Iowa Hawkeyes: Previewing the Big Ten Wrestling Championships

(Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images) /

The Iowa Hawkeyes start their run to the NCAA Championships Saturday as they begin the Big Ten Wrestling Championships. Here’s a full preview.

Although the season didn’t end as the Iowa Hawkeyes wrestling team wanted to after losing to #2 Oklahoma State in the final regular season match, ultimately it doesn’t matter anymore as the Hawks begin their postseason run Saturday in the Big Ten Wrestling Championships. In fact, the regular season just helps the Big Ten determine seeds, which were recently released, but at the end of the day, each of the Iowa Hawkeyes wrestlers still needs to at least place to be in consideration for the NCAA Tournament taking place March 21-23 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

125 – #2 Spencer Lee

Spencer Lee has been recovering from an illness rumored to be mono or mono-like since early January. He’s now taken two losses to people he had absolutely no problem beating last year. He can beat 90% of people even when he’s deathly sick, but he’s having trouble with his conditioning later on in matches against the competition that can hang with him through the first two periods.

Lee is seeded second behind Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern, one of the two people who have beaten him this year. In that match though, Lee’s defense was uncharacteristically weak and he looked super drained, but that was right at the onset of the illness. There shouldn’t be many obstacles in the way to prevent them from meeting in the finals, and the outcome of that match should give us a good indication of whether or not Spencer has been able to Improve since the last meeting and what to expect going forward.

133 – #2 Austin DeSanto

This is an absolutely stacked weight class both in the Big Ten and across the country. Desanto has insane conditioning and wears down top athletes with ease, but he’s had trouble keeping his emotions in check after big wins/losses and it’s possible the competition could try to play into that. As most people know by now, he’s on the autism spectrum and just kind of lacks self-control in big moments.

However, that hasn’t stopped him from pretty much dominating the Big Ten field for the Iowa Hawkeyes at this weight class though. He’s beaten two returning NCAA finalists in Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak and Rutgers’ Nick Suriano already this season.

He’ll probably have to beat Suriano again in the semi-finals just for the chance to face undefeated and #1 ranked Stephen Micic of Michigan in the finals. Micic is the real deal–he wrestled a bunch on the senior level overseas this summer and beat some world-class guys. Early in the season, he was injured but seems to be recovered. Penn State also has a freshman, Roman Bravo-Young, who hasn’t faced much stiff competition but is the real deal and could upset any of these guys. This will be the weight to watch at big tens and NCAAs.

141 – #7 Max Murin

Max Murin has yet to really have a breakout win for the Iowa Hawkeyes over a higher ranked opponent.

He was ranked for a while but recently fell out after a bad loss to an unranked kid.  It’ll be really interesting to see if he can get a signature win this weekend because every match he’s had with a guy ranked above him has been decided by just a few points, so he’s right there, which is pretty typical of a freshman. For some of them, the light turns on at the end of the year but for others, their confidence gets shot from all the tough losses. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds.

He should at the least qualify for NCAAs. Nick Lee from Penn State and Joey McKenna from Ohio State will be the heavy favorites to make the finals and he really has no chance of beating either of them. His ceiling is probably 3rd this weekend.

149 – #3 Pat Lugo

Pat Lugo had a somewhat of a rough start to the year with the weight cut and an illness but has really turned it on as of late. He’s got a really stocky body type so he always looks way smaller than his opponents and can have trouble finishing takedowns against longer guys, but it seems to be something he’s getting figured out.

He started the season ranked in the low teens, but just in the past couple weeks has taken out the #11 and #6 ranked wrestlers. He’s what you like to see; someone who constantly improves throughout the season.

He is seeded behind Rutgers Anthony Ashnault and Ohio State’s Micah Jordan. Ashnault is ranked #1 in the country and Lugo took him to overtime when they wrestled this year, so literally, anything could happen here. He’s a little inconsistent so I wouldn’t be surprised if he won the thing or finished 6th. Just depends on which Lugo shows up.

157 – #5 Kaleb Young

Iowa Hawkeye Kaleb young has been a bit of an enigma for us this year. It seems like he can beat anyone and he can lose to anyone, which is his own fault.

He’s not offensive enough to widen the score between him and his opponent, so it gives lesser wrestlers a chance to win the match late. When he’s actually offensive, he can score almost at will.

When he plays defense though, he ends up losing to people he shouldn’t.

