116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Sports / Iowa Hawkeyes / Hawkeye Wrestling
Iowa Wrestling Weekend That Was: Final impressions from the first Soldier Salute college wrestling tournament
As expected, Iowa dominated the men’s and women’s fields
Wrestling will be full steam ahead by the time this week is finished, but here are some thoughts from the previous week in the Wrestling Weekend That Was.
Stick with Soldier Salute
The inaugural Soldier Salute wrestling tournament is in the books. With no surprise, the tournament was a well-run event that capped a busy month of wrestling at Xtream Arena in Coralville. The venue hosted the Dan Gable Donnybrook — a large boys’ and girls’ high school wrestling tournament that included teams from five states — and then held the United World Wrestling World Cup for men’s and women’s freestyle.
Dipping their toe into the pool of college wrestling holiday tournaments had to be considered a success for organizers that have this wrestling event thing down. The tournament was hatched last season in response to a second straight Midlands Championships being canceled, but the turnaround time was so short it was impossible to get off the ground, but the concept was too good to abandon.
“The pageantry of it is great,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “We want to keep building it, and when I say we that puts me in with the organizers, which I’m not an organizer. Great first year. We want to be a part of it. Keep coming back.”
Iowa, of course, was the headliner in the men’s and women’s fields. Even though you didn’t seem many of the top wrestlers from programs like Northern Iowa, Wyoming, South Dakota State and North Carolina on the men’s side, fans still saw members of their programs in action. Maybe it was a feeler to see how the tournament went before committing more competitors and first-string wrestlers in the future. More schools have already expressed interest. Expect the numbers and quality of the field to grow each season.
Don’t forget about the cause behind the tournament. Proceeds from the event will be donated to United Service Organizations and a trust fund dedicated to the continued growth of high school girls’ wrestling. Why wouldn’t teams be on board? Army, Navy, The Citadel and Virginia Military Institute were among the programs highlighted on the men’s side and Army’s World Class Athlete Program competed in the women’s tournament.
“The military means everything to me,” Brands said. “I’m a patriot. When you describe yourself and you call yourself a patriot and things that are red, white and blue, United States of America, honor and things of that nature, we, as civilians, don’t hold a candle to the military. I’ve always felt that way and always said that.
“I think if I went to combat I would poop my pants. What they do to keep this nation strong and safe, hats off to them times a million.”
Some may point to established events like Midlands and Southern Scuffle (where Iowa State sent its wrestlers this week). Others will mention loyalty and tradition, referencing the ties to those events. Those tournaments started somewhere and grew into the marquee events on college wrestling’s midseason calendar. The Soldier Salute has the same potential.
Iowa City Area Sports Commission members Josh Schamberger, Luke Eustice and Kylee Walker, with the help of Nathan Eichorst put it together. Schamberger has been an important cog, securing many top tournaments in recent years and continuing the area’s tradition of being a wrestling mecca.
“Nothing surprises me,” Brands said about Schamberger’s ability to land and execute wrestling events. “Really, I don’t know if passion or support or just love for the sport of wrestling is evident. He’s definitely the right guy to have in Iowa City/Coralville and in this arena, for sure.”
This was expected and no surprise at all. Iowa crowned eight champions and had 11 total finalists, winning the men’s team title with 228 points, 122 more than runner-up Army.
“We have to evaluate this. We’ve got to move forward,” Brands said. “I know one thing. We’ve got to stay healthy. That’s where we’re at.”
Spencer Lee was back in action, rolling to the 125-pound title. Lee posted bookend pins to the tournament, sandwiching a 19-1 technical fall and a 15-5 major over U20 World champion Jore Volk, of Wyoming. Lee wasn’t sure he would wrestle until a short time before the event.
“Got to get better,” Lee said. “It was really good for me. Match format, making weight two days in a row, which isn’t a big deal, but it’s the only way we can emulate a Big Ten or NCAA tournament.
“Pretty good. I had some tough guys. I’m happy I competed.”
Lee faced teammate Drake Ayala in the finals. Ayala filled in for an injured Lee last season and is coming off surgery of his own. Ayala was tough through the semifinals but ran into a buzz saw in the title match. Lee scored a takedown, four-point nearfall off a tilt and got a pin in 1:24.
“I felt pretty good,” Lee said. “I had a tough opponent in the finals. Drake is a teammate, which is unfortunate. It’s also a good thing, because it means your teammate’s good when you’re in a tournament and meet in the finals. Obviously, he would do very well.”
Brands said it was good to get Lee more matches, helping get ready for postseason situations that practice can’t emulate. Lee said the rest of the regular season is uncertain.
“We’re taking it one match at a time,” Lee said. “I hope to wrestle every single match the rest of the season to be there for my teammates. Do what I’ve got to do. Try to win as much as I can, get as healthy as I can and compete the way I want to compete.”
Iowa had three head-to-head finals matchups. The veterans were victorious over their younger teammates. At 149, Max Murin used a third-period escape and takedown to pull away for a 7-4 decision over Caleb Rathjen, who dropped down to 149 from 157 and beat former Ohio State wrestler Anthony Echemendia in the semifinal.
Warner also won at 197, topping Hawkeye freshman Kolby Franklin, 10-2, in the championship. Real Woods (141) and heavyweight Tony Cassioppi trounced the opposition. Woods went 4-0 with two technical falls, a major decision and a pin.
Cassioppi pinned his way through the bracket. All four pins came in the first period, lasting a total of 7:38. His longest match was 2:17 and he decked Navy’s Ryan Catka in 2:11 of the final.
“I feel like I wrestled well,” said Cassioppi, who moved to 11-0 with nine pins this season. “I wrestled who was out there in front of me. Not much else I can do about it.”
It was a good springboard into the Big Ten dual season that begins Friday at Illinois.
“It’s not a big thing on my radar,” Cassioppi said about the upcoming conference meets. “I’m continually getting better however I need. I’m not looking ahead, just the next thing up. Improving week in and week out.”
Iowa women roll
Members of the Iowa women’s wrestling team aren’t officially representing the Hawkeyes, yet. They will start their first season during the 2023-24 campaign. They were out in full force at the Soldier Salute, wrestling unattached.
The Hawkeyes finished with three champions. Sterling Dias (101), Felicity Taylor (116) and Reese Larramendy at 143 were first. Bella Mir (155), Kyle Welker (170), Emilie Gonzalez (101) and Brianna Gonzalez (109) each placed second.
Service members presented each champion with a plaque, which resembles awards ceremonies by USA Wrestling. In a special moment, Taylor, a former South Winneshiek prep, received hers from Officer Megan Black-Campion, who was the first Iowa female to place at the Iowa High School Athletic Association as a member of Eddyville EBF’s team.
As Megan Black, Black-Campion was a state qualifier for Ottumwa and then placed eighth at 106 in Class 1A for the Rockets.
“It’s been pretty cool to reflect and look back to see how far the state of Iowa has come,” Taylor said. “It’s now sanctioned. One of the girls I looked up to as a wrestler handed me my award, so that was awesome. She was a teammate of mine at McKendree (University). It’s crazy how it all connects her being my role model and handing me my award and hopefully I get to do that for another girl someday.”