By Taylor McNitt
This evening marks the beginning of Big Ten competition for the Hawkeye wrestlers.
The questions remains: Are the Hawkeyes ready for it?
“It’s early and we are excited,” head coach Tom Brands said. “One week ago, we were better than we were two weeks ago, and this week we’re better than we were last week.”
The question of readiness has been a consistent question for the wrestling program this year, and it’s no surprise. The lineup is younger than it has been recently; losing five All-Americans to graduation hurts.
Despite these concerns, the wrestlers voice the same rhetoric as their coach, even with the added preparation.
“We’re ready for it,” Brandon Sorensen said.
No. 15 Illinois, though on the losing end of the record it shares with Iowa, brings to the table a challenge that won’t be simply swatted aside.
“[Illinois has] a team that they believe in, their coach is a Hawkeye, and it’s a challenge every step of the way,” Brands said. “It’s legit, it counts, so this will carry more weight than a Midlands match. It’s supposed to, anyway.”
The Illini tout sophomore Travis Piotrowski, whom Intermat ranked No. 13 at 125, freshman Dylan Duncan, No. 20 at 133, senior Kyle Langenderfer, No. 17 at 157, senior Isaiah Martinez, No. 2 at 165, and junior Emery Parker, No. 12 at 184.
Justin Stickley at 125, senior Phillip Laux at 133, sophomore Michael Kemerer, whom Intermat-ranked No. 3 at 157, redshirt freshman Kaleb Young or No. 14 redshirt freshman Alex Marinelli at 165, and junior Mitch Bowman at 184 will round out Iowa’s competitors against Illinois.
According to the rankings, Kemerer shouldn’t have any problem defeating his ranked opponent, and Sorensen, sophomore Cash Wilcke, and junior Sam Stoll should down their opponents at 149, 197, and 285.
But for the rest, the story will be a little less predictable.
Despite the odds for the outranked wrestlers, Brands isn’t too worried.
“It’s an opportunity to improve our seed, improve our rankings against guys who might be higher ranked than us,” he said. “It’s an opportunity against a good team, and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
Even this early in the season, the wrestlers are thinking about the end goal: seeding.
“It’s another [opportunity] right in front of us; our opponents are probably getting a little better, [so] we’ve got to get up for it,” Sorensen said. “Seeds are huge, where you’re going to be in the bracket. You always want that No. 1 seed. You’ve got to get up for every match just like it’s the national championship, get where you want to be.”
Even with goals of going undefeated, Kemerer took a more realistic look at his upcoming match, even if he’s the very likely winner.
“The one thing I think about at the D-1 level [is that] you’re not going to run across any easy opponent,” he said. “I’m getting ready for this kid like I’m getting ready for any other match and focusing on not letting guys score on me right off the bat like I’ve done in past matches. It’s your own game. If you play someone else’s game, there’s not a great chance that you’re going to win.”