By James Geerdes
Three years ago, Sam Stoll came into Iowa’s wrestling program with one goal: to win a national championship. Since then, he’s had a few setbacks.
The heavyweight’s career has been riddled with injuries. A knee injury in his 2015-16 campaign kept Stoll out of the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments and required surgery that spring.
After an off-season of rehab, he returned to the lineup, seemingly back to speed, only to suffer another season-ending injury three weeks into his sophomore campaign when wrestling against No. 1 Oklahoma State. Stoll again was off of the mat for months.
This year, he is back.
The junior competed in Iowa’s wrestle-offs earlier this month and claimed a 2-0 decision over true freshman heavyweight Aaron Costello.
“He’s an anchor, literally and figuratively, and you know what, when you see his wrestle-off score was 2-0, his face doesn’t reflect what he’s thinking, but he’s fired up, and he’s moving forward,” head coach Tom Brands said.
The junior topped Costello with a brace on his left leg, a sign of last season’s injury. That brace, though, did not demonstrate any sign of immobility.
“I felt good,” Stoll said. “My shape was fine. I didn’t really get that tired. My timing was a little off, but he gave me a good feel. The score wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but I got a good feel, and it was good to get out there.”
Stoll, who was ranked as high as No. 5 last season, is an essential part of Iowa’s lineup. The heavyweight was the lone competitor for Iowa in the weight class last season, and he was replaced by Steven Holloway, a listed 197-pounder, after his injury.
This season, Costello, a heavyweight from Western Dubuque, follows Stoll. Undoubtedly, if Stoll were injured again, Costello’s redshirt would be lifted, and he would begin his competitive campaign as a Hawkeye.
However, Stoll is far from finished.
“[I’m focusing on] staying healthy and peaking at the right time,” Stoll said. “I need to peak at the right time, you know, peaking at the end of the year. If I can stay healthy this year, then my shape and my wrestling will come along, and I think I can do some big things in March.”
Teammate and All-American Michael Kemerer agreed with Stoll’s goal for March.
“We’re focusing on building toward the end of the year, so obstacles would be being ready to go every week, no letdowns, working to get better as the year goes on,” Kemerer said.
Building for March’s competition has always been Stoll’s work ethic.
“My goal is the same since it was the first day I came into this program,” Stoll said. “It’s to win a national title. That goal is never going to change and it’s what our program is built around.”
His plan for this season starts at the Iowa City Duals, the Hawkeyes’ home-opener.
“My plan is to go [to the Iowa City Duals],” Stoll said. “Everything is a day-by-day, week-by-week basis. I feel good. I think the coaches feel good on where I’m at. I plan on wrestling.”