The top two guys in this weight class are Penn State’s Jason Nolf, who absolutely nobody is beating, and Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin, who has that number two spot pretty well solidified.

With Young, it’s a matter of not dropping the winnable matches. With the seeding at the NCAA tournament weighing heavily on the conference tournament finish, an off day could really hurt him. Even if he wrestles great, though, the ceiling is third.

165 – #2 Alex Marinelli

Alex Marinelli absolutely destroyed all but just a few opponents this year.

He placed 6th at NCAAs last year on a torn ACL if that tells you how tough he is. He literally just tosses people around and makes it look like man vs boy out there.

Penn State, however, has a two-time defending NCAA champion at this weight, Vincenzo Joseph.

When they wrestled last year, Marinelli won (with that torn ACL). They haven’t wrestled since though. Joseph has spent some of the season injured but seems to be healthy now and is undefeated along with Marinelli. Barring an act of god these two will meet in the finals.

This is possibly the Iowa Hawkeyes best chance for a Big Ten title and an NCAA Championship.

174 – #10 Mitch Bowman

Iowa Hawkeyes wrestler Mitch Bowman was our 184 pounder last year and wrestled as high as 197 this year before making the cut to 174 due to injuries. The weight cut just seems to be too much though. He lacks the energy that he has had at the higher weight classes and you can tell he just runs out of gas quick. He’s also been dealing with injuries, and he wears a wrap around his shoulder so that doesn’t help either.

If he qualifies for nationals it will be a win.

184 – #5 Cash Wilcke

Cash Wilcke is another one of those enigmas like Kaleb Young at 157. He’s extremely athletic and has a wide variety of techniques, but unfortunately, he rarely chooses to actually use them.

Therefore wrestlers he should destroy always end up with a chance to beat him. His defensive style does, however, keep him in matches with guys that are probably more talented than him.

He’s finished in the round of 12 (one match from placing) in the last two NCAA Championships.

Myles Martin of Ohio State will be the heavy favorite, but after that, it’s up for grabs. He owns a win over 4th ranked Taylor Venz from Nebraska which shows he’s right there when he’s actually being aggressive. Penn State’s Shakur Rasheed has spent most of the season injured but will also be right in the thick of things. The ceiling here for the Hawks is second place, but don’t be surprised to see the Iowa Hawkeyes 184-pounder fall to 6th either. Inconsistency at weight classes like this just makes it tough to predict.

197 – #3 Jacob Warner

Redshirt freshman Jacob Warner is really coming on at the end of the season. During his redshirt year, he was tearing people apart.

In his first match back (after taking time off to recuperate from a grueling offseason wrestling schedule) he beat the then #5 ranked Willie Miklus from Iowa State but tweaked his ankle in the process.

That injury has seemed to leave him limited in his takedown offense and he’s had to score a lot of his points off of his opponents’ shots instead of his own. He’s looked better lately but you can still tell he’s not quite at his peak. Warner is the three seed behind two-time champion and heavy favorite Bo Nickal of Penn State and precious NCAA finalist Kolin Moore of Ohio State. Nickal is the favorite to win the Hodge Trophy (Heisman of wrestling) and will win this weight with no doubt.

Anything less than 3rd will be a disappointment for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Finishing in 2nd place though will be a huge victory.

HWT – #8 Sam Stoll

Sam Stoll has pretty much spent his entire Iowa Hawkeyes career injured. Two ACL tears on the same knee, and this summer he accidentally got shot in that same knee.

He sat the first half of the season out (recovering from the shot) and has just now started wrestling in the lineup regularly. Stoll has beaten a few ranked guys, but he has had trouble with the quicker, more athletic heavyweights.

The senior Hawkeye comes from a Greco-Roman wrestling background (all upper body moves, no leg attacks) so he still has the ability to score even with his limited mobility, but in his past few matches, people have been exploiting the fact that he can’t get out from the bottom position. They put all their weight on him and his knee just can’t hold up to it.

In order to be successful, he has to wrestle a calculated strategic match where he stays in positions that he can actually get to his offense. You’re not always in control of that, so it’s going to really be a coin flip in some of his matches. If he gets to his positions, he wins. If they can exploit his weaknesses, he loses. Hopefully, he’s learned from the last few losses and can come up with a better game plan.

Sam Stoll is an interesting situation. He could win the whole thing or lose every match.

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As far as team standings go, the Iowa Hawkeyes will likely be battling for second place against Ohio State and Michigan with Penn State likely running away with the title.