IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa wrestling program is poised for a potentially remarkable season in 2019-20.
Here are the details: The Hawkeyes are positioned at No. 2 in Trackwrestling’s Division I poll, trailing only Penn State. All 10 expected starters are ranked in the top 12 in their respective weight classes, with seven in the top eight.
But there’s another truth: This year offers Iowa’s greatest opportunity to win an NCAA team title since 2014-15. In that year, the Hawkeyes stumbled in March and Ohio State claimed the championship.
Iowa is now in its 10th year since its last national team championship, which is the longest wait since the team won its first title in 1975 under Gary Kurdelmeier. This fact has weighed on head coach Tom Brands, who has led the Hawkeyes to 11 NCAA team trophies in the past 13 years.
“We have the personnel,” Brands said at the team’s media day last week. “I know what I think of our guys, and I wouldn’t trade our team for any other team. I love our guys.
“Our expectations are high. Should we not have high standards? Yes, we should have high standards. We are ready to take on any challengers.”
This year’s roster is arguably Brands’ deepest and most talented group of wrestlers since the 2010 team. Iowa currently boasts seven All-Americans, two more bloodround participants, and several other highly credentialed and exciting wrestlers who could fill the 10 starting spots this year.
► RELATED: True freshmen and other wrestlers to keep an eye on from Iowa in 2019-20
The following is a breakdown of the Hawkeyes’ starting lineup for the 2019-20 season. We will go through each weight class, listing the frontrunners and who might challenge them. All rankings are according to Track.
Frontrunner: Spencer Lee. An interesting fact about Iowa’s amazingly talented lightweight wrestler — Lee has only claimed victory in three tournaments throughout his college career: the 2018 and 2019 national titles, and the 2017 UNI Open. Truly remarkable. He is currently ranked No. 1.
Others to watch: Lee will wrestle a personalized schedule this season as he pursues a spot on the 2020 Olympic Team. Therefore, expect to see redshirt freshman Aaron Cashman on the mat from time to time this year.
► RELATED: On Iowa’s Spencer Lee, the Olympic Trials, and Aaron Cashman
Frontrunner: Austin DeSanto. An All-American returning for another strong season. DeSanto won 23 matches last year and established himself as one of the best wrestlers in the country at 133 pounds after transferring from Drexel. He is currently ranked No. 2, but …
Others to watch: This weight class could be an interesting one to watch early on, with Gavin Teasdale joining the team. Brands hinted that Teasdale may make his debut on Nov. 17 when Iowa opens its season against UT-Chattanooga.
“I mean, why not? Let’s just be honest,” Brands said, and later added: “We’re going to put the best team on the mat.”
There are multiple possibilities at this weight class. DeSanto could redshirt, and Teasdale might as well. It is also possible that one of them could move up to 141 pounds and challenge Max Murin. This is something to keep an eye on going forward.
And let’s not forget that senior Paul Glynn is also in the mix here.
Frontrunner: Max Murin. The sophomore made significant progress at the end of last season. He finished with a 17-9 record and reached the NCAA quarterfinals and bloodround, falling one win short of being an All-American. He is currently ranked No. 9.
Others to watch: One of the 133-pound wrestlers could move up to this weight class, but Carter Happel and Justin Stickley, who both have starting experience, are also noteworthy.
Frontrunner: Pat Lugo. Another returning All-American, Lugo transferred to Iowa after spending a couple of years at Edinboro. After redshirting in 2017-18, he joined the lineup last season, finished 23-9, and placed eighth at the national tournament. He is currently ranked No. 4.
Others to watch: There is considerable depth behind Lugo. Jeren Glosser has shown impressive growth over the past few years and could start for many other teams. Vince Turk, who won three matches at the 2018 NCAA Championships, has moved up from 149 and could provide competition for Lugo.
Frontrunner: Kaleb Young. A returning All-American, Young had a breakout season last year after spending his redshirt freshman year as a backup at 165 and 174. He dropped down to 157 and performed exceptionally well, finishing 24-7 and reaching the NCAA semifinals before taking fifth. He is currently ranked No. 2.
Others to watch: The competition behind Young has reduced significantly from last year. Only redshirt freshman Joe Kelly is listed as the other 157-pounder, but Glosser, Jeremiah Moody, a former UWW Junior freestyle national champion, and even Zach Axmear could provide depth.
► MORE IOWA: The Hawkeyes have a chance for a championship in 2019-20
Frontrunner: Alex Marinelli. A two-time All-American, although he achieved this at 157 pounds. After sitting out last season due to an injury, Marinelli returns this year and is currently ranked No. 2 nationally at 174 pounds. While it is expected that he will receive a sixth year of eligibility due to a medical waiver, we will refer to him as a senior until that becomes official (check back after the season).
Others to watch: There is quality depth behind Marinelli, with players like Moody, Keegan Shaw, and even Nelson Brands, who is a redshirt freshman and the son of associate head coach Terry Brands. Brands may see some action this season.
Frontrunner: Michael Kemerer. A two-time All-American, although he achieved this at 157 pounds. After sitting out last season due to an injury, Kemerer returns this year and is currently ranked No. 2 nationally at 174 pounds. While it is assumed that he will receive a sixth year of eligibility due to a medical waiver, we will refer to him as a senior until that becomes official (check back after the season).
Others to watch: Nelson Brands could potentially see some action at this weight class as well, but Shaw filled in here last year. Myles Wilson also filled in until an injury sidelined him in the Iowa-Iowa State dual meet.
► 2019-20 SCHEDULE: Check out the Hawkeyes’ competition schedule this season
Frontrunner: Cash Wilcke. A three-time NCAA qualifier and two-time bloodround participant. Now a senior, Wilcke has accumulated 63 career victories and his progress will play a crucial role in Iowa’s pursuit of the team title in March. He is currently ranked No. 10.
Others to watch: This weight class belongs to Wilcke, but true freshmen Abe Assad and Zach Glazier are listed at 184, as well as junior Preston Stephenson from Utah.
Frontrunner: Jacob Warner. A returning All-American, Warner represented the United States at the Junior world championships in 2018. He had a successful season last year, going 21-6 and placing seventh at the NCAA Championships. Expectations for Warner will only increase. He is currently ranked No. 5.
Others to watch: There is quality depth behind Warner. Connor Corbin is possibly the primary backup, finishing seventh at the UWW Junior freestyle national championships last spring. There is also Sam Cook, Steven Holloway, and Cade Brownlee.
Frontrunner: Tony Cassioppi. There is a lot of excitement surrounding Cassioppi. As a redshirt last year, he compiled a 20-2 record with 14 pins. He then dominated his way to a UWW Junior freestyle national title in the spring. His continued growth will be crucial, as Iowa sees him as a significant scorer. He is currently ranked No. 11 nationally.
Others to watch: Behind Cassioppi, Aaron Costello, a graduate of Western Dubuque, saw some action in certain situations last season. He will also be pushing for the starting spot.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
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