By James Geerdes
Its roster boasts eight wrestlers ranked in the top 10. Four of the wrestlers hold the No. 1 spot, and it beat second-ranked Ohio State, 19-18, without Jason Nolf, its No. 1 157-pounder.
The challenge that lies in front of Iowa is the powerhouse program: Penn State, which has won six of the last seven National Championships.
But before the Nittany Lion’s hot streak? Iowa won three team championships in a row, from 2008-10. But since then, Iowa has been dormant to the likes of Penn State.
“They’re pretty good,” head coach Tom Brands said. “They’re resilient. They stayed in there [against Ohio State]. They’ve shown they can weather a storm.”
Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center will host three Pennsylvania-natives-turned-Hawkeyes: 125-pound true freshman Spencer Lee, 157-pound redshirt sophomore Michael Kemerer, and redshirt sophomore Kaleb Young will all return home. This will be the trio’s first time competing collegiately in the arena.
“Going back to Pennsylvania is good [because I get] to see family and friends,” Kemerer said. “They get a chance to see you wrestle, and I get to talk to them after the match. I owe a lot of my success, and being out here and everything, to the people I grew up with.”
Last year’s dual did not end in Iowa’s favor. Penn State won seven of the 10 bouts for a final score of 26-11. The team returns five of those seven for this year’s dual.
“Everyone’s had to wrestle and focus on their match,” Lee said. “If everyone does what he needs to do, then winning will come.”
Last weekend’s duals with Northwestern and Minnesota showed a promising Hawkeye squad.
Carter Happel at 141 upset Minnesota’s No. 10 Tommy Thorn with a last-second pin. The 141-pound spot has been contested throughout the season between Happel and sophomore Vince Turk.
“It’s wide open,” Brands said. “I think Happel showed us something … Both guys want the spot, you can see that. I don’t think anybodys shrinking from the task at hand or away from the challenge. I don’t think wrestle-off is the way to it right now. We’re going to have to go into the Penn State dual, and we’ll pick the guy that we think is the best matchup.”
Whoever gets the call at 141 will face eighth-ranked true freshman Nick Lee.
Matchups will undoubtedly be fun to good. Iowa’s No. 2 Brandon Sorensen will square off with No. 1 Zain Retherford. No. 7 Alex Marinelli will face No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph. No. 7 Cash Wilcke will face either No. 8 Anthony Cassar, Southern Scuffle Winner Shakur Rasheed, or three-time NCAA qualifier Matt McCutcheon. Iowa’s third-ranked heavyweight Sam Stoll will face sixth-ranked Nick Nevills.
Rankings don’t mean anything to Brands. When a dual is filled with some of the best wrestlers in the nation, anything could happen.
“A lot of times in matches like this and meets like this, where you got No. 1 versus No. 2, it’s who blinks first,” Brands said. “Even past results could be lopsided, but it’s who blinks first.”
With Big Tens under a month away, this will be Iowa’s last big chance to improve its rankings and get the top seeds at the tournament on March 3.
“We’re on the outside of that top two,” Brands said. “Ohio State put us there. Now we have another chance to assert ourselves.”