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Always looking to learn, Iowa’s Real Woods returns to NCAA wrestling semifinals
Hawkeyes in second place after Friday’s third session, with Spencer Lee and Tony Cassioppi joining Woods in the semifinals
TULSA, Okla. — Iowa’s Real Woods has wrestled for most of his life.
The 23-year-old has experienced a lot of seasons, practices, tournaments and matches over that time. He has also amassed many wins at all levels during his career.
Even the most seasoned competitors continue to learn what leads to peak performance.
“You know, being this far into my career and still having hiccups and mistakes made, and I’m not even talking about on the mat, just in terms of my preparation, is crazy to think about but that still happens,” Woods said. “I think a lot of people should realize there is still a lot to learn in this sport. It’s such a beautiful sport that so many things factor in and you really have to weigh-in everything and take nothing for granted.”
Woods was impressive in his 9-0 victory over Missouri’s Allan Hart in the 141-pound quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Friday at BOK Center. Woods was one of three Iowa semifinalists, joining Spencer Lee and Tony Cassioppi and helping Iowa into second place after the third session.
Woods earned his second straight semifinal appearance and All-America honor, noting that he felt more like himself than on Day 1.
“I felt great,” Woods said after his blanking of Hart. “Definitely a lot better than (Thursday). Made some adjustments.”
Those changes were in nutrition and physical preparation, according to Woods.
“I think you learn every time you step out on the mat,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “I think that’s a good mentality to have and especially for somebody who aspires to be the best in the world and that’s what he aspires to. You have to get better every time out.”
Woods scored three takedowns but took control with a takedown and two nearfall in the first for a 4-0 lead. Woods, a graduate transfer from Stanford after last season, has always been a tough rider but he has been more effective on top.
“It’s mostly about intention,” Woods said. “There is a lot to do with having Spencer in the room, not even working with him, although that is great in and of itself, but having him as a wrestler with the same mentality on top with the intention to turn I think is huge for me.
“It definitely rubbed off on me and my persona on the mat.”
Spencer Lee becomes 5-time All-American
Lee produced another bonus-point victory. After opening with a pin and technical fall on Day 1, Lee posted a 14-4 major decision over Lock Haven’s Anthony Noto to earn his fifth All-America honor, which include a National Wrestling Coaches Association honor in 2020 when the NCAA tournament was canceled.
“I’ve got to get ready for the next one,” Lee said.
The three-time NCAA champion and two-time Hodge Trophy winner earned his 58th straight and 98th career win. Lee entered the tournament with a chance to become Iowa’s first four-time national champion.
“I’ve got to be smart (between matches),” Lee said. “It’s a long tournament.”
The victory over Noto had a couple hairy moments. He caught Lee in a tilt for four nearfall and nearly put Lee on his back during another flurry. Lee still had a major well in hand, adding a late takedown.
“Just kept scoring,” Lee said. “It’s that simple.”
Lee has continued to dominate opponents, despite getting their best effort because of the huge target on his back.
“He scores a lot of points (and) that’s the key to getting bonus points,” Brands said. “It’s a key to staying out of trouble when bad things happen to you and even when they happen early, because he has such potential to score points.”
Tony Cassioppi advances in sudden victory
Cassioppi paved his way to the awards stand with a sudden victory over Arizona State’s returning national runner-up Cohlton Schultz. Cassioppi scored a takedown just 16 seconds into the extra frame for a 3-1 win.
“Just keep getting to my attacks, getting to my stuff,” Cassioppi said about his thoughts heading into overtime. “Don’t let him try to sneak one out. Don’t let him push me. Get to my stuff.”
The Hawkeyes also had Max Murin (149), Nelson Brands at 174 and 197-pounder Jacob Warner in the round of 12 Friday night.
“The next match is the most important,” Brands said. “We have to keep moving up on that stand.”
UNI’s top-seeded Parker Keckeisen is back in the semifinals
Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen returned to the national semifinals after a year hiatus. He scored a third-period takedown to defeat Minnesota’s Isaiah Salazar, 3-2, at 184.
Conditioning and the way UNI Coach Doug Schwab and staff prepares the Panthers gave him confidence in the final period, helping him win a 19th straight match.
“I know conditioning is to my advantage,” Keckeisen said. “It was fun.”
Keckeisen has placed third each of the last two seasons but fell in the quarterfinals last season. He became UNI’s 10th three-time D-I All-American and the first since Sean Stender (2003-05).
“It’s going out there and giving my best effort,” Keckeisen said. “That’s the standard. Give your best effort. I felt like I did. I got to attacks and wrestled all the way through.”