Thursday, September 23, 2021

2022: The Pre-Season: Iowa Hawkeyes

 Before we get started, I want to clear up a few things. I want to make sure that when you read this, you understand what this is and what this is not.

  What this is, is a look at each of the NCAA Division I teams one by one, in what I can see being their best performance THIS season. In terms of placing in in-season tournaments such as Midlands, CKLV and Southern Scuff. In terms of helping to win big dual meets. In terms of conference placings. In terms of who I think could be an NCAA qualifier, NCAA All American and who I think could contend for the NCAA title. I am writing this from the perspective of what is the absolute best that could happen for the team, while at the same time at least trying to remain realistic. 

What this is NOT, is an overall look at each team top to bottom, with every single wrestler noted. Little Billy Dean Ray Cyrus in 9th grade might be the future Cael Sanderson, whose Daddy swore up and down to you last Tuesday was gonna be a Frankfurter for a University not yet founded.  Great, I hope that premonition comes true in 4 to 5 years. For right now I'm concentrating on the 2021-2022 wrestling season & want the focus to be solely on the 2021-2022 season.  I say that and I'll still hear as I do every year, "Um didn't say anything at all about a wrestler who will for sure not see any action this season due to redshirting, even though you made it  abundantly clear you weren't going to earlier." 

In the case of Iowa today, I am looking at each and every single weight class, because I think Iowa is going to be extremely effective in each and every single weight class.  If the Hawks have ever had a year when all 10 classes could produce All Americans 2022 is it.   Let's take a look. 

Spencer Lee  (Drake Ayala)
Senior (True Freshman) 
Record: 75-5 
NCAA: 18'1st-19'1st-20'*-21'1st
BIG 10: 18'3rd, 19'1st, 20'2nd, 21'1st 
MIDLANDS: 18'6th, 19'2nd, 20'6th 

Death, Taxes and you might as well add Spencer Lee winning the 2022 NCAA title to your list of guarantees in life. At one time I would have said the only thing that could stop him would be injuries, but now knowing what he's done with two torn ACL's, I'm not even sure if injuries can stop him. The Hawkeyes have a shoe-in NCAA champ here.  

I rarely, RARELY have anything at all to say about true-freshmen. I just don't feel comfortable doing it, but I'll make a blue moon exception for Drake Ayala.  I imagine he'll enter some tournaments and opens this year where he gets to prove himself. If the Midlands is one of them, look forward to how he does. 

Austin DeSanto
Record: 82-19
NCAA: 18'R12, 19'5th, 20'*, 21'3rd
BIG 10: 19'4th, 20'4th, 21'2nd 
MIDLANDS: 19'1st, 20'2nd 

DeSanto finished a very impressive 3rd at last year's NCAA championships. The Hawkeye faithful would like to categorize him as a potential NCAA champion and in many ways he has shown promise. Among his greatest challenges he does own victories over Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State as well as Stevan Micic of Michigan. Matter of fact, he owns two victories over Bravo-Young and a major decision over Micic.  Problem is, Bravo-Young also owns two victories over him and Micic, also majored him.  He also has Oklahoma State's Daton Fix, whom he is 0-2 against, as well as Rutger's Sebastian Rivera to contend with as well. Staying calm and focused in come from behind situations and not getting caught underneath skilled riders will be key.  

Jaydin Eierman
Record: 125-17
NCAA: 17'5th, 18'4th, 19'3rd, 20'*, 21'2nd 
BIG 10: 21'1st 

Let it be noted that before transferring from Missouri, Eierman won three MAC titles and was a CKLV runner-up.  I want to take nothing away from the other 141 lbs'ers but honestly I think the only one that stands in between Eierman and the NCAA title is Nick Lee of Penn State, last year's champion. That's not to say I'm not leery of an upset.  Chad Red of Nebraska is always dangerous, Real Woods of Stanford is always game to go and after not placing at the NCAA's last season Dom Demas of Oklahoma will be as mean as a Texas rattlesnake.  Last year, Eierman split with Lee defeating him 6-5, yet losing to him 4-2 sudden victory in the NCAA finals.  5th-4th-3rd-2nd....It'll take me forever to get used to saying, "Five time." 

