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With 4 Talented Seniors, The Time Is Now For Iowa

Iowa Wrestling

There was a time when an Iowa Hawkeye wrestling team returning three finalists and five All-Americans in total would have been the odds-on favorite to win another national title, no matter what the rest of the country was bringing back. With the return of Sam Stoll (So, 285), who looked like an All-American before his injury a year ago, and the addition of Michael Kemerer (Fr, 157) to the line-up, this type of roster would have been expected to run away from the field in St. Louis.

Unfortunately for Iowa fans, this is not the Gable era. In recent years, unseeded or lower seeded Hawkeye wrestlers have been less likely to make those dramatic runs to the podium that became almost commonplace under Coach Gable. The yearly tradition of the black and gold out-performing their seeds up and down the line-up is now just a pleasant memory in Iowa City. Sure head coach Tom Brands won three titles in a row from 2008-2010, the first, and only, Iowa championships that were not contiguous to Dan Gable’s reign, but the last three years the Hawkeyes have failed to score more than 84 points at the big show. It would be one thing if these teams just weren’t that good, but many under-performed in a way that was once unheard of. The mystique is fading.

All of that is nothing one special performance from a talented group can’t remedy. The aforementioned three returning national finalists, Thomas Gilman (Sr, 125), Cory Clark (Sr, 133) and Brandon Sorensen (Jr, 149), all will be favored to return to the Saturday night stage while Gilman will be a heavy favorite to finally take the title. Clark is looking to become the 19th four-time All-American for the Hawkeyes, though if he does not stand on the top step he will be just the third man, after Mike DeAnna and Mike Mena, in that club without a championship.

Iowa knows what they have in those three wrestlers and will expect them to perform. It is the rest of the line-up that will need to prove its worth if this team is going to bring home the program’s 24th national title. The two other returning All-Americans, Alex Meyer (Sr, 174) and Sam Brooks (Sr, 184), need to do better than their eighth-place finishes a year ago. Both are certainly capable. Brooks was the number two seed at nationals a year ago and Meyer had to defeat both the third and fifth seed just to get as far as he did. They also each had some good wins during the regular season that suggest they could move up in 2016-17.

Getting a healthy Stoll back in the line-up, which Iowa hopes to do sometime around the Midlands, will be a huge boost. Stoll looked like a low All-American as a freshman before injuring his knee. If he is fully healthy, he should be on the podium. If he can continue to improve, he could challenge for the top four.

Stoll and the five returning All-Americans have had success on the Division I level. We have a good idea of what they can do. The other four spots in this lineup will either be filled by freshmen or wrestlers who haven’t yet shown the ability to become All-Americans.

The least uncertain of those spots is the one that will be filled by Kemerer. He has proven that he can do well against the type of competition he will need to beat this year. He had a win over All-American Geo Martinez (Boise State) as well as wins over other quality opponents such as Alex Kocer (SDSU), Fredy Stroker (Minnesota), Clayton Ream (NDSU) and Gabe Moreno (Iowa State), during his redshirt year. Many of those matches weren’t close and Michael went on to have an excellent freestyle season winning UWW Junior Nationals and placing third, losing only to Sorensen, at University Nationals. He will probably be wrestling at 157 unless Sorensen decides to move up, so there is a small question about the weight. However, the big question for Iowa’s team chances are how high can this young man go? Aside from Jason Nolf (Penn State), there isn’t anyone that seems far ahead of Kemerer. By the end of the season, he could be well positioned to score significant points in St. Louis.

It looks like the next best chance Iowa has for significant points is if true freshman Alex Marinelli can successfully fill the 165-pound class. Marinelli is a four-time Ohio state champion out of the storied St. Paris-Graham program who will begin the year in redshirt. If he is turned loose, it will be because the coaching staff thinks he has what it takes to be an All-American right away. If he is not, Burke Paddock (So) should man the spot.

Vince Turk (Fr, 141) and Topher Carton (Sr, 141) will battle for the 141-pound job, but Hawkeye fans should hope that Turk far outshines Carton. Turk had a win over Seth Gross (SDSU) during his redshirt year and has shown potential. Carton’s best win was over Turk and he had some rough losses. The upside of Turk, especially if he starts from the beginning of the year, is much greater.

Steven Holloway (Fr, 197) should be the man at 197, but there is an interesting possibility here with Stoll out for the early season. We could see some or all of the upper weights bump up to cover 285. This would serve a dual purpose. The obvious, of course, is that the team wouldn’t be forced to forfeit heavyweight. However, the other possibility this brings into play is letting Meyer and Brooks test the waters up a weight. They could always return to their normal weights in January but, if they find success, they could stay. With 184 being an extremely difficult weight nationally, it is possible that Meyer at 174 and Brooks at 197 could yield more team points. With an obvious chance to experiment, like this one, Iowa may get to find out what makes the most sense. (Editor’s Note: It was indicated by the school that Meyer and Brooks may bump up until Stoll returns.)

Whatever final line-up settles in for the stretch run, head coach Tom Brands and everyone involved with the Iowa program will have the same expectations they always do, to win a national title. This group has a chance to do so, but they’ll have to shake off their recent history. Just as those Gable teams just knew they would over-perform, after doing so year after year, under-performing, especially compared to your own expectations, can get in a wrestler’s head. Three years is not such a trend to suggest something is amiss, but the Hawkeyes need a big performance to keep it from becoming a nagging narrative. Even if they weren’t fighting recent history, this is a team that has four seniors they expect to be major contributors. The time is now in Iowa City.

The 2016-17 Iowa Hawkeye wrestling schedule features dual meets against Iowa State (Dec 10th), Michigan (Jan 6th or Jan 8th), Oklahoma State (Jan 15th), Penn State (Jan 20th or Jan 22nd), Ohio State (Jan 27th or Jan 29th) and Nebraska (Feb 12th). They open the season at the Grand View Open on November 5th and head to the Luther Open November 12th. Their traditional trip to the Midlands closes out 2016. Indiana hosts the Big 10 tournament March 4th and 5th. The NCAA tournament heads back to St. Louis, Missouri, March 16th through 18th.

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