Photo by Mark Lundy, LutteLens.com
While we work hard at TOM to be objective and as unbiased as possible, we all were fans before we started writing about wrestling professionally. With that, we have our favorite teams that we pull for and, especially this time of year, want to see do well. In that spirit, we thought it would be fun to let our hair down a little at the most exciting time of the college wrestling season to enter the Fan Zone. We’ll have fans of Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Iowa getting a little partisan over the next few days as they take a look at their team’s outlook as we head for Cleveland. For these pieces, at least, we’re going back to our roots as fans of the greatest sport in the world! Today Bryce Villa wrestles with whether his beloved Hawkeyes can pull it together for a big push.
This is it, we are done. It is time to bury the Dan Gable statue in front of Carver to hide our shame. This is a sad time Hawkeye fans, we have gone from the hunted to the hunter and hunting season has been bleak, devoid of our prey. The end is near. If we do not start performing we could be the next program on the Title IX chopping block! My own daughter refuses to wear her Iowa outfits to preschool because she cannot bear the looks her classmates give her. This is it, I think it is time for us to turn the lights out in Carver.
But wait, there may be a glimmer of hope. A light in the darkness. I mean we did qualify nine wrestlers for the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Cleveland. Spencer Lee has beaten two past NCAA finalists this season showing that the true freshman could win it all. Vince Turk has been wrestling well and actually outperformed his seed at the Big Ten tournament. Brandon Sorensen continues to be the best wrestler at his weight not named Zain Retherford. Alex Marinelli has beaten a U23 world champion and a returning national champion this season. Maybe the end is not imminent.
Sure 133 was a glaring hole in our lineup this season, but the platoon did beat a two-time NJCAA national champion as well as a returning DI All-American. Cash Wilcke seems to have hit a wall, but he did win a Midlands title less than three months ago. Sam Stoll has been a hammer against everyone outside the top three guys in the conference and has managed to stay healthy all season long (knock on wood). Michael Kemerer had a bit of a rough patch in the Big Ten tournament and was absolutely railroaded by the NCAA seeding committee. That does not mean he can’t find a way to beat a Jason Nolf who may not be 100% in the quarters and then waltz on into the finals winning his first national title. Joseph Gunther seems to be a better dual wrestler than tournament competitor, but he may be able to grind out a couple of wins to end his season. Mitch Bowman managed to qualify for the national tournament and hey all it takes is a foot in the door to get a dance.
You know what. I think we are going to be ok. We could end up with a third-place team trophy if we can put together a good tournament. There is even a chance we put four guys into the finals. In fact, I am feeling optimistic, let’s take a look at how our wrestlers could do.
Spencer Lee – 3rd seed
I still go back to that absolute shellacking he put on Sean Russell (Edinboro) at the Midlands and think “wow”. Every time he goes out there, he is one move away from winning the match in dominating fashion. Let’s be honest, he is a national title contender and anything short of a third-place finish will be disappointing. There has not been a true freshman champion at 125 since it became a weight in 1999, but Lee could be the first. If I am Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State) I do not want to see a Hawkeye in the semifinals of the national tournament. Thomas Gilman and then Cory Clark have probably made him leery of Hawks at the national tournament. Lee has been on big stages before and if he makes it to Friday night I think he wins. If he wins on Friday night then I sure as heck thinks he wins Saturday.
Projection: 1st – 3rd
Can we be honest with each other? I feel like we can. Vince Turk has an awful draw at the NCAA tournament. No, no, bear with me. Kyle Shoop (Lock Haven) is an absolute monster on top and we all know that Turk has had his struggles on the mat this season. After Shoop, Turk has Cole Weaver (Indiana) waiting. I don’t know if you remember what happened at the Midlands, but I do. On the backside, a pig-tail loss is not much friendlier. Irvin Enriquez (Appalachian State) is no slouch. After him would most likely be Nick Zanetta (Pitt) who is more than capable of making the round of 12. 0-2 or 1-2 is very possible for the sophomore.
