Iowa wrestlers in 2nd, with 3 finalists, after Day 1 of Big Ten Championships

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The first assignment of the weekend for the second-ranked Iowa wrestling team was to qualify all 10 wrestlers for the NCAA Championships two weeks from now in Tulsa. Midway through Saturday's second session, the Hawkeyes passed that test.

That allowed Tom Brands and company to turn their attention to this weekend's team race, and after Saturday's first two sessions, things are … kind of interesting?

The Hawkeyes enter Sunday in second place here at the Crisler Center, with 105.5 team points. Penn State, the consensus No. 1-ranked team in Division I wrestling this season, sits first with 120. Nebraska is in third at 98.5. Everybody else is more than 20 points back.

Three Iowa wrestlers made the finals — Spencer Lee (125), Real Woods (141), Patrick Kennedy (165) — but Penn State put six in the finals and Nebraska, rather impressively, went 5-for-5 in the semifinals, helping the Huskers stay within striking distance of a possible second-place finish.

Iowa coaches Tom Brands (right) and Bobby Telford) watch intently at the 2023 Big Ten Championships at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Hawkeyes and Penn State were tied after Saturday's first session, and Iowa surged ahead after Lee, Woods, and Kennedy all won in semifinals. But Penn State roared back thanks to the back half of its lineup — and, specifically, on two head-to-head semifinal wins: Max Dean's 3-1 win over Jacob Warner at 197, and Greg Kerkvliet's 5-0 win over Tony Cassioppi at 285.

Those two wins gave the Nittany Lions 14 crucial team points. If Iowa had flipped just one or possibly both of them, this team race becomes even more interesting.

In addition to their three finalists, the Hawkeyes have four wrestlers still alive for third, in Warner, Cassioppi and Max Murin (149), who dropped his semifinal bout to Ohio State's Sammy Sasso at 149 pounds, plus three more — Brody Teske (133), Cobe Siebrecht (157), Abe Assad (184) — going for seventh.

Penn State picked up a lot of points behind its six finalists, and have two more wrestlers — Beau Bartlett (141) and Shayne Van Ness (149) — alive for third. Nebraska's five finalists scored the bulk of its 98.5 points, but the Huskers also have just two wrestlers alive for third, in Bubba Wilson (165) and Lenny Pinto (184).

It was a successful first day for Iowa because all 10 starters punched their tickets to the national tournament two weeks from now. Points are available for Iowa to score on Sunday, but a strong performance (and maybe a little bit of help) is needed to run down Penn State and make it an even more successful weekend.

Team Scores after Day 1 at the 2023 Big Ten Championships

  1. Penn State, 120
  2. Iowa, 105.5
  3. Nebraska, 98.5
  4. Ohio State, 77
  5. Minnesota, 73
  6. Northwestern, 64
  7. Michigan, 64
  8. Wisconsin, 46.5
  9. Illinois, 36.5
  10. Purdue, 36.5
  11. Rutgers, 30
  12. Indiana, 27
  13. Michigan State, 27
  14. Maryland, 19.5

Weight-by-Weight analysis from Day 1 of the Big Ten Championships

125lbs: Spencer Lee, 2-0, will wrestle for 1st

A typical Spencer Lee day. He rolled up a 17-0 technical fall over Michigan's Jack Medley in the quarterfinals, then a 20-2 technical fall over Minnesota's red-hot Pat McKee in the semifinals. He has now won 54 consecutive matches dating back to 2019, and will wrestle Nebraska's Liam Cronin in the finals on Sunday evening.

133lbs: Brody Teske, 2-2, will wrestle for 7th

Up-and-down day for Teske. Good news is that he's qualified for the NCAA Championships — and in his two wins, he looked solid, winning 4-1 over Michigan State's RayVon Foley and 4-1 over Wisconsin's Taylor LaMont, both past All-Americans who both went 0-2 on Saturday, which is just one example of how tough the Big Ten tournament can be.

But in the two matches Teske lost, he looked outmatched. He dropped a 13-2 major to Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young in the quarterfinals, where RBY turned a 2-0 first-period lead into an 8-1 advantage by the end of the second. He showcased his versatile offensive repertoire, scoring on a blast-double, a quick tilt, and a cradle. Teske later lost 9-4 to Northwestern's Chris Cannon, another All-American who scored a first-period takedown for a 2-0 lead, then another takedown plus back points to go up 7-0 in the second.

