Iowa Hawkeyes

Tony Cassioppi set for anticipated Iowa wrestling debut in Sunday's season opener

Heavyweight excited to suit up in black and gold against Chattanooga

Iowa wrestler Tony Cassioppi, a redshirt freshman wrestling at 285, holds Michael Kemerer, a senior wrestling at 174, in his arms for a photo during Iowa Wrestling media day at Kroul Farms in Mount Vernon on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Iowa wrestler Tony Cassioppi, a redshirt freshman wrestling at 285, holds Michael Kemerer, a senior wrestling at 174, in his arms for a photo during Iowa Wrestling media day at Kroul Farms in Mount Vernon on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The redshirt is gone. Iowa wrestling heavyweight Tony Cassioppi is looking forward to donning different colors.

“Wearing black and gold for the first time in Carver-Hawkeye Arena,” Cassioppi said during the Hawkeyes’ weekly news conference Thursday. “I wrestled at the Night of Conflict a couple years ago, so it’s not like I haven’t wrestled in Carver. It’s going to be awesome wearing the black-and-gold singlet.”

Cassioppi will make his debut in the starting lineup when second-ranked Iowa opens the season at home Sunday against Chattanooga. The Hawkeyes are 3-0 all-time against the Mocs.

The two-time Illinois state champion fills the largest hole — literally — from a year ago, replacing graduated All-American Sam Stoll. Wrestling in front of the home Hawkeye crowd will be a first, but not a new experience, considering simply “running out on a wrestling mat, going to do my job.”

He hasn’t grown tired of facing the same partners in the room, but he is ready for competition to begin.

“It’s not really the same in the room,” Cassioppi said. “I’m always getting better, so it’s good for me, but, yeah, I’m excited to compete against guys who aren’t from the University of Iowa.”

Cassioppi was one of the nation’s top heavyweight recruits. His inaugural college season didn’t disappoint. He posted a 20-2 record, placing seventh at the Midlands Championships and winning four open tournament titles. He continued his penchant for the pin, winning 15 matches by fall.

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Ed Banach owns the Iowa pins record, posting 73 career pins from 1979-83. Cassioppi has that mark in his crosshairs.

“It’s a lot,” Cassioppi said. “He had like 141 matches in his career, so like (36) a season. I don’t have as many matches as they used to get, but I’m still confident in my ability to get the pins.”

Teammate Alex Marinelli knows Cassioppi has that record in his sights and has seen what the big guy can do in matches and practice.

“It’s going to be tough,” Marinelli said. “I know he’s super determined.”

Some heavyweights can be lumbering and slow, pushing and pulling for the majority of low-scoring matches. Cassioppi has a fun and exciting style, willing to get in unorthodox positions like a lighter weight.

Cassioppi also has a fun-loving side, which is noticeable by his expressions.

“He adds a big smile to our lineup,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “It’s a big one. It’s like a big ol’ jack-o’-lantern. We love that about him.”

Brands expects Cassioppi to provide just as much success as his predecessor.

“We’re going to see how he starts but he’s been winning wrestling matches since he was an itty bitty boy,” Brands said. “That is going to continue. I think he’s one of these guys that have embraced what the expectations of the program are, what his expectations are and I think he’s really looking forward to it.

“He’s definitely ready to get out of the red shirt and into the black-and-gold singlet.”

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The Hawkeyes sent some wrestlers to tournaments Saturday. The lineup might be a little fluid at the start of the season, especially with the numerous options at 133 and 141.

“We know we have a lot of firepower,” Brands said. “We have to make sure we’re putting guys in the right places to get them ready for what’s down the road.”

The Hawkeyes have one of their best and deepest lineups in recent years. Brands said Iowa has a good blend of veterans and new talent. Some will attract the fans’ attention and some, like Cassioppi, have already heightened their anticipation.

Sunday’s opener will give them a chance to make a strong impression.

“This dual coming up on Sunday is an opportunity to be in front of the home crowd,” Brands said. “It’s always a fun environment and I think if you’re an individual you just look at it, how can I make it more fun with my performance?

“This kicks us off. We’re excited.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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