BUT…and bear with me now as I look through some black and gold lenses, Shoop is a one trick pony. We can take him down whenever we want and stay off bottom until we force him to make the choice. Then it is a matter of hand control. Cole Weaver has peaked folks. He has not been wrestling well as of late while we are surging into the postseason. Sure that just means we take on Bryce Meredith (Wyoming) Thursday night, but so what. We drop to the consolations needing to win three matches to be an All-American. We blow through whoever steps out against us Friday morning and then all we have to do is find a way to win against Josh Alber (Northern Iowa) and remember how well Turk has been wrestling on our feet as of late. That means we get to sit around and wait for the heartbroken loser of the Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) versus Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell), honestly does that guy even know how to spell his last name? Anyways, we get that guy. I think Heil loses and come on, are you telling me the senior does not just pack it in? It is an all or nothing for him and poof we are an All-American! Stand on that podium, Vince Turk! Brock Zacherl (Clarion) is a paper tiger and if we are rolling along he had better get off the train tracks. That means we are on our way to at worst a sixth-place finish. A loss to Joey McKenna (Ohio State) in the consolation semifinals means we will take on someone like Kevin Jack (NC State). Sixth-place it is in what will be an incredible run by Turk that will become Iowa legend.
Projection: somewhere between 0-2 barbecue and sixth-place.
Brandon Sorensen – 2nd seed
He has been a bright spot this year. On any given day he is the best wrestler not named Zain Retherford at this weight class and the time has come for him to deliver once again. A bit of a scary match with the winner of Jason Tsirtsis (Arizona State) and Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) looms in the quarterfinals, but then it is on to the semifinals and Grant Leeth (Missouri). Can we take a second to talk about how ridiculous it is to allow a guy to wrestle with a brace on that literally prevents you from performing wrestling moves? I mean how can you half-nelson a guy with a brace that stops you from exerting the necessary pressure to make the move work? That being said I think that Sorensen wins the match without it ever becoming an issue. All that stands between the senior then and a national championship he so desperately deserves is Retherford. Ugh. If I have to hear “Zain Train” one more time I am going to vomit. We get it, he has been amazing. It is time for someone to end his win streak and steal those Hodge chances away from him. There is no better time than Saturday night and no better place than Cleveland for Sorensen to win that title.
Projection: 1st or 2nd
Michael Kemerer – 6th seed
This is absolutely criminal and the committee should have to stand in front of wrestling fans in Cleveland and justify this weight class in person. How do you place Josh Shields (Arizona State) ahead of a guy who beat him at the Midlands head-to-head and has just a single loss on the season? More than that, they have the same record against the 7th seed Micah Jordan of Ohio State (1-1) and Kemerer is a returning All-American while Shields flamed out last season. Joseph LaVallee (Missouri) does not even have a top 10 win this year and he is the two-seed? Kemerer and he share a one-loss record so? A full inquiry needs to be made into this, I suspect Russian bot involvement. Putin has never been a fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes!
Sorry, let’s talk about Kemerer’s tournament. Listen, unless Jason Nolf (Penn State) is not as healthy as he appeared before taking an MFF then we are in trouble. That means Kemerer drops back after the quarters and it becomes a scramble to advance on the backside. A rematch with Jordan will loom and I am going to bet on the guy who has the winning record in their history. I am hoping that Nolf kicks LaVallee down (not literally) to the consolation side where Kemerer can show how-how awful that seeding was in the consolation finals. Along the way, he will face Shields again, and win, again. Did you know these two are friends? Yeah well, it isn’t going to be a friendly match. Kemerer is the second best wrestler in this weight class. He is going to have to work his butt off just to finish third because of a preposterous decision by the seeding committee.
On the flip-side, what if Nolf is not healthy? That means Kemerer will head into the semifinals as the 6th seed against LaVallee and settle this argument the Mizzou fans are so desperately clinging to once and for all. A finals match would loom against either the freshman phenom Hayden Hidlay (NC State) or Shields. I do not think it matters, either way. If Kemdog makes it to the finals, Iowa could have their third champion of the night!
Projection: 1st or 3rd
Alex Marinelli – 5th seed
Alex “the bull” Marinelli had been very good this season, maybe even better than I expected and I expected a lot from him. Then disaster struck in the form of Logan Massa (Michigan) in the Big Ten quarterfinals and the aura of invincibility was shattered. He entered the tournament undefeated and left after going just 2-3. That was not how Alex or Hawkeye fans wanted his first visit to the conference tournament to go. That being said, he is now in the national tournament and can put that behind him. He has beaten the two wrestlers who handed him those losses in East Lansing and holds another win over the returning national champion. Hope springs eternal and it is spring Hawk fans. As the fifth-seed, Marinelli will meet Chad Walsh (Rider) in the quarterfinals and this is a good style match for the bull. Walsh is going to try things from different angles and Marinelli is not a guy who gives up big points. Look at the Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) match this year, Marinelli just kept good position the whole match and capitalized when Joseph went too big at the wrong time. He can do it again against Walsh. The semifinal match against Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) the following round is a different matter. That is ok, a trip to the semifinals means we are an All-American and can head to the backside of the bracket looking to outplace our seed. Marinelli could see either Richie Lewis (Rutgers) or Massa as he drops back and despite having an awful tournament where both beat him, Alex does hold wins over each of them. Marinelli wins the rematch with either of them and then it is on to a match against David McFadden (Virginia Tech) or a rematch against Joseph. Listen, I am more than aware that Joseph would have won easily if he had not chosen to go for a body-lock in the third period. I think the best the bull can hope for is a fourth-place finish as he outperforms a generous seed.