Iowa wrestler Brody Teske competes at 133 pounds at the 2023 Big Ten Championships at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

141lbs: Real Woods, 2-0, will wrestle for 1st

A strong day from the 1-seed here. Woods opened with a first-period fall over Purdue's Parker Filius, where he scored a quick takedown and tacked on a tilt for a 6-0 lead, then ran a bar and settled in for the pin in 2:07. In the semifinals, Woods beat Northwestern's Frankie Tal-Shahar, 3-0. Woods turned Tal-Shahar almost at will in their regular-season meeting, so Tal-Shahar chose neutral in the third while down 1-0. Woods held position well when Tal-Shahar came hard late and scored a takedown to ice a 3-0 victory and punch his ticket to the Big Ten finals, where he'll face Nebraska's Brock Hardy, who gave Woods all he could handle in a 6-4 win in January.

Iowa wrestler Real Woods won by fall in the quarterfinals at the 2023 Big Ten Championships at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

149lbs: Max Murin, 2-1, alive for 3rd

Murin's day started weird, became good, then ended flat — but he's in the top-six and can still finish as high as third.

It started weird because Murin won his first match by injury-default over Michigan State's Peyton Omania. Omania, a Greco-Roman specialist, caught Murin in an upper-body position and capitalized for an early takedown, but Murin quickly reversed Omania, who smacked his forehead on the mat, which forced him into the concussion protocol, which is what caused him to default — which is, really, a bummer.

It became good because Murin rebounded for a 4-2 win over Penn State's Shayne Van Ness. Murin scored a quick two, piled up enough riding-time for an extra point, and fended off a hard-charging Van Ness in the third to beat him for the second time this season. (Van Ness has since ripped through the wrestlebacks and is also in the top-six.)

It ended on a flat note due to an 8-2 semifinal loss to Ohio State's Sammy Sasso, who has now beaten Murin four times in the last three seasons. Murin wrestled hard in a handful of key positions, but Sasso ultimately scored in those positions, which is what counts, of course.

Iowa wrestler Max Murin won twice on Saturday to reach the semifinal round at the 2023 Big Ten Championships at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

157lbs: Cobe Siebrecht, 2-2, will wrestle for 7th

Disappointing day, considering Siebrecht came in as the 5-seed. But he's still qualified for the NCAA Championships. His seeding at the national tournament may take a gnarly hit, though.

He started strong with an 8-0 win over Ohio State's Paddy Gallagher, then gave up an early takedown and back points in what became a 10-2 loss to Michigan State's Chase Saldate. In the wrestlebacks, Siebrecht out-scrambled Maryland's Michael North and secured a pin in the second period, then gave up an early takedown and couldn't rally in a 3-2 loss to Northwestern's Trevor Chumbley. Can't give up early points like that.

165lbs: Patrick Kennedy, 3-0, will wrestle for 1st

A tremendous day for Kennedy, who scored bonus points in his first two matches, then used a thunderous finish on the edge late in the third period to beat Michigan's two-time All-American Cam Amine, 3-2, in the semifinals. He'll face Wisconsin's Dean Hamiti in Sunday's finals. Hamiti beat Kennedy, 4-3, earlier this season. We'll see how Kennedy adjusts to Hamiti's length and versatile offensive capabilities.

Kennedy scored 33 combined points in his first two matches on Saturday. He rolled up 9 takedowns in a 22-8 major decision over Maryland's John Martin Best in the first round, then scored four more — including two in the final 30 seconds — in an 11-3 major over Northwestern's Maxx Mayfield in the quarters. Against Amine, Kennedy picked Amine's leg up late in the third and patiently set up a big finish near the edge with 25 seconds left.

174lbs: Nelson Brands, 3-1, alive for 3rd

A very good day from Brands, who became the 10th and final Hawkeye wrestler to qualify for the NCAA tournament. He did so with a handful of gritty wins — a 1-0 first-round win over Rutgers' Jackson Turley, a 3-2 win over Michigan's Max Maylor, then a 3-1 overtime win over Indiana's Donnell Washington in the consolation quarterfinals, which secured Brands' top-6 finish. He remains alive for third entering Sunday.

