Kaleb Young resembled an older version of himself.
He was sharp and stockpiled points in his major decision over Nebraska’s Caleb Licking in last Friday’s season opener. His performance was reminiscent of two years ago, when he became Iowa’s full-time 157-pound starter.
Young produced bonus points in half of his 24 victories and capped that season with All-America honors after a fifth-place NCAA tournament finish, which was better than last season’s 15-5 mark with just two bonus-point wins and an early exit from the Big Ten Championships.
“The Big Ten tournament didn’t go the way I wanted it to, so I was looking forward to redeeming myself at the NCAAs,” Young said. “Not having it was definitely a bummer for everyone. Not just for me because I wanted to redeem myself. It sucked for everybody.
“Just another chip on my shoulder, maybe. Put in more work. Maybe not more work, but more concentrated work. More reason to push extra in workouts.”
The effort paid dividends for the seventh-ranked senior, who enters a top-10 showdown with No. 6 Brayton Lee when top-ranked Iowa travels to No. 15 Minnesota at 8 p.m. Friday at Maturi Pavilion (BTN).
“Every time I step out on the mat I want to represent myself the best I can,” Young said. “I just want to put my best wrestling out there. We wrestle in the Big Ten Conference, so I’ll probably wrestle a lot of guys that are top-10 in the county, top-five in the country, so I think every time I step out on the mat I can represent myself to the best of my ability put my best wrestling forward. I think that can get me where I need to be.”
Young addressed the physical aspect, tweaking the usual things like technique, positioning and conditioning. The biggest gains weren’t physical. The emphasis was on his mind.
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“I’m always working on different wrestling things, like getting better in my wrestling,” Young said. “I think more of what I need to work on, like this last offseason was more mental. More sharpening up my brain, working on mental exercises and different things we get from our coaches.”
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said Young and the staff didn’t dwell on the close to last season. Attention was quickly turned toward improvement. Lee will be a strong test for Young and one of the “key matches” in a dual that promises seven top-20 matchups.
“We moved on and really it comes down to is what he is going to do with this opportunity coming up here Friday night?” Brands said. “It’s on our mind as a program.”
The season is just one match in, but Young seems to have regained form, trouncing Licking 17-5 last week. It was his highest point total since the first round of the 2018 Midlands Championships. Young distanced himself from foes more, scoring five major decisions, four technical falls and three pins that year.
Brands said he sees similarities between Young’s wrestling in competition and practice, working through favorable positions and being unafraid to scramble.
“He’s got good fundamentals,” Brands said. “He’s got good scrambling ability. It’s one of those things where you either grow because you don’t like where you’re at or you continue to suffer and you still don’t like where you’re at. So, you don’t really have a choice.”
Iowa heavyweight Tony Cassioppi will be in one of the other marquee matchups Friday. He is expected to face top-ranked Gable Steveson. Third-ranked Cassioppi dropped two decisions to Steveson last season and has been driven to try closing the gap with Steveson and Michigan’s second-ranked Mason Parris.
“I’ve got my eyes on those guys,” Cassioppi said during the team’s annual media day. “I’ve had my eyes on those guys. I want to be the best there is in the nation and best in the world. Those guys got the best of me last year, so I’ve been working hard, doing everything I can to close that gap and overcome them.”
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Brands said Cassioppi has nothing to lose and admitted he’d be in the wrestling minority, believing that Cassioppi could compete with Steveson. He has faith in Cassioppi but it’s going to take a courageous effort to “turn the tables” on Steveson.
“It’s a tall task when you go up against somebody like that when they’re trying to beat you as bad as they can beat you in front of a live television audience,” Brands said. “You’ve got to step up. Does that put pressure on Tony Cassioppi? I hope so. Are we up for it? Without speaking for him, I believe in our guy.”
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