The elements exist for Iowa to ascend to the top of college wrestling.
Iowa has talent, accomplishments and plenty of experience. They key will be improvement from now to the start of next season.
The Hawkeyes return six All-Americans from this season’s fourth-place team finish at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships this weekend at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. They should also regain the services of two-time All-American Michael Kemerer, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.
“Whether or not you have this coming back or that coming back, we have to get better,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “Yeah, we have some good firepower coming back but we have to get better.”
Iowa has eight starters back from this year’s squad that sent nine to the national tournament. All of them have national tournament experience and at least advanced to the round of 12. Add Kemerer, who hasn’t placed lower than fourth in his first two seasons.
“It just gets deeper and deeper,” said Austin DeSanto, who placed fifth at 133 pounds in his first year after transferring from Drexel. “It’s awesome. Everybody likes to improve in this room.”
Two-time 125-pound NCAA champion Spencer Lee is the pillar in the lineup, if he doesn’t opt for an Olympic redshirt year. DeSanto provided a boost at 133, amassing the second-most team points in his first season with the Hawkeyes.
Iowa also has two-time All-American Alex Marinelli, who entered the national tournament as an unbeaten top seed and finished seventh. Sophomore Kaleb Young, who produced a fifth-place finish in his first year as the full-timer 157-pounder. Freshman Jacob Warner was seventh at 197, while Pat Lugo (149) was eighth in his third NCAA appearance.
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Freshman Max Murin (141) and three-time NCAA qualifier Cash Wilcke (184) finished a win shy of placing and add to the foundation for next year’s team that could include highly-touted redshirt heavyweight Tony Cassioppi. Brands said there is young talent that joined the room in the fall.
Iowa currently has the most points returning from this year’s national tournament. The Hawkeyes have 75 points back. Four-time defending champion Penn State, which has won eight of the last nine national championships, returns 58, depending on wrestlers regaining a year of eligibility. Oklahoma State returns just 36 1/2 points and Ohio State has 36 1/2 back.
“We’re only going to get better,” Marinelli said. “That’s what is scary to these others guys. We have a lot of returning guys and we’re going to be really good.”
Iowa State has made huge strides under head coach Kevin Dresser. The Cyclones placed 16th this season with 32 points, which is a big step up from last year’s tie for 45th and three points.
Dresser acknowledged the progress made over the course of a season focused on the team aspect and working hard for each other. He knows what is needed to take another step forward.
“I learned that they fought hard and I learned we have to get better wrestling,” Dresser said. “I think that’s probably coach cliché, but we have to get better wrestling. Literally, there are certain areas that every guy needs to really develop and get better. We’ll find out which guys really want to be out there on Saturday.
“Daggone, it’s hard. You’ve got to really want it and if you really want it you’ll go back to work and develop those areas we’re talking about.”
Iowa State has eight NCAA qualifiers back, including All-American Jarrett Degen. Austin Gomez (133), 141-pounder Ian Parker and Sam Colbray at 184 are a strong nucleus with Big 12 champion Chase Straw (157) and redshirt David Carr, who garners high expectations.
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The Cyclones will have to replace the leadership and experience of Willie Miklus, who was sixth at 197.
“I don’t know if we need per se one guy, but if we can get eight guys to step up,” Dresser said. “We have a couple guys sitting in the hopper back in redshirt that I think can be good leaders, too, so the future’s bright in Ames.”
Northern Iowa crowned its first champion in 19 years and had its best national finish under nine-year head coach Doug Schwab.
The Panthers return All-Americans Max Thomsen and Bryce Steiert and expect to have All-American Jacob Holschlag after a knee injury kept him out all season. UNI also has NCAA qualifiers Taylor Lujan (174) and Jay Schwarm at 125.
The Panthers could bolster their lineup with the addition of some current redshirts Michael Blockhus, Kyle Biscoglia, Drew Bennett and Cayd Lara.
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