By James Geerdes
A rebuilding year.
For Iowa wrestling fans, rebuilding is not acceptable. The longtime powerhouse that is Iowa’s wrestling program has proven again and again that it doesn’t need to rebuild, it only adds power.
With 23 national championships and 34 Big Ten Titles under its belt, Iowa’s résumé has always been filled with talented squads.
But this year seems different.
In a dual meet against No. 15 Illinois, Iowa barely came out with a win. Head coach Tom Brands’ squad was slow and only won one bout with bonus points.
“We were struggling offensively,” Brands said. “And it doesn’t take a great wrestling mind to see that.”
Last season, Iowa finished fourth at the NCAA Championships, and new seasons always bring losses of players.
Rebuilding will be necessary.
“When you look at losing five All-Americans, five starters, when you look at the core of that, you know what?” Brands said. “We’re going to have to rebuild, and it’s all so — we have some really capable guys who come to work every single day the right way.”
But rebuilding Cory Clark, a national champion at 133, Thomas Gilman, last year’s 125-pound national semifinalist, and Sammy Brooks, who placed fourth at the NCAA Championships, is a tall task.
“It’s one of those things that the fans tend to focus on, and it goes across your mind,” 157-pound All-American Michael Kemerer said. “But a few of the things like that, it can be a motivator, but at the same time, it can sort of distract from what my goals are and just doing the best I can in every single match, every single practice, and being the best wrestler that I can be.” And Kemerer has done his part this year. But slack will need to be picked up if the Hawkeyes can rebuild last year’s successes. “Being in the same room as [Clark and Gilman], it’s not worrying about what they’ve done,” Kemerer said. “But it’s using what they’ve done
and it can help better you as a wrestler.”
Standing with Kemerer atop of Iowa’s current powers is senior 149-pound Brandon Sorensen. The All-American has finished third and fourth in the NCAA Championships.
Seventh-ranked Sam Stoll is anchoring Iowa as its heavyweight and has stepped up to challenge, earning a pin to beat Illinois on Dec. 1. Intermat has sophomore Cash Wilcke ranked 10th, and he’s posted a 5-0 record on the season.
But other weight classes are questionable. Redshirt freshman Alex Marinelli, a four-time Ohio state champion, should make his début at 165-pounds soon.
New faces dot Iowa’s lineup. Redshirt freshman Kaleb Young has filled in at 165 pounds. True freshman Justin Stickley is in the lineup at 125. Senior Phillip Laux is at 133 pounds after filling in for Clark last season and posting a 10-8 mark. Joey Gunther returns at 174 pounds this season, and Mitch Bowman is the go-to-guy at 184, after seeing action in seven duals last year.
Iowa has talent, but not all over the board as in the previous seasons, and in order to rebuild, the young talent must develop.
And young talent hardly describes the future potential that Brands has. Freshman 197-pounder Jacob Warner has dominated while wrestling unattached this season, and 125-pound freshman Spencer Lee was ranked the best pound-for-pound recruit of his class.
But they still have to rebuild. And Illinois proved it.
“We’re good wrestlers, and we have a young team that’s very developed and elite, and that’s a good thing,” Marinelli said.