If there’s one thing the state of Iowa is known for, it’s wrestling. Year after year, Iowa produces some of the best wrestling talent in the nation, and there’s plenty of it to go around. All Iowa and Iowa State have to do to dominate the sport is pluck the best of the best from their own backyard and build on the foundation they’ve gained in high school.
Today, we’re talking about the Hawkeyes, who will host their 300th dual meet at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday against the Northwestern Wildcats. As usual, Iowa’s sitting right in the mix for a Big Ten wrestling championship, and if you’re in the mix for a Big Ten title, that means you’ve got a shot at a national title.
Since 2006, the Big Ten has won every wrestling national title. Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State have dominated the sport, and Michigan’s now right there with them.
The Nittany Lions (9), Hawkeyes (4), Buckeyes (1) and Golden Gophers (1) own the past 15 NCAA titles, and Michigan claimed second place last season. You’ve got to go all the way back to 2016 for the last time a school (Oklahoma State) cracked the Big Ten axis and finished in the top two.
That means Iowa’s going to be facing the best of the best as it tries to regain the title it claimed in 2021. But the Hawkeyes have a long way to go before they make it to Tulsa for the national championships. Here are a few key dates to remember for the Iowa wrestling squad!
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) December 29, 2022
Jan. 13: Vs. Northwestern
This one is all about nostalgia, but it’s also a matchup with a good squad. Northwestern coach Matt Storniolo has slowly built his program into a respected Big Ten side, and the Wildcats can no longer be considered an easy win for most squads. They proved their mettle earlier this month by knocking off Minnesota in Evanston, and they boast multiple highly-ranked wrestlers.
Some of the highlights of this dual will include the heavyweight bout, where No. 3 Anthony Cassioppi puts his undefeated record on the line against No. 4 Lucas Davidson of Northwestern. Davidson’s only lost once this season, making this one of the key bouts of the dual. At 149 pounds, Yahya Thomas of Northwestern is ranked No. 5 in his class, with Iowa’s Max Murin sitting at No. 6.
Of course, Iowa’s not exactly most squads, and even though the Wildcats are improved, the Hawkeyes should still expect to win. They cruised to a 33-6 victory last year over Northwestern, and the gap likely hasn’t narrowed that much. This dual will likely be a night to celebrate for Iowa fans.
Jan. 22: At Wisconsin
This dual can’t be overlooked for multiple reasons. First, it’s a rivalry matchup with Wisconsin and a road test in Madison. The Hawkeyes have dominated in their recent trips to Madison, and the Badgers aren’t likely to have forgotten.
It is the first time Wisconsin’s current wrestlers have hosted Iowa (the dual in Madison in 2021 got canceled while teams were figuring out COVID protocols), so the crowd should be pretty excited.
Second, Iowa cannot get caught looking ahead in this matchup. The Hawkeyes follow the Badgers with their biggest dual of the season, and Wisconsin would love nothing more than to spoil the potential meeting of No. 1 vs. No. 2 by knocking Iowa from its perch.
Third, Wisconsin has several talented wrestlers that will give Iowa a battle. At 14-1 and No. 3 in the nation, Eric Barnett is one of the few wrestlers who can go toe-to-toe with Iowa’s Spencer Lee at 125 pounds and have a chance to score for his team.
Lee will remain the heavy favorite to win, but this will likely be the closest match he’ll see over the rest of Iowa’s regular season. Wisconsin also boasts a potential national champion at 149 pounds in Austin Gomez.
He’s currently ranked No. 2 nationally in his weight class and represents a great measuring stick for Max Murin. The same holds at 165, where Dean Hamiti is likely the best the Big Ten has to offer. Hamiti gave All-American Alex Marinelli all he wanted last year in Iowa’s dual with Wisconsin before succumbing in an 8-5 defeat. With Marinelli now graduated, Hamiti becomes the favorite to win at 165.
