Wrestling Mailbag: Girls wrestling thoughts, Spencer Lee, Cobe Siebrecht, Ben Kueter, more
We are 10 days from the girls wrestling postseason. Regional tournaments are set for Jan. 27. The winners there advance to the state championships, set for Feb. 2-3 at Xtream Arena.
The season moves fast, but the girls postseason is going to be an exciting couple of weeks, if only because there’s a lot of unknowns.
Here’s what I mean:
So often in our girls wrestling coverage, we focus on participation numbers, which is important and will continue. As of this writing, there are 2,384 Iowa girls registered and eligible to wrestle, according to Trackwrestling.
As always, some context:
- it’s more than double last year’s total, which was 1,023;
- it is more than a 1,000% increase from the 2018-19 season;
- it would’ve ranked third-most in single-state participation nationally last season, according to numbers kept by the National Federation of State High School Associations, behind only California (5,578) and Texas (4,836).
Most important, the larger talent pool is a fantastic development for Iowa girls wrestling.
There are more athletes who are either wrestling for the first time this year or are now competing for their schools, all because the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union decided to formally add the sport. There are many past state medalists, champs included, who have lost matches this season because the competition is deeper.
Part of that is the youth movement that first surfaced at last year’s state tournament, where 10 champs were either freshmen or sophomores. It continued this summer when a collection of those same girls led Iowa to the team title at the 16U women’s freestyle national championships.
There’s no question those results helped spark statewide interest. Everybody likes to be part of a winner, for one, but seeing those girls compete and win immediately, at the state and national levels, helped athletes of all kinds at least look at wrestling when they otherwise might’ve skipped over it in favor of another winter sport or activity.
The result is going to push the state forward, and we’re seeing the first steps of that process this season. These athletes are coming in and quickly figuring out how to wrestle and compete, and it’s forcing those who have been here for a while to improve.
I had all of these thoughts while watching the Northwest Girls Invite last Saturday. A lot of the individual champs have been wrestling for a while, but many other medalists are in their first or second years. Their continued development is encouraging to see.
So, who will emerge during the next few weeks as the girls postseason takes off? No idea. We can point to the girls already at the top of the pecking order, but it’s those who fill in behind them — the unknowns — that I’m most excited to watch.
OK, on to the Wrestling Mailbag. A lot of fun high school wrestling coming this week, starting with Tuesday night's CIML girls wrestling tournament at Valley High School, then continuing with the Ed Winger Classic at Urbandale on Saturday. If you're in central Iowa, I encourage you to check them both out.
Please give me a follow on Twitter and I’ll keep you 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. You can find the latest episodes below.
Thanks for your help here, and for reading.
Can Spencer Lee hit 100 career collegiate wins?
Let's do the math here:
Spencer Lee is 86-5 for his career. He needs 14 more wins to hit 100.
Guess how many matches he (probably) has left in his Iowa career?
- six more dual meets: Jan. 20 vs. #5 Nebraska, Jan. 22 at #13 Wisconsin, Jan. 27 at #1 Penn State, Feb. 3 at #20 Minnesota, Feb. 10 vs. #14 Michigan, and Feb. 19 vs. #16 Oklahoma State;
- presumably three matches at the Big Ten Championships, after a first-round bye;
- five at the NCAA Championships.
Cutting it close!
Maybe Spencer will go to the Last Chance Open in Ames the same day as the Iowa-Oklahoma State dual just to get more matches. Or forfeit a first-round bye at the Big Ten Championships to get another match. Or take the long road to third place at the national tournament to surpass 100. (I'm kidding, of course.)
Jacob Warner, technically, is at 101 career wins, but only if you count the 15 he won as a redshirt during the 2017-18 season. Since we aren't doing that, he, too, is at 86 career wins, which means he needs 14 for 100. Warner will likely get a first-round match at the Big Ten Championships, so he should have, in theory, 15 matches to get 14.
This math also assumes that both guys wrestle at every available opportunity the rest of the way, which obviously isn't a given. Warner missed the Iowa-Northwestern dual last Friday and had his leg wrapped up during the Iowa-Purdue dual the week before. There's always a chance Spencer takes a dual off to save his knees, too.