Max Murin OR Vince Turk 
Junior OR Senior 
55-21 OR 64-19 
NCAA: 19'R12, 20'NQ, 21'R12 OR 18'NQ   
BIG 10: 19'7th, 20'5th, 21'WC OR 18'5th
MIDLANDS: 18'5th, 19'2nd, 20'1st OR 19'R12, 20'4th 

On paper it would seem that this weight class belongs to Max Murin, but I'm not sold quite yet. I think regardless of who the starter is here, we should see about the same result.  Murin has certainly fared better at the Midlands, making the finals twice, winning the tournament and placing three times, to Vince Turk's only placing once. I think that holds the most weight in determining the starter, but Turk does have a number of notable wins underneath his belt. While wrestling at 141 lbs, he defeated All Americans Kyle Shoop of Lock Haven and Chad Red of Nebraska, as well as other top noted wrestlers Ian Parker of Iowa State and Kanen Storr of Michigan. Going to give a slight nod to Murin on this one, but dare not count Turk out. We'll know the starter by January.  Come year's end I would hope to see whoever it is, make the award stand. I think it'll be on the lower half, but either one of these guys is capable of a top 8 finish.  

Kaleb Young 
Record: 79-28
NCAA: 19'5th, 20'*, 21'7th
BIG 10: 19'4th, 20'WC, 21'2nd
MIDLANDS: 17'5th, 18'5th, 19'2nd, 20'1st  

It's hard to know what to think or what to predict when it comes to Kaleb Young.  He's 0-1 vs NCAA champion David Carr of Iowa State & he's never wrestled Austin O'Connor of North Carolina. Other than that, he's beaten everyone and everyone has beaten him. He's 2-2 with Northwestern's Ryan Deakin, 1-1 with Princeton's Quincy Monday and 2-1 with Minnesota's Brayton Lee. So can I see Young having a great finish to his NCAA career? Making the NCAA finals, maybe even winning the tournament? It's not out of the realms of possibility.  It's also not far fetched to think that he might come up on the losing end of a few matches and not do as well.  I'd bank that he does end his career as a three time All American, I'm just not sure of what place yet. 

Alex Marinelli 
Record: 86-12
NCAA: 18'6th, 19'7th, 20'*, 21'R12
BIG 10: 18'6th, 19'1st, 20'1st, 21'1st 
MIDLANDS: 17'4th, 18'1st, 19'1st, 20'1st 

Nerves? Pressure? I'm not sure what it is, but in the last two NCAA tournaments that he has participated in, Alex Marinelli has not performed as well as he should have.  Now let me say this. He's won three Midlands titles and he's won three BIG 10 titles.  Regardless of what happens this year, he's already proven himself to be a great among the Hawkeye middleweights as far as I'm concerned. I'd like to see him have his breakout year and he's more than capable of it.  He took NCAA champion Shane Griffith of Stanford into overtime.  Evan Wick of Cal Poly, another NCAA title contender, Marinelli is 4-1 against.  Anthony Valencia of Arizona State does own a fall over Marinelli, but that was a long time ago.  I'm curious to see what happens when/if Marinelli meets up with Utah Valley's Demetrius Romero. He's one that Marinelli shouldn't look past, that wrestles a style I think could give him fits. If Brands and Co can get him to let loose and wrestle like he does at the Midlands and BIG 10's, he's unstoppable.  IF, operative word. 

