Iowa Hawkeyes

Wrestling Weekend That Was: Abe Assad adds "shake, rattle and roll" by joining Iowa lineup

Assad sheds redshirt, wins twice on road trip; Wartburg, Grand View claim Duals titles; ISU 2-2 out west

Iowa's Abe Assad pins Illinois' Zachary Braunagel in a 184-lb semi-final championship-round match during the Midlands Wr
Iowa's Abe Assad pins Illinois' Zachary Braunagel in a 184-lb semi-final championship-round match during the Midlands Wrestling Tournament in Hoffman Estates, IL on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. Assad won via fall at 2:05. (David Harmantas/Freelance)
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Iowa’s Abe Assad shed the red for official black-and-gold as the top-ranked Hawkeyes demolished a state’s Big Ten wrestling programs. Wartburg captured its 12th NWCA Duals title, as the American Rivers Conference had three in the top five. Grand View won its ninth straight title. Iowa State stepped to the plate out west. This is the Wrestling Weekend That Was:

Abe Assad sheds redshirt

In a move that surprised some outside the Iowa camp, freshman Abe Assad received the nod, shed his redshirt and stepped in as the starting 184-pounder for the Hawkeyes on their weekend road trip to Indiana.

Iowa Coach Tom Brands opened the door for this move after Assad’s runner-up finish at the Midlands Championships by noting the Hawkeyes had “three options” for the spot previously shared by three-time NCAA qualifier Cash Wilcke and freshman Nelson Brands.

“We need something to shake, rattle and roll this thing a little bit, where it’s not just we’re going to go with ordinary and what everybody’s predicting,” Tom Brands said. “I’m not saying that’s why we did it. I’m saying shake, rattle and roll.

“Assad is very fundamental but very explosive. Very aware of his positions. Very calm. He’s out there just calm. We need that.”

Assad was successful in his debut, defeating Indiana’s Jake Hinz, 6-2, on Friday. He admitted that his nerves were heightened for the debut, but trusted his ability to remain loose and score points to be successful.

“I think I wrestled well,” said Assad, who added a 5-3 decision over Purdue’s Max Lyon Sunday. “I think nerves did play a part. I think I did tense up a little sometimes. That one-hour weigh-in is different, too, so I have to get used to that, for sure.

“First one is under the belt. I’ve just got to keep it going.”

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Assad is the guy now. The redshirt wouldn’t be pulled and eligibility wasted for a reserve role for the former two-time Illinois state champ and former Cadet World bronze medalist.

Assad said he didn’t discuss the move with Tom Brands during the week. Assad's dad, Rick, called to discuss the move after receiving a call from Tom Brands about the possibility. Assad said he was prepared and had a feeling he would wrestle, but didn’t find out until after introductions.

Assad became the fourth true freshman to wrestle under Brands, but just the second less than a year removed from high school, joining two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee. Nathan Burak (OTC) and Justin Stickley (grayshirt) had a year between high school and college.

“I think, personally, I’m the best wrestler for the weight,” Assad said. “I go out there, score points. I’m diverse in my wrestling, but I don’t know. I just know he wanted me to wrestle and I wanted to wrestle and I was like, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’

“I trust Tom. He’s the best coach in the country. Whatever he thinks best is what’s best, so I’m going to go out and do what he tells me to do and do it to the best of my ability.”

Iowa is pulling out all the stops that not only does it win its first NCAA title since 2010, but it does it convincingly. This made a pretty powerful statement. The Hawkeyes have the makings of a memorable run in March.

The Hawkeyes were impressive from top to bottom, winning all 20 matches on the Indiana swing and beating both by a 41-0 score. Michael Kemerer (174) returned to the lineup and earned a solid win over Purdue’s fourth-ranked Dylan Lydy.

Jacob Warner’s win was the most impressive. He broke open a close match in the third period, beating the Boilermakers’ second-ranked Christian Brunner, 8-2, with a couple sets of nearfall. It was Warner’s second win over an opponent ranked No. 2. Brunner finished ahead of Warner at the Midlands.

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“That was huge,” Warner said. “He won my Midlands bracket. Obviously, I took fourth, so getting that win just shows I’m better than what I showed there and I’m going to keep on getting better.”

Wartburg claims title No. 12

Wartburg captured its 12th National Wrestling Coaches Association National Duals title Saturday in Louisville, Ky. The Knights downed top-ranked rival Augsburg, 24-15, in the finals, winning seven of 10 matches.

Wartburg (10-0) won its first title since 2017, ending Augsburg’s string at two straight championships. The National Duals title has only been won by Wartburg or Augsburg since 2002. The Knights made their 18th finals appearance, returning after a one-year hiatus.

Wartburg also trounced third-seeded Wabash, 38-6, in the semifinals. On Friday, the Knights squeaked out a 21-20 quarterfinal victory over No. 7 Baldwin-Wallace (Ohio), which is coached by former Western Dubuque prep and Coe wrestler Jamie Gibbs. Wartburg needed a last-second takedown from heavyweight Jordan Brandon for a major decision and avoid tiebreaker criteria.

Wartburg’s performance was punctuated by 141-pounder Brady Fritz. The second-ranked sophomore went 4-0, posting two pins and a major decision. In the finals, Fritz defeated Augsburg’s top-ranked and defending national champion David Flynn, 3-1. Fritz improved to 16-3 overall and earned A-R-C Wrestler of the Week honors.

The A-R-C finished with three teams in the top five. Loras came in third with its lone loss to Augsburg. Coe finished 4-1 to place fifth and improved to 8-1 overall. All three teams wrestled one spot above their seeds.

Grand View cruises to another crown

Grand View continued its domination of the NAIA field. The Vikings won their ninth NWCA National Duals title under former Wartburg All-American Nick Mitchell, who has been the program’s only coach.

Grand View only lost three total matches, recording two shutouts including a 40-0 win over Life University in the finals.

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The Vikings have won 85 straight duals, which is the longest active string in any college division.

Iowa State steps to the plate

Iowa State participated in the Sun Devils Duals last weekend. The event was tagged “Duals on the Diamond” and was held at Chase Field, the stadium for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was the first college wrestling competition held at a Major League Baseball stadium.

Unfortunately for the Cyclones, they finished 1-2. Iowa State beat Harvard, but fell to Campbell and host Arizona State.

The Cyclones went 2-2 on a western road trip that started with a Big 12 dual win over Utah Valley.

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

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