Honestly, this math exercise is going to end the same way a lot of thoughts about Spencer and Warner end nowadays, and that's to enjoy them while you still can. They both have international aspirations, for sure, but their time in Iowa's all-black singlet is limited. Hopefully you guys watch them and enjoy them every chance you get.
Iowa wrestling duals starting at 133 pounds
I asked Iowa coach Tom Brands about the dual starting at 133 pounds after last Friday's dual. He said Northwestern won the flip and they picked to start at 133. He also said this regarding Spencer's first-period fall over Northwestern's Michael DeAugustino:
"We should wrestle Spencer Lee last every match. That's what it's supposed to look like."
So … ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I know Spencer takes pride in being the first guy out for Iowa's duals. He likes being the opener and giving his team five or six points right away. But the more I think about this, the more there's something to the idea of having five or six points as like an ace in the hole for the end of a dual meet, too.
More often than not, I think Iowa will choose to start at 125. Start the dual with a bang, inject some energy into the crowd, and away they go. But starting at 133 moving forward is, at the very least, an intriguing thought.
Why is Spencer Lee showing so much emotion this year?
We are, without question — and, honestly, it's been pretty cool.
I am, personally, a fan of animated athletes. We're so often used to the act-like-you've-been-there-before responses from athletes that when they decide to show emotion or let us behind the curtain, people freak out, if only because it's not what we're used to seeing.
I wrote about part of this in a previous mailbag, about how we're seeing a little more into the hyper-competitor that Spencer morphs into when he's on the mat. He does a good job intentionally hiding that from the public, so when it comes out, it's like, whoa!
But now that we're seeing it more — the stare down at the Soldier Salute, screaming and head-butting his dad after pinning Purdue's Matt Ramos, the 'hang-up' thing after pinning DeAugustino last Friday — I think people are embracing it more. At the very least, they're becoming more comfortable with it.
Athletes are motivated by many things, but you have to have some psychopathic tendencies to compete with the very best at whatever sport you play. When it comes to wrestling, we're really talking about an organized fight with a few rules. You're literally taking your opponent and bending them to your will. It's not a natural thing.
This is not me calling Spencer a psychopath, but he bends people to his will better than almost anybody else on the planet. In recent weeks, we've seen small glimpses of the internal competitive spirit that's required to do that on a consistent week-to-week basis.
On top of that, Spencer's also been through a lot. Multiple knee reconstructions, resulting in missed time and opportunities. The pandemic ruined what could've been an insanely special calendar year for him in 2020. Part of what we're seeing could be him finally feeling as good as he's felt physically in a long, long time, and he's taking those years of frustrations out on whoever is across the mat from him (prayers up for those dudes).
All of that to say, Spencer really looks like he's having fun again, which is insanely cool to see, because it's been a long time since we've seen that, at least regularly.
How high can Cobe Siebrecht climb?
This legit made me laugh, if only because it's entirely possible that Cobe Siebrecht hits something we've never seen before and wins another big match this week.
Last Friday's win over Northwestern's Trevor Chumbley (who is quite good, by the way) was the full Cobe Siebrecht experience. He is insanely confident offensively, whether it's a Drake Ayala-esque slide-by, a monster throw from an underhook, or fundamental head-hands defense that leads to a re-shot. He is funky defensively, too much of a leg-passer for my taste, but it works for him, especially as time wound down against Chumbley.
The result is a dangerous competitor who is more than capable of scoring points for Iowa at the NCAA Championships come March. If he brings his A-game, it's not a crazy thought to think he could reach Friday night's bloodround. Says a lot about the weight nationally, but 157 is a weight to be had — especially now that Princeton's Quincy Monday has gone back up to 165.
Siebrecht is now 7-1 this season with five bonus-point wins, is ranked #21 nationally by InterMat, and has notched three wins over wrestlers who are also currently ranked: 10-2 over #29 Jason Kraisser (Iowa State), a second-period fall over #12 Anthony Artalona (Penn), and, last Friday, a 6-3 win over #14 Chumbley.
