Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa wrestling: Abe Assad heads home for Midlands debut

Hawkeye freshman was 2-time Illinois state champion, looks to continue growth in first college season

Abe Assad, Iowa wrestling
Abe Assad, Iowa wrestling

Iowa freshman Abe Assad couldn’t remember exactly when he experienced the Midlands Championships for the first time.

He was just a youngster from Carol Stream, Ill., attending with his dad, Rick. He did recall former Hawkeye Brent Metcalf winning a title and collecting a few meaningful autographs.

“I actually got my hat signed by Metcalf and I think maybe (Iowa coaches) Tom and Terry (Brands), too,” Assad said. “I think I still have it, too. They probably don’t remember it but I do. So, that was fun.”

Assad will return to his old stamping grounds but this time he will make his first appearance as a competitor at Northwestern’s 57th Annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

The 184-pounder will wrestle unattached and owns an 11-2 mark with two pins and three technical falls through three open tournaments.

“I don’t want to put my head down for anyone,” Assad said. “Not just throwing my hat in the ring.

“Going in there, fighting, scoring points and I know I can win this tournament. I’m not going there for second, not going there just to place, not going there to get a couple matches in. I’m going there to wrestle and win the tournament.”

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Assad was here a year ago, watching each session from the stands. He made the short trip from his nearby home where he was a two-time state champion for Glenbard North High School, a Cadet Greco-Roman and Junior freestyle national champion and World bronze medalist.

He expects to have plenty of support from his family.

“It’s going to be nice to have them there,” Assad said. “They’ve been coming to some of the opens, but it is right in my backyard.

“It’s going to be nice to put on a show for them, have some fun and just wrestle.”

Midlands has been a strong gauge for redshirts. Recent Hawkeyes like Derek St. John, Brandon Sorensen, Michael Kemerer, Alex Marinelli and even heavyweight Tony Cassioppi have fared well here.

Brands doesn’t necessarily look for anything different from freshmen in the field. Assad is joined by Hawkeye classmate Zach Glazier, who is 14-0 at 197.

“These guys have been wrestling for a long time,” Brands said. “They’ve been wrestling in big matches for a long time.

“This is just them taking the next steps in their career but belong. Go in there and belong.”

The competition serves as a good measuring stick for development and skill but also for maturity and attitude. The focus is to be the best you can be each match and not just go through the motions.

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“So, it’s a barometer there for freshmen,” Brands said. “It’s a barometer for our No. 1 seeds or our high-powered guys. It’s also a barometer for two weight classes that aren’t settled yet.”

The transition from high school to college can be a learning experience. Assad was forced to adjust to the daily demands in one of the country’s toughest programs. The most progress has come in his approach to practice, being mentally prepared to work each day.

“I’ve made a lot of jumps,” Assad said. “From the start of the semester until now, I’ve definitely grown as a wrestler and as a person. I think I have a long way to go but I’m definitely on the right track and there still needs to be improvement.”

Brands wants to see Assad to keep making strides in that area. The goal is to thrive and not just survive in the highly-competitive practice room.

“We have a guy there that has a lot of talent,” Brands said. “His upside is huge and we want to see him continue to get more college-oriented in this wrestling room.”

Assad is open to wrestling anyone on the team. He has trained with teammates from 141 to Cassioppi. He has become exposed to different techniques and talents, which has helped him improve.

He has wrestled with both Cash Wilcke and Nelson Brands, who have split time in the starting lineup and will be in the 184 bracket together. Assad said Wilcke is faster on his feet and really athletic, while Brands is stingier and more physical with heavy hands.

“It gives me two different feels,” Assad said. “Each guy you wrestle in here has a different feel. That’s one of the best things about this room. You’re getting different feels every day. You’re wrestling different people.”

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The Midlands could provide an opportunity for Hawkeyes to establish themselves as the starter at undecided weights. Brands/Wilcke is the biggest uncertainty, but Iowa has multiple wrestlers at a few weights.

Max Murin and Carter Happel will be at 141 and Austin DeSanto, Paul Glynn and Gavin Teasdale are listed at 133.

“There are a lot of things that are in play here,” Brands said. “This is important coming up.”

Northern Iowa also will compete at the Midlands. The 13th-ranked Panthers were second last year.

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

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