116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Abe Assad appreciates the opportunity to step into the University of Iowa’s lineup again.
Mainly due to the fact that he knows the disappointment of not getting to do it last season. The 2020 National Wrestling Coaches Association All-American did not compete as a sophomore. He supported the Hawkeyes from the side as they captured the NCAA team title.
“Obviously, it sucks sitting out when you’re wrestling,” Assad said. “On top of that, you see those guys competing. They’re wrestling in Carver (Hawkeye Arena). … At least there were no fans, but it was hard. I made a lot of strides mentally, so I think that helped me a lot.”
Assad is the only 184-pounder listed in top-ranked Iowa’s probable lineup against No. 21 Princeton Friday night at home, starting at 7. The Hawkeyes expect a large crowd, selling out of season tickets following a championship campaign without fans in attendance for duals.
“It’s been a long time and I’m excited,” said Assad, who last wrestled at CHA on Jan. 31, 2020 in a 19-17 victory over Penn State. “I have to stay focused on what is in front of me. I’m taking it one day, one practice (and) one shot at a time.
“There are going to be a lot of fans there. It’s going to be fun.”
Assad was 22-7 as a freshman, placing fourth at the Big Ten Championships and earning the 11th seed for the national tournament that was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was eighth in the preseason national rankings, but injury kept him off the mat.
It didn’t prevent him from working on his craft. Over the last 18 months, he has worked on improving his match tempo and expanding his offensive repertoire.
“I still need to work on keeping my pace high and it’s something that is going to be a focus point of mine the entire year,” Assad said. “Diversifying my attacks. That is something I’ve been working on all summer. Those two things are the two biggest (areas) when I look at how my wrestling has changed.”
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said he has a good relationship with Assad. He is also waiting to see the Cadet freestyle World bronze medalist and two-time Illinois state champion consistently increase his pace. The two share an understanding of what is needed, using a simple hand motion to convey the message to pick it up.
“It means we’re on the same page,” Brands said. “We just need to get him going a little bit with his pace.”
All-American and three-time Big Ten champion Alex Marinelli has seen Assad mature and grow in the room.
“He’s all ears and all eyes,” Marinelli said of Assad. “He’s listening and growing. I think that’s the biggest thing in this sport is growing and developing, I think Abe is obviously doing that. I think the whole team is doing that. I think that is the one key factor in this wrestling room is we’re all open-minded.”
Assad returned to the mat Saturday at the Luther Open. He finished second, recording a major decision and pin before falling, 4-3, in the final to Missouri signee Clayton Whiting. Assad said he thought he was the aggressor, but he needs to do more and be more of a tactician to open his opponents up for his attacks.
“I didn’t wrestle my best,” Assad said. “I know it’s been a while since I’ve been back wrestling. Getting those matches under my belt is what I needed. Taking that loss is definitely something I needed. I think it’s going to drive me through the rest of the season.”
Brands said he likes Assad’s scoring ability and his potential. Almost everyone at the D-I level possesses potential. The edges are what separate the good from the great.
“One of his edges is going to be the pace he wrestles at and add it to your wrestling,” Brands said. “Don’t wait. Do no wait.”
The Hawkeyes are 3-0 against the Tigers and have an 18-dual win streak, which is the longest active stretch in the country. The probable lineup consists of 13 names for nine weights and TBD (to be determined) at 174. Former Lisbon prep and Luther Open champ Cobe Siebrecht, Bretli Reyna and national qualifier Vince Turk are listed at 149. Zach Glazier and All-American Jacob Warner are both at 197. Austin DeSanto and Cullan Schriever are listed at 133.
“I think it is an individual by individual basis,” Brands said about the possibility of varied lineups throughout the season. “It always is. We’re all competitors. We all want to be on the mat, but what is best for the individual is best for the team.”
Most notably, redshirt freshman Jesse Ybarra will step in at 125 for three-time NCAA champion and two-time Hodge Trophy winner Spencer Lee, who wrestled in the national finals with injured anterior cruciate ligaments in his knees. Lee said he felt good and ready to go during the program’s annual media day.
“His availability is he will be on the mat when he’s on the mat,” Brands said about Lee. “We need a 125-pounder in the meantime and we have a couple different options there. Ybarra was the option at Luther.”
Ybarra won the 125 title Saturday, going 3-0 with a pin and two decisions. He will likely take on second-ranked Patrick Glory.
“I think he’s probably pretty eager for the chance he has,” Brands said. “There is probably more at stake in his head putting an Iowa singlet on. Shouldn’t be the case, but it is sometimes.”