MOUNT VERNON — Iowa wrestling has not won a national team championship since 2010.
The Hawkeyes have had opportunities during that span, but the NCAA title haul stalled at 23 with Penn State producing two separate four-peats that sandwiched Ohio State’s crown.
As Iowa’s lineup began to take shape, this season seemed like its best chance to reclaim its perch atop college wrestling. The Hawkeyes have a talented team with more balance than recent years.
Iowa returns seven All-Americans, including six from last season’s squad that shared the Big Ten Conference dual championship and placed fourth at the NCAA tournament in March. The Hawkeyes open the season ranked second.
“So, we’re going to look at it like we do every year,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said during the program’s annual media day that was held Wednesday outside at Kroul Farms in early chilled temperatures. “We don’t look at it any different this year. Just because the media or the pundits put us in a close second-ranked category with Penn State doesn’t mean that I put us there. But I know what I think of our guys, and I wouldn’t trade our team for any other team. I love our guys. We have the personnel.”
The Hawkeyes went 14-1 in duals with a 9-0 conference mark. They are led by two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee, Big Ten titlist Alex Marinelli and Michael Kemerer, who missed last season with a knee injury. All three are two-time All-Americans.
They are joined by fifth-place national finishers Austin DeSanto (133) and 157-pounder Kaleb Young, Jacob Warner (seventh at 197) and Pat Lugo (eighth at 149). Cash Wilcke (184) is a three-time national qualifier and Max Murin reached the NCAA meet last season.
Lee closed last season with his second straight title at 125 pounds, entering his junior season with a 45-5 mark.
“We have a lot of talent,” Lee said. “We have a lot of guys that believe in themselves. We have a lot of returning All-Americans. We have guys who are new in the lineup, who are hungry and ready to go. It’s just going to be a lot of fun.”
Kemerer is coming back from major corrective surgery to repair torn ligaments. He was a key component at 157 his first two years, placing third nationally as a freshman and fourth in 2018. Kemerer will step in at 174, which is where he would have been a year ago.
Marinelli has reached the podium the last two seasons, posting two consecutive unbeaten regular seasons. He was 27-2 last season, claiming the 165-pound conference title and leading the Hawkeyes in pins (nine) and dual points scored.
Marinelli said Iowa has the ability to have 10 All-Americans, which has only been accomplished by Minnesota in 2001.
“We have everyone back and more,” Marinelli said. “We just have got the guys and we’ve got a good group of guys that are going to contribute, score big points at nationals, so I think that’s different, too.
“We have a lot of guys that score team points. Big, big team points. Pinning, tech falls, that’s big when you want to win a national title. That’s what I think is exciting about this team.”
The Hawkeyes' only hole to fill is its biggest one. Highly-touted freshman Tony Cassioppi will replace All-American heavyweight Sam Stoll. Cassioppi has an exciting style for a 285-pounder, going 20-2 with 14 pins en route to winning four tournament titles and placing seventh at the Midlands Championships in his redshirt campaign.
“We have a heavyweight that our fans and wrestling pundits are going to like, and I’ll even say that if he does what I think he’s capable of doing, they’re going to love,” Brands said. “There’s a lot of good things. There’s a lot to talk about.”
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