Mike Kemerer  (Pat Kennedy & Brennan Swafford)
Senior (Sophomore & Junior) 
Record: 110-10
NCAA: 17'3rd, 18'4th, 19'NA, 20'*, 21'2nd 
BIG 10: 17'2nd, 18'6th, 20'2nd, 21'1st 
MIDLANDS: 16'5th, 17'1st, 18'1st 

Kemerer isn't going to be upended for his spot, I'm not suggesting that. He'll be the starter and he'll fight Penn State's Carter Starocci for both the BIG 10 title and the NCAA title.  I have no doubt about that. 3rd at the NCAA's is the worst I can see Kemerer finishing.  With that said, I do think both Kennedy and Swafford prove themselves to be two of the best backups in NCAA wrestling. I'm very excited to see both of these guys compete at the Midlands.  Three Hawkeyes on the award stand? I think it is very plausible.  Kennedy gave Nebraska's Mikey Labriola one Hell of a match last season, I want to see him against other top ranked foes.  Swafford has dominated the NAIA the past two seasons, it'll be fun to see what he can do against NCAA Division I competition.  

Nelson Brands or Abe Assad 
Sophomore or Sophomore 
Record: 35-10 or Record: 22-7
NCAA: 21'NQ Or NCAA 20'* 
BIG 10: 21'4th Or 20'4th 
MIDLANDS: 20'R12 or 20'2nd 

One of the best battles at 184 lbs this upcoming season will be in the Hawkeye wrestling room between Nelson Brands and Abe Assad. In so many ways these guys are even. It'll be fun to see who ends up with the starting spot. Again I think Midlands performance, while it may not seal the deal, does hold the most amount of weight. It seems Brands' Achilles heel lies in Illinois' Zach Braunagel, whom he is 1-2 against, while Assad pinned Braunagel. Yet on the same hand, Brands manhandled Nebraska's Taylor Venz 13-5, who split with Assad both matches ending in scores of 6-4.  Trent Hidlay of North Carolina State and Aaron Brook of Penn State, I don't see Brands or Assad contending for the national title this season.  I was under the impression that Michigan's Myles Amine, Olympic Bronze medalist for San Marino would not be returning this season, but now I have affirmation that he will. That proposes even more of a challenge.  I think we should see an All American performance out of either of these guys, but wouldn't bet on anything higher than 4th.  

Jacob Warner
Record: 70-18 
NCAA: 19'7th, 20'*, 21'4th 
BIG 10: 19'3rd, 20'3rd, 21'3rd
MIDLANDS: 18'6th, 19'5th, 20'3rd 

He's not beating Oklahoma State's A.J. Ferarri, but other than than, I think Warner is capable of beating anyone at the weight class. Max Dean of Penn State will be his greatest challenge for a BIG 10 title & I'm anxious to see McKendree NCAA Division II champion Ryan Vasbinder now of Michigan State in action. Then of course there is always NCAA runner-up Nico Bonaccorsi of Pittsburgh to contend with as well.  Nevertheless at his best, Warner is an NCAA finalist. 

Tony Cassioppi 
Record: 53-8 
NCAA: 20'*, 21'3rd
BIG 10: 20'3rd, 21'3rd
MIDLANDS: 19'7th, 20'1st 

Between Minnesota's Gable Steverson and Michigan's Mason Parris, I think Cassioppi's sitting on another 3rd place performance at both the BIG 10's and the NCAA's.  


Team wise, Iowa most certainly contends for the NCAA championship. Could be a fantastic year for the Hawkeyes with Midlands, BIG 10's and NCAA's. (Even if Iowa doesn't attend the Midlands this season as a whole, I'd still think they'd send non-starters to Chicago.) I honestly believe that this squad has the potential to be about the best Iowa has ever had.  Especially if we're talking overall performance of the entire team.   

Best Case scenario? 

125 - Champion 
133 - Champion 
141 - Champion 
149 - 4th 
157 - Champion 
165 - Champion 
174 - Champion 
184 - 4th 
197 - 2nd 
HWT - 3rd 

Worst Case scenario? 

125 - Champion 
133 - 5th 
141 - 2nd 
149 - DNP 
157 - 5th 
165 - 5th 
174 - 2nd 
184 - DNP 
197 - 3rd 
HWT - 3rd 

This is of course my opinion, but even at a worst case scenario, I think Iowa puts 8 on the award stand and still contends for the team title.  The idea of six champions and another finalist is probably Utopian but I don't think 10 All Americans is out of the question.  Iowa's got a heck of a team this season. 

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