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) December 29, 2022
Jan. 27: At Penn State
Wrestling duals don’t get bigger than this matchup with the Nittany Lions. Ever since Cael Sanderson took over in University Park, Penn State has become the gold standard for wrestling in both the Big Ten and the country as a whole. The Nittany Lions own nine of the past 11 national championships, with only Ohio State in 2015 and Iowa in 2021 stopping their run of dominance.
This was only dual Iowa lost in 2021, and it’s highly probable that both teams will come into this matchup undefeated. Penn State already took down Wisconsin and owns a 22-12 win over No. 3 Iowa State, which shows just how powerful the Nittany Lions remain as a whole.
To win, Iowa’s going to have to get a fair share of decisions and keep its losses to just three points scored for Penn State whenever possible. Last year’s meeting featured nothing beyond a major decision, and each side only scored one of those.
Iowa’s going to have a hard time doing that at 174 pounds, where Carter Starocci remains a force and the likely national champion when all is said and done. Last year, Iowa had Michael Kemerer at 174, and Starocci edged Kemerer 2-1 in a match that came down to the final whistle. But Iowa hasn’t found a strong replacement for Kemerer at 174 yet, while Starocci remains the top wrestler in the weight class.
Iowa will have to counter with getting a major decision or better at 125 from Spencer Lee. Lee missed this dual last year, allowing Penn State to score its one major decision courtesy of Drew Hildebrandt. But Hildebrandt graduated, and like Iowa at 174, Penn State hasn’t found a real replacement for him.
The Nittany Lions don’t have a ranked wrestler at 125, making it one of the few areas where Penn State has a weakness. With Lee ranked No. 1 nationally, his match represents a big opportunity for Iowa to score.
The matches everyone will want to watch come at the heaviest classes. At 184, Abe Assad pushed top-ranked Aaron Brooks and Jacob Warner gave a credible effort against No. 2 Max Dean at 197. If Iowa can split those two matches, it would go a long way toward the Hawkeyes winning the dual.
At 285, Tony Cassioppi came up with a big win over higher-ranked Greg Kerkvliet, and both wrestlers are undefeated at the time of this writing.
Kerkvliet might have taken a loss by then, as he has to wrestle No. 1 Mason Parris of Michigan before facing Cassioppi, but this is one of the most intriguing matches of the dual. So is 141, where neither No. 2 Real Woods of Iowa nor No. 6 Beau Bartlett of Penn State have taken a loss. Neither competed in last year’s dual, making this a truly unknown matchup.
2 matches, 2 falls for Mad Max!
— Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling (@Hawks_Wrestling) December 29, 2022
Feb. 10: Vs. Michigan
The final matchup of the Big Ten regular season is full of intrigue. Michigan tied Iowa State for third in the most recent NCAA team rankings, and the Wolverines have been trying to kick the door in at the Big Ten level.
Michigan’s not really the type of team that overwhelms its opponents with sheer talent, save for Mason Parris at 285. The Wolverines are more likely to beat teams by mitigating damage because of their depth. They scrap at every weight class and make teams work for their results, which makes them very difficult to beat in a dual situation.
They also get to host the Big Ten Championships this season and is the defending conference champion (even though Penn State won the national title last year), so this will be a good proving ground for Iowa before the two most important weekends of the season. The Hawkeyes will also face Oklahoma State in a dual for their senior night, but this one represents the last true test from the Big Ten before March.
March 4, Big Ten Championships and March 16, NCAA Championships
These are quite simply where Iowa is judged year after year, and it’s exactly where the Hawkeyes want to be. The Big Ten Championships will be viewed as a warmup for what takes place in Tulsa, where a Big Ten team will be expected to lift the trophy for the 16th consecutive time.
Most likely, Iowa will use the Big Ten Championships to shore up any potential weaknesses and figure out where they might be able to make some improvements before the real final exam.
Taking the crown back from Penn State certainly won’t be easy, but Iowa’s got the best chance of anyone to do it and will get more than its fair share of tests along the way to help them try to scale Mount Nittany Lion.