Iowa Hawkeyes

Improving Iowa faces toughest test in rival Oklahoma State

Seventh-ranked Hawkeyes host No. 3 Cowboys on Sunday

Iowa's Spencer Lee pins Michigan State's Rayvon Foley last Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa's Spencer Lee pins Michigan State's Rayvon Foley last Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa’s wrestling season opened with some questions and outsiders’ predictions of a rebuilding year.

Hawkeyes Coach Tom Brands said the lineup could be different and stronger in the second half of the season. As Brands suggested, Iowa’s stock has risen after the infusion of two freshman starters and strong showings after scraping by in its conference opener.

Seventh-ranked Iowa will face its toughest test of the season, hosting rival and No. 3-rated Oklahoma State Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, beginning at 3 p.m.

“I don’t pay attention to rankings, but we’re improving,” Iowa senior 149-pounder Brandon Sorensen said. “We’re improving every day. Guys are coming out of redshirt, new guys in the lineup and we’re moving forward.”

Iowa has held steady in the National Wrestling Coaches Association dual-team poll, but has ascended to third in’s rankings. The addition of Spencer Lee and Alex Marinelli, joining pillars Brandon Sorensen and Michael Kemerer, has bolstered a lineup that lost four All-Americans to graduation.

“The mysteries were the names that fans were hearing,” Brands said. “The people closest to our program were hearing but didn’t really even know what they were about.

“Fans are starting to see they are pretty entertaining. They are pretty fun to watch.”


The young wrestlers in the program have produced an electric atmosphere. It was apparent when more than 8,400 fans attended a dual against Michigan State to see Lee, 141-pounder Carter Happel and Marinelli make their home debuts.

Underclassmen have added the same excitement in the practice room. They have provided a boost and have used their wrestling experience to help make teammates better.

“They bring a lot of energy to the room,” 197-pounder Cash Wilcke said. “You can’t tell that those guys are freshman. They’re working with guys after a workout and they’re pushing guys in the weight room. That is the good stuff you want on your team.”

Iowa rolled in two duals before the break and dominated the Midlands championships with five titlists. The Cowboys ride into town for the first time since the record-setting Grapple on the Gridiron dual in 2015.

Oklahoma State has been the only team even remotely mentioned in the same breath as Penn State and Ohio State as a championship contender. The Cowboys own a 6-0 record, providing a good gauge and chance to prove themselves.

“We expect them to be as competitive as they always are,” Brands said. “We have got to be ready at a high level, for sure.

“We also realize this team coming in is in that championship caliber ranking and we’re probably just outside of that, but is it a great opportunity to maybe position ourselves in that category and that’s where we want to be,” Brands said. “I like our team.”

On paper, the teams combined for 16 ranked wrestlers, including seven for the Hawkeyes. The only weight without a ranked wrestler for either team is 184. Brands said the dual could be decided by bonus points, getting them from favored wrestlers like Sorensen (149) and Kemerer (157), for instance, or avoiding them in matches they are overmatched.


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“This is about an opportunity 10 weight classes are going to have to represent,” Brands said. “We have a high-powered team coming in and our fans love this and the tradition between the two teams is strong.”

Lee made his debut last week, earning a pin against Michigan State. He faces sixth-ranked Nick Piccininni (10-2). Lee welcomes the chance to wrestle in the series between college wrestling’s most storied programs.

“I’ve been watching these guys, these two teams, historically battle for a long time,” said Lee, who attended the 2015 dual in Kinnick Stadium. “I’ve been a Hawkeye fan for a while. It’s always been a hard-fought, fun dual meet. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Lee has thumped most of his opponents in open tournaments this season, dropping his only match to Oregon State’s Ronnie Bresser. He, like the Hawkeyes overall, faces his biggest challenge yet.

“I don’t see why it matters,” Lee said. “You’ve got to go out and wrestle the same every time, no matter who it is. At the end of the day, it’s a mat and there is an opponent in front of you, whether he’s ranked or an Olympic, World or NCAA champ. It doesn’t matter.”

Among the other high-profile matches, ninth-ranked Marinelli takes on No. 10 Chandler Rogers at 165, third-ranked heavyweight Sam Stoll will wrestle No. 10 Derek White and Wilcke has No. 4 Preston Weigel at 197.

Wilcke has gained attention, climbing to second in the national rankings after his Midlands title. Weigel is his first top-five foe and blanked Wilcke, 6-0, in last year’s dual.

“I’ve gotten a lot better in positions this year,” Wilcke said. “I’m looking forward to the test.”


Oklahoma State is the next test. Iowa has more in the coming weeks, facing top-ranked Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the next month. The Hawkeyes will continue to build and they seem to have the right mind-set to keep improving.

“They come in to have fun,” Brands said. “This is fun. Let’s go out and kick some butt and score some points. That’s what is entertaining.”

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