The road the rest of the way is only going to be tougher. Here's who Siebrecht has the rest of the way:
- vs. #1 Peyton Robb (Nebraska) on Jan. 20
- vs. #18 Garrett Model (Wisconsin) on Jan. 22
- vs. #17 Levi Haines (Penn State) on Jan. 27
- vs. #16 Brayton Lee (Minnesota) on Feb. 3
- vs. #10 Will Lewan (Michigan) on Feb. 10
- vs. #11 Kaden Gfeller (Oklahoma State) on Feb. 19
- plus the Big Ten and NCAA Championships in March
Robb, Lee, and Lewan are all past All-Americans. Model and Gfeller are both NCAA qualifier. Haines is a true freshman but was on the 2021 Cadet men's freestyle world team and looks like he could very well be Penn State's starter the rest of the way. He's also 13-1 with five bonus wins this year.
As good as Siebrecht has been, he can solidify his standing — or at least his Big Ten tournament positioning — with more strong performances down the stretch, starting with this Friday night when Iowa hosts Nebraska.
Cobe Siebrecht's story, from winning state at Lisbon to becoming a key contributor for the second-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, has been an incredibly fun development this season. He has earned this opportunity. What he does from here is entirely up to him.
When will the Iowa women's wrestling team compete next?
Here are some dates to keep in mind for the Iowa women's wrestling team, which is based on the schedule that Iowa women's coach Clarissa Chun shared with me back in November:
- Feb. 4 – Grand View Open in Des Moines
- Feb. 5 – Bearcat Open in Lebanon, IL
- Feb. 12 – Midland Warrior Open in Fremont, NE
I said this in November, and I'll say it again here: there's no guarantee that the Iowa women's team attends any of these competitions. They're all abiding by the redshirt rules this season, which means they have to pay their own way to go to these competitions. That includes gas, places to stay (if needed), food, all that stuff.
I'm thinking (hoping?) some will compete in Des Moines, if only because that's just a couple hours down I-80. Easy day trip. Felicity Taylor may make the trip to the Bearcat Open, since that's at McKendree, her old school. Maybe a few teammates will jump in the car with her and compete there, too. The Midland Warrior Open would be more than a four-hour drive. That's a tall ask — and who knows what the weather might look like.
Those are at least the dates to monitor. The program's social media accounts have been good about sharing who will compete where when they do, so keep tabs there for more details as they become available. As with most things regarding Iowa wrestling, you all will know when I know.
As for the second part of Tanner's question, I reached out to Kylie personally to see if there was an answer. She may go and answer it herself when she's ready. I talked to her a couple of days after the Slider Salute and she seemed in good spirits. Knee was stiff, but she said she'd be OK.
I would take that as a sign of good news. If she wishes to share anything more, I'll leave that up to her.
Memorable Iowa Hawkeye wrestling interviews and moments
From jrod65 via Twitter DM: There was a favorite matches poll to celebrate 300 duals in Carver. In that vein, what is your most memorable interview(s) that you have conducted with a Hawkeye wrestler/coach?
I have a lot. Here are the first few that come to mind:
I remember talking with Iowa coach Tom Brands before the epic Iowa-Penn State dual in 2020. He was in a great mood that day. He talked about how Cambus was the most efficient organization on the planet. He gave one writer a recruiting pitch. That was pretty righteous.
I remember talking to Thomas Gilman at the Big Ten Championships one year while he rode the stationary bike to get his weight back down after his last match on Saturday. Of all the post-session interviews I've done at multi-day tournaments, I'll never forget that one.
I remember a sit-down interview with Tony Ramos after he won the Big Ten Championships his senior year, and what I remember most was just the free-flowing conversation we had then, him during his national title season, me during my junior year of college — roughly the same age but worlds apart. Been friends ever since.
I remember after a work meeting a few years back, I got a random call from an Iowa City number. Turned out to be Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz. I had requested to talk to him about the former wrestlers on his offensive line and the connection between football and wrestling. He was excited. "I'd rather talk about this than football," he said that day. We talked for like 30 minutes.
