By Pete Ruden
At the NCAA Championships, Iowa had five All-Americans. And it could have just as many or more next year.
Of the five, only Brandon Sorensen will depart, leaving national champion Spencer Lee, Michael Kemerer, Alex Marinelli, and Sam Stoll with chances to earn spots on the podium.
But the absence of Sorensen will not be an easy thing for the Hawkeyes to adjust to.
In his time in a black and gold singlet, Sorensen was a four-time All-American who placed fourth, second, third, and fifth at the NCAAs.
While his production on the mat certainly isn’t easy to replace, neither is the leadership he provided. As the only senior in the starting lineup, Sorensen had plenty of experience and wisdom that came with his success that he could pass down to younger teammates.
Head coach Tom Brands said there was never any drama with Sorensen, noting that he was invaluable to the program and perfectly represented what the team is about.
His approach on and off the mat isn’t easily replicated.
“He’s real on top of everything, he’s real organized,” Iowa’s 157-pounder Kemerer said. “It’s just so business-like, his approach. He does everything the right way. If I’m trying to make a decision, I’ll always ask him, because I’m pretty confident in his decision-making.”
While Sorensen won’t be easy to replace, the Hawkeyes do have someone who could contribute right away at 149 pounds: Edinboro transfer Pat Lugo.
In his last season at Edinboro, Lugo qualified for the NCAA Championships, where he was the No. 8 seed.
He followed that up with a 7-2 record this year, competing unattached while he redshirted. He earned a fourth-place finish at the Midlands Championships, recording two pins in the process.
Iowa also has 197-pounder Jacob Warner and 141-pounder Max Murin coming off redshirt years. Warner posted a 15-4 record competing unattached this season, and Murin went 16-3. Both placed in the top six at Midlands and could have big impacts come the 2018-19 season.
Combine those three wrestlers with Iowa’s returning All-Americans, and the Hawkeyes could be a dangerous team.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Sorensen said. “We’ve got great recruits coming in. Obviously, you see some of these freshmen in the finals, that’s what you want. We’ve had some true freshmen, the redshirts who have had good years. Here’s the thing: You get a class like that, they push the older guys, too … These guys are freaking fighting tooth and nail for everything.”
Iowa placed third at NCAAs, which is certainly a step up from its fourth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships, but it is not where the wrestlers wanted to be.
The Hawkeyes finished with 97 team points, trailing first place Penn State by 44.5 and the second-place Buckeyes by 37.5.
While it was a good performance after a rough Big Tens and could be a sign of things to come, the Hawkeyes know there is work to be done.
“It’s not where we want,” Marinelli said. “We want to beat Ohio State and Penn State. We all know we can do it. Next year is the year. This year we didn’t get it done. I think our team, they believe in themselves. We can do it.”