Things could go a lot worse though. A loss to Walsh in the quarters will bring about a high-pressure match to be an All-American in the next round. If Alex is still reeling from that catastrophic tournament two weeks ago then it could spell trouble. Even worse is who his opponent might be. One of the three: Anthony Valencia, Evan Wick, or Logan Massa could be waiting for him there. I can tell you who I hope we see, Evan Wick (Wisconsin)! Do you really want to wrestle Massa again and have him double arm flex in Brands face again? I personally do not. Even a win in that round simply means advancing to take on Chandler Rogers (Oklahoma State). That could be good for the Marinelli though given the result last time they wrestled. From there it is all a matter of if-if he can make it to the third-place match.
Projection: somewhere between Round of 12 to fourth-place
I will never question the heart of Joey Gunther. I will question his offensive capabilities. He is the definition of a grinder, just wearing guys down and scoring late. Unfortunately, that does not work when you are already down five or six points going into the third period. I get that Kaleb Young is too small right now, but it does give hope for next season. It is almost guaranteed that the Hawkeyes will be better in 2018-19 than they are this year, but I need to focus on this national tournament. Things could be worse for Gunther, he could be wrestling Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) to start his day. Instead, he is wrestling Jacobe Smith who he lost to on a late takedown in the Oklahoma State dual. This gives me a glimmer of hope despite how well Smith is wrestling right now. Gunther has a winnable match first-round and who knows what happens if he starts to roll. Worst case he gets beat again and has to head to the backside. He would probably have Josef Johnson (Harvard) on the backside with a loss and that is a winnable match so he can avoid an 0-2 tournament and significant dent in the Hawkeyes trophy hopes. A win there and he could see the inconsistent Yoanse Mejias (Oklahoma). If bad Mejias shows up to the tournament, suddenly Gunther goes from 0-2 to 2-2 and would exceed my expectations. His run would end the next round, probably against David Kocer (South Dakota State). That would not be awful though, a couple of wins for Gunther would be great. He could even win the first round and that would open up some real possibilities. A win over Smith would set him up on the backside quarters against Forrest Przybysz (Appalachian State) which is another winnable match. His day would probably end in the round of 12 against Taylor Lujan (Northern Iowa) or Ethan Ramos (North Carolina), but it would still be a great run. Hey does anyone know if Kaleb Young is in the weight room?
Projection: 0-2 to the round of 12
Oh, what could have been. This weight class had rumors swirling around it all season long until there were no more rumors and Hawkeye fans were left shaking our heads thinking what might have been. I am not saying Mitch Bowman is chopped liver, he has wrestled well and earned his spot in the NCAA tournament. It is just hard to expect much from him in Cleveland. A tough opening match will be followed by either a brutal match on the top-side or else some small hope for a win or two in the consolations. Canten Marriott is one of those “paper” Mizzou Tigers and if Bowman can jump on him early, this is a winnable match. Let’s be honest Myles Martin (Ohio State) is going to send him to the consolations with prejudice after that though. Martin has been shooting takedowns against people not named Bo Nickal (Penn State) with bad intentions this season. That would drop Mitch to a match against I think Martin Mueller from South Dakota State who will be looking to get #Jacked. I think that is where Bowman’s run would end even with a first-round upset. If he loses to Marriott that would push him into a do or die match against Bryce Gorman (Northern Illinois) that should go the Hawkeyes’ way. That would probably push him to a match against the tough on top Jordan Ellingwood (Central Michigan) that would end Bowman’s day in the same round as a win over Marriott would. I just have a hard time finding a third or fourth win for Mitch in this bracket.