I remember sitting down with Alex and Moriah Marinelli to discuss Eli Stickley. It was in one of the back conference rooms at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. I asked maybe three questions that day, and spent the rest of the couple of hours just listening to them talk about Eli. That was incredible.
I remember talking with Tony Cassioppi over the phone before he went to the U23 world championships. We talked about all sorts of stuff — video games, what he was reading at the time, Pokémon, literally anything but wrestling. He's notoriously direct and not very open during interviews, so that was a fun conversation.
I could keep going, but I remember a lot, clearly. It's fun to share those fun moments — like when Max Murin continues to dog Michael Kemerer even though he's gone now, or when Warner and I talk fantasy football, or when Spencer and I discuss video games. Cullan Schriever and I routinely talk about his Titans. I've talked with a lot of the freshmen about their Madden skills. I hounded Patrick Kennedy about his walk-out song.
Not sure I could rank them or pick a favorite, but there is no shortage of entertainment when it comes to covering this program.
Analyzing Ben Kueter's future, with both wrestling and football
Here are my thoughts on Ben Kueter attempting to do the two-sport thing at Iowa:
He plans to play linebacker and wrestle heavyweight, so that 240-250 range seems ideal. There's a chance he moves to the defensive line, just based on his length and frame, which probably puts him closer to 270-280. There's a chance they move him to tight end because of his freak athleticism, which is probably 260ish.
If there is an athlete who can pull this off, it's Ben Kueter. He's that naturally gifted, for one, but he's also dedicated when it comes to communicating with his coaches about his needs, putting in the work where he needs it, and taking advice from those in his inner-circle. He's set up for success no matter what happens.
The particular thing about this two-sport thing is, will his body hold up? That's my biggest question.
Say he plays linebacker. If he becomes the next Jack Campbell, that's roughly 20 car crashes a game, and I'm not sure how well his body will hold up for wrestling season. Mark Sindlinger, the last successful two-sport guy at Iowa, said he never felt fully ready for wrestling season because his body was so beat up from football — and he played on the offensive line.
Nowadays, heavyweight wrestlers are freakier athletes than the push-and-pull Greco-Roman style heavyweights from years ago, which means Kueter will probably need some serious time in the Iowa wrestling room to adequately prepare for that national-level competition each season. If his body is too beat up from football, that'll limit what he can do in the way of preparation — which is a bummer for us wrestling folks.
Say he plays defensive line. I would argue that's a little better for his body, but who knows by how much. He'd also be a little heavier. How does that impact his speed on the mat? Will a small weight-drop after football be part of his yearly transition to get ready for wrestling? Maybe. Maybe not. This is just a thought in my head.
Say he plays tight end. I think, personally, that gives him the best chance to pull this off. It's not nearly as hard on his body as playing linebacker would be, and 260 is a good spot to be at for heavyweight. The transition from one to the other would still be hard — we're talking about two completely separate-yet-elite-level athletic programs here — but by saving his body even if only a little, he might be able to do more and transition a little easier.
I'm not sure what'll happen. He may fall completely head over heels for football and become the next Jack Campbell or George Kittle and go play a decade in the NFL, leaving wrestling in the dust except for the mention of it by television broadcasters every time he does something special — which we all know will be often.
He may also find that football ain't his thing, go full-time wrestling, win a few NCAA titles, then compete for world and Olympic medals on a regular basis, which we know he is fully capable of. He may also be the unicorn athlete who finds a way to do it all — which wouldn't really surprise me but would absolutely be one of the most insane things any of us has ever seen.
The possibilities here are endless. I'm not sure even Ben knows what's coming. He is a very day-by-day, be-where-your-feet-are kind of guy. It's one of the many reasons why he's in this position at all, and why we're all so curious to see how this thing unfolds.
I'll end with this line from when he announced his two-sport commitment 16 months ago:
"Ben Kueter announced Sunday that he will be the next to author his own two-sport story in Iowa City. The rest is up to him."
Iowa HS Wrestling:The stage is set for an epic Ed Winger Classic at Urbandale
This week, I'm grateful for Wrestlestat. Only just realized how much I use that website on a regular basis. Shoutout to those homies for the incredible database.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at@codygoodwin.