, who returns four NCAA champs, but ahead of Arizona State, Ohio State, Missouri and Michigan, all potent trophy contenders this season — and that sounds about right.
Iowa lost a lot of experience last year, with guys like Austin DeSanto, Jaydin Eierman, Kaleb Young, Alex Marinelli and Michael Kemerer all graduating. But there's a lot of experience that's back again, too, like Lee, Jacob Warner, Tony Cassioppi, plus Max Murin, Abe Assad and the addition of Real Woods.
So second seems right, at least right now. We'll see how other teams perform over the course of the season, for one, but we'll also see how well this Iowa team performs, too. If the new guys in the lineup — like Patrick Kennedy, Nelson Brands, and whoever emerges at 133 and 157 — punch well above their weight, maybe a realistic path to take down Penn State reveals itself later in the season.
On our latest podcast, Earl Smith, the great editor at InterMat, and I discussed all three of Iowa's teams and one of the questions I posed to him about each team was: What does a successful season look like? We came to the agreement that second place, definitively, at the NCAA Championships should be celebrated. Anything more would make for a fantastic season. Anything less might spark a few questions.
Time will tell. Again, it's a long season, and the Hawkeyes haven't even wrestled yet. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Iowa wrestling's true freshmen and the new NCAA redshirt rule
I think we'll see Lee sooner rather than later. Maybe we'll even see him this weekend. You'll know when I know.
I'm far more interested in the true freshman portion of this two-part question, if only because I expect we'll see many freshmen use their matches.
For those who don't know: The NCAA released new rules that allow true freshmen to wrestle in up to five dates of regular-season competition and still maintain their redshirt (note: it does not apply to the postseason). We've already seen some of this in action.
Last Saturday, Iowa State had, by my count, five wrestlers with true freshmen eligibility take the mat. Two of those guys, Casey Swiderski and Paniro Johnson, are going to stay in the lineup moving forward, but the others, Jacob Frost, Cam Robinson, MJ Gaitan, will likely stay in redshirt, but they each got valuable experience by wrestling the matches they did over the weekend.
One caveat: All true freshmen now have to compete attached during the first semester, per the new NCAA rules. In past years, true freshmen — or anybody who was redshirting — would compete at open tournaments unattached in order to preserve their redshirt and maintain four full years of eligibility. So, for example, Frost, Robinson, and Gaitan and even Hamilton and Avila at Virginia all technically burned one of their five free dates by wrestling on Saturday.
As such, coaches will need to be strategic about how often freshmen compete. We'll likely see a variety of strategies during the season.
Northern Iowa Doug Schwab, for example, said he'll have some true freshmen wrestle 2-3 dates during the first semester (which, for the Panthers, is almost exclusively tournaments) so as to preserve 2-3 opportunities in the second semester (almost exclusively duals). Schwab might send some true freshmen out in dual meets as a way to gauge their in-season development. If he likes what he sees, maybe a true freshman joins the postseason lineup.
Iowa coach Tom Brands didn't reveal a specific plan when asked about it at media day last month:
"Great rule, awesome," he said then. "NCAA got it right in my opinion. Again, I didn't have any say in it. It showed up in my email or whatever. Lyla Clerry communicated to me. Great rule. So we will use the rule. Love it."
Guess we'll wait and see — but you guys probably don't have to think too hard about who we might see in duals.
Maybe give Kolby Franklin a match at 197, since he's the presumptive heir once Warner graduates. Maybe give Bradley Hill a match at 285, since that's where he competed during the intrasquad matches and could be growing into heavyweight. Maybe give Aiden Riggins a match (or two) at 157 if the four guys currently battling for that spot don't produce in a way that Brands likes.
There's also all the open tournament opportunities, too. This coming weekend, there's the Luther Open in Decorah and the Grand View Open in Grimes. Maybe we'll see some freshmen at one, the other, or both. Again, we'll see it when we see it.
Iowa wrestling recruiting updates
Iowa has been attempting to polish off the 2023 recruiting class and is also going to work on the 2024 recruiting class.