Projection: 1-2 or 2-2
Cash Wilcke – 14th seed
Hang in there Cash! We can all admit that he should be at 184 with a shot at being an All-American this season, but instead because of those rumors he worked his tail off and took control of the 197 spot. This is another one those weights that should be better next year as Jacob Warner will probably hold this spot with Wilcke heading down to 184, or at least that would be the best case scenario for point scoring. Cash became a favorite of mine last season as he made his way all the way to the round of 12 after being the last wrestler into the NCAA tournament, only getting a spot after an injury withdrawal. That win over Frank Mattiace (Penn) had me on the edge of my seat from press row, it was just so nerve-wracking. By the way, who do I talk to about taking the “e” off the end of his last name and putting it on the end of his first name, that just seems to make more sense to me? Cash has an interesting tournament draw. I was surprised that he was seeded, but he did win the Midlands title and has a win over Warner who beat Willie Miklus (Missouri) which obviously means if they meet up that he will beat Miklus too. It is called the transitive property folks, look it up. He also has a win over the seven-seed Mattiace this year, things are not all bleak. He has had a rough stretch as of late that dropped him from a top-eight seed down to the 14th spot, but I think he has a shot at the podium. Wilcke should battle Jared Haught (Virginia Tech) on Thursday night which would knock him into the wrestlebacks. After a win, all that stands between Cash and wrestling Friday morning will be Corey Griego (Oregon State) or Willie Miklus (Missouri). By the transitive property, Cash is good to go against Miklus and I think he holds the advantage over Griego as well. The OSU Beaver comes from a state that cut a Division I wrestling program and that type of bad mojo tends to carry over. Cash will have to find a way to win a round of 12 match this year to be an All-American. Nate Rotert (South Dakota State) or Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State). We can all be honest, we do not want to wrestle Weigel. Even a battle with Rotert will be difficult, but Weigel dismantled Wilcke already this year. We need Rotert to hold his seed Thursday night and send Weigel to the backside. I am not certain that happens though which would be bad, but we are working under the glass is half-full of Busch Light mantra right now and so we face Rotert in match 554 and we win. Cash is vindicated for all the hard work going up to 197 and doing it for the team. He earns All-American status. Unfortunately, his run would probably end the next round at the hands of Shakur Rasheed (or Cassar if they pull the old singlet switcheroo, I’m watching you Penn State!). We could see Miklus then in the seventh-place match or a rematch with Mattiace. I honestly hope for the latter because the last two times they have battled the matches were great.
All is not sunshine and daisies though for Cash. He could lose the match to Griego or even after battling through there run into Weigel. It is crazy to think, but I am going to be cheering my butt off for a Cowboy during his fight with a Jackrabbit. It may make me physically ill.
Projection: 2-2, 3-2, or 7th
Sam Stoll – 5th seed
I do not know if there was a better preseason social media push than “Morning Stroll with Sam Stoll”. It was gold! Black and Gold! Stoll has been very very good for the Hawkeyes this year, the problem is with the way this weight class is going we need great. Stoll has a very good seed and his losses are only to wrestlers ahead of him so that makes sense. It also sets him up with a winnable quarterfinal match against the colorful and talented Jacob Kasper (Duke) Friday morning. Kasper will want to eat a big breakfast because he is going to war. This is where the “what ifs” start to happen. In the positive part of my mind, I know that Stoll can beat the smaller Kasper. That would set him up in the semifinals against Kyle Snyder (Ohio State). You do not tug on Superman’s cape and right now Snyder is the closest thing we have to that. The drop from a semifinal loss puts Stoll in a head to head battle with Amarveer Dhesi from Oregon State. Dhesi had a disastrous Midlands while Stoll won the title. That leads me to pencil Sam into the third-place match against Nick Nevills of Penn State. Stoll should finish fourth in this scenario. A loss to Kasper sends him to the blood round where he defeats whoever. That sets up a rematch with Tanner Hall (Arizona State). Stoll beat the Sun Devil on a ridiculous series of events that allegedly started with a finger grab and ended with Hall giving up a penalty point for telling the referee how to do his job. I was five feet away from this and I am still not sure why the referee did that. Hall has seemingly hit a wall recently that has seen him slip to an eighth seed. Stoll winning there, which I think he does, would set him against Nevills a round earlier. Stoll finishes fifth in this scenario matching his seed.
Projection: 4th or 5th
Overall the Hawkeyes should have five All-Americans. They could have as many as seven with three finalists, but that would mean everything went right in Cleveland. This could be a rough nationals trip, but it can’t get worse than East Lansing, can it? God, I hope not. There is not enough Busch Light in the state of Ohio to drown my sorrows if that happens. Just remember, we have a lot to look forward to next season. This is a lineup that will only lose Brandon Sorensen. His replacement is no slouch, but we can accept that Pat Lugo is not Sorensen. We should be better at 133, I mean we can’t get worse, and if Cash takes over 184 and Warner jumps in at 197, look out! You know what, I am looking forward to Cleveland after all.