Brands' one hiccup came against Nebraska's Mikey Labriola, in a 5-2 quarterfinal loss. Labs scored a fast 2 in the first period, then a late 2 in the third to ice it. The second takedown came off a shot from Brands. Had he converted, he would've led 4-3 late in the third, but Labs is notoriously hard to finish on.

Nevertheless, Brands, who came in as the 7-seed, can continue to improve on his seed and perhaps help his NCAA positioning with another strong day on Sunday.

Iowa wrestler Nelson Brands competes at 174 pounds at the 2023 Big Ten Championships at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

184lbs: Abe Assad, 2-2, will wrestle for 7th

You can tell Assad is fighting through a left elbow injury, either because he's not confident in his offense without the full use of his elbow, or because he just can't get to his normal offense without the full use of his elbow. He qualified for the NCAA tournament, but moved a tad slower in each match and it cost him big time twice.

He was cradled up and pinned by Michigan's Matt Finesilver in the quarterfinals, then headlocked and pinned by Rutgers' Brian Soldano in the consolation quarterfinals, sending him to Sunday's 7th-place match. His two wins were hard-fought: 6-1 over Purdue's Ben Vanadia, then 5-1 over Northwestern's Evan Bates.

Assad will face Michigan State's Layne Malczewski for 7th on Sunday … maybe. Malczewski medically-forfeited from his consolation quarterfinal match against Nebraska's Lenny Pinto, so Assad might just weigh in to finish seventh. We'll see.

Iowa wrestler Abe Assad resets during his first-round match against Purdue's Ben Vanadia at the 2023 Big Ten Championships at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

197lbs: Jacob Warner, 2-1, alive for 3rd

Warner put together a couple of hard-fought wins — 6-2 over Northwestern's Andrew Davison, then 3-2 over Michigan State's Cam Caffey — to reach the semifinals as the 5-seed. But on Saturday night, he ran into Penn State's top-seeded Max Dean, who scored an escape and a takedown in the second period and won, 3-1, to advance to the finals. Thought Warner wrestled well in the match, and hand-fought well to open angles, but he didn't seize on the few opportunities he created, so he'll drop to Sunday's wrestlebacks.

Iowa wrestler Jacob Warner celebrates after winning a second-round match at 197 pounds at the 2023 Big Ten Championships at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

285lbs: Tony Cassioppi, 2-1, alive for 3rd

Cassioppi brought the hammer in his first two matches, scoring a 10-0 major decision over Nebraska's Austin Emerson, then a second-period fall over Rutgers' Boone McDermott — who's a Dubuque Wahlert grad, by the way. That put Cassioppi in the semifinals, where he lost 5-0 to Penn State's Greg Kerkvliet, who scored a low-level takedown in the first, added a reversal in the second, and rode out Cassioppi in the third.

That drops Cassioppi to the wrestlebacks — and it won't be easy on Sunday, with his first match against Northwestern's Lucas Davison, who took a quarterfinal loss to Wisconsin's Trent Hillger, yet another example that this tournament is just insanely loaded.

Iowa heavyweight Tony Cassioppi competes at the 2023 Big Ten Championships at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Other Notes:

  • Minnesota's Michael Blockhus, a former Northern Iowa wrestler and three-time Iowa state champ for Crestwood (once) and New Hampton (twice), stormed into the Big Ten finals at 149 as the 6-seed. Blockhus pinned Nebraska's Dayne Morton, knocked off Northwestern's Yahya Thomas 6-4 in sudden victory, then won a decisive 6-2 semifinal over Indiana's Graham Rooks. In his past two trips to the Big Ten tournament, Blockhus previously took fourth in 2022 and fifth in 2021. Massive step forward for the Iowa native.
  • Rutgers heavyweight Boone McDermott, a state champ from Dubuque Wahlert and junior-college national champ for Iowa Central, punched his ticket to the NCAA Championships at 285. Went 2-2 on Saturday to reach the top-8, which had 9 qualifying spots this weekend. McDermott opened with a 6-4 win over Minnesota's Garrett Joles, ran into Cassioppi in the quarters, then won 4-0 over Michigan State's Ryan Vasbinder in the wrestlebacks to secure a spot in the top-8. He injury-defaulted out of his consolation quarterfinal against Ohio State's Tate Orndorff early in the second period while leading 4-3. Here's hoping he's OK — if not on Sunday, then definitely in Tulsa two weeks from now.

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