The 2023 recruiting class is loaded, with Ben Kueter, Nate Jesuroga, Ryder Block, Gabe Arnold, as well as Cody Chittum, all expected to sign later this week. That's four Top-30 recruits, plus Chittum, who was considered the top-rated prospect in the 2022 class but is basically gray-shirting this year. The Hawkeyes have also had some in-state guys, like the Greene County duo Kale Petersen and McKinley Robbins and Lisbon's Brandon Paez, in on visits.
The 2024 class is light, with only Keyan Hernandez, a two-time Montana state champ, currently in the fold. But the Hawkeyes have also visited Angelo Ferrari, the No. 5 overall 2024 prospect, and have had Fort Dodge's Dru Ayala (#84 overall) and California state champ Miguel Estrada (#21 overall) in on visits. There could be (and likely is) more, but that's what I know.
But Iowa's current recruiting/roster construction situation is interesting at the moment, at least to me.
Think about the current seniors in the starting lineup:
- Spencer Lee
- Max Murin
- Jacob Warner
That's it. Everybody else still has eligibility after this year, and we could almost pencil in the guys we expect to fill in those starting spots once they graduate: Drake Ayala back at 125; either Caleb Rathjen or Chittum or even Joel Jesuroga fighting it out at 149; and Kolby Franklin stepping in at 197.
Do the same exercise with the guys who will be seniors next year:
- Real Woods
- Nelson Brands
- Abe Assad
- Tony Cassioppi
Perhaps Joel Jesuroga drops to 141 and attempts to enter the starting lineup that way, but Iowa has also used the transfer portal on the last two guys at that weight. Gabe Arnold might go 174 or 184 once he gets to Iowa, and Mickey Griffith, a true freshman this year, could go the other. Bradley Hill appears to be bulking into heavyweight, if we are to trust the intrasquad match results where he beat Easton Fleshman and lost to Cassioppi.
Iowa will continue to recruit hard and mine the transfer portal and assemble as much talent in the room as possible. Get as many great wrestlers in the room as you can and figure out the lineup later. But guys who will battle for future lineup spots are already in the room, too.
Just because it's been quiet doesn't mean the staff isn't working.
Iowa women's wrestling schedule for 2022-23
I stopped in Iowa City last month to catch interviews with both Nyla Valencia and Felicity Taylor ahead of the U23 world championships, and also stopped in to talk to head coach Clarissa Chun and associate head coach Gary Mayabb, and they actually had a rough schedule on their desks that listed some open tournaments the Iowa women are hoping to hit this year:
- Nov. 12 – Waldorf Open in Forest City
- Nov. 18-19 – Missouri Valley Open in Marshall, MO
- Dec. 11 – North Central College Invitational in Naperville, IL
- Dec. 29-30 – Soldier Salute in Coralville
- Feb. 4, 2023 – Grand View Open in Des Moines
- Feb. 5 – Bearcat Open in Lebanon, IL
- Feb. 12 – Midland Warrior Open in Fremont, NE
There is no guarantee that the Iowa women's wrestlers will be at all or even any of these tournaments. They also listed the Luther Hill Invitational, which was held this past weekend in Indianola, but none ultimately made the trip. Remember, everybody is redshirting, so it's a pay-your-way deal for these tournaments (which is why so many are within driving distance).
If I had to guess, I think we'll see a contingent at the Missouri Valley Open, definitely at the Soldier Salute, and perhaps at the Grand View Open, too. The Missouri Valley Open is a big one for women's wrestlers, the Soldier Salute is in their backyard and Grand View is right down the road.
That's what I know. There's also U.S. Open and USA Wrestling's women's age-level national championships in the spring, too. I know that's outside the normal wrestling calendar, but those are a couple more high-profile events to mark down if you want to watch them compete.
Last season, I started ending each mailbag with a quick note on something I'm grateful for as a way to keep myself honest about practicing more gratitude. I'll continue that tradition this season. This week, I'm grateful for Cellucor's C4 Energy drinks, because it's a busy week and any extra boost helps. Big fan of the frozen bombsicle flavor.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at@codygoodwin.