The hits just keep coming. Thank god Cory Clark managed to finally win a national championship on Saturday night, because there hasn't been a whole lot else to cheer about when it comes to Iowa wrestling recently. First there was Sam Stoll suffering a second ACL tear (in the same knee) in less than a year, ending his season and throwing into question when he'd be available next year. Then Iowa finished third at the Big Ten Tournament. Then Spencer Lee, an Iowa commit and the top overall recruit in 2017, tore his ACL while trying to win his fourth straight state championship. Then there was Iowa's fourth place finish at the NCAA Tournament over the weekend (about which I'll be writing more shortly). And now this:
After a long and hard consideration I'm proud to announce I will be attending Penn State University! #Weare
— Gavin Teasdale (@Teasdale_Gavin) March 22, 2017
That's Gavin Teasdale, a 3-time Pennsylvania state champion and the #4 overall recruit in the Class of 2018 (per InterMat), giving his verbal commitment to Penn State, which is relevant to Iowa because almost 11 months ago exactly, he (along with Lee) gave his verbal commitment to Iowa. At the time, it was a major recruiting coup for Iowa, landing two Top-5 pound-for-pound recruits -- and from Penn State's backyard, no less. Now, not so much. (Just to clarify: Lee is a Class of 2017 recruit, has already signed his National Letter of Intent, and seems rock-solid with Iowa. So Iowa is still getting a major talent -- albeit one who will be rehabbing a torn ACL for the next 8-12 months -- just not two of them.)
Teasdale's commitment means that Penn State has verbal commitments from the wrestlers ranked #3 (Oregon 170 lber Travis Wittlake), #4 (Teasdale), and #5 (Arizona 126 lber Roman Bravo-Young) in InterMat's current Junior Top 50 ($). They also have a verbal commitment from the #14-ranked kid (Indiana 152 lber Joe Lee) and are heavy favorites to land the #2 ranked wrestler (California 285er Seth Nevills, the younger brother of current Penn State heavyweight starter, Nick Nevills). That... is quite a haul. (This after they "only" landed two overall Top 10 recruits in the Class of 2017.) The rich get richer and Penn State's place atop the sport looks even more entrenched.
It's certainly very disappointing to see Teasdale decommit (especially to go to Penn State) since it directly hurts Iowa's future prospects while aiding Penn State's own hopes -- but I can also understand the logic. Not only is Penn State the king of of the mountain right now, but they're his home-state steam; I'm sure there was a great deal of pressure from family and friends to stay closer to home. When Teasdale committed, the lure of Iowa's lightweight dominance (they've had a finalist at 133 lbs for five straight years and two of the last four champions) and the chance to work with legendary lightweight coaches like the Brands brothers and recent standouts like Matt McDonough (and Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark) seemed like strong reasons for a top lightweight to come to Iowa. And they still are compelling reasons -- just not compelling enough to say no to the championship parade in Happy Valley, it seems.
Former Iowa wrestler (and current North Carolina assistant coach) Tony Ramos also had some interesting comments about the nature of recruiting today:
My take on the recruiting and kids changing. If your unwilling to adapt to the new times then your going to be left behind.
— Anthony Ramos (@T_Ram133) March 22, 2017
@tchambers31 Football has adapted to recruit everyone, even your commits till signing day. Wrestling is heading that way.
— Anthony Ramos (@T_Ram133) March 22, 2017
Kirk Ferentz learned that lesson when it came to football recruiting; perhaps Tom Brands is learning it now when it comes to wrestling recruiting. Brands has updated and improved Iowa's recruitment in many ways over the last few seasons, but there may still be additional work to be done to make sure that commits stay in the fold. (That said, I can't confirm with any level of certainty how involved -- or not involved -- Brands and the Iowa staff was with Teasdale post-verbal commitment and there are certainly reasons to think that it would be difficult to hang on to him no matter what, given his proximity to Penn State and the extreme allure they have right now.)
For Iowa, the question now is where they turn next. The salt in the wound of this decision is that the commitment of Teasdale and Lee last year ended up costing Iowa verbal commitments from two other highly-regarded lightweights (California's Justin Meija, InterMat's #17 overall recruit in 2017, who ended up at Illinois and Illinois' Jason Renteria, InterMat's #39 overall recruit in 2017, who ended up at Nebraska). So over the last 12-18 months or so, Iowa has gone from having four commitments from highly-regarded lightweights to... one (Lee). That stings.
There are two silver linings for Iowa here, though. One, Iowa's track record with lightweights under Brands (at least at 125 and 133) is excellent -- over the last 11 years, Iowa has had nine All-Americans each at 125 and 133, as well as two national champions at each weight. They've achieved that success with Gilman, Clark, Ramos, and McDonough, all of whom were very good recruits, but not necessarily Top 10 overall blue chip prospects (Gilman and Clark were ranked in the 11-25 range and I believe Ramos and McDonough were ranked in the 11-15 range as well). So Iowa doesn't necessarily need to have the bluest chip recruit at 125 or 133 to turn him into a star (though obviously it doesn't hurt one bit).
Two, the state of Iowa happens to have some very promising lightweight talent in the Class of 2018. Alex Thomsen, listed at 126 lbs, is a 3-time state champion from Underwood and is the #31-ranked overall prospect in InterMat's Top 50 for 2018. Brody Teske, listed at 120 lbs, is a 3-time state champion from Fort Dodge and is the #36-ranked overall prospect in InterMat's Top 50 for 2018. I'd guess both guys will be getting a lot more attention from Iowa in the wake of Teasdale's decommitment.
That said, there's an arms race in wrestling recruiting and right now Penn State is winning it in a landslide. The foundation of Penn State's recent run of dominance has been their acquisition of multiple Top-10 overall talents and they just keep adding more and more to the mix. Iowa has made inroads on that front in recent years, landing Kemerer in the Class of 2015 (#8 overall), Alex Marinelli in the Class of 2016 (#2 overall), and Lee (#1 overall) and Jacob Warner (#7 overall). That's good, but then you realize Penn State is likely going to be adding that many Top-10 overall recruits in their 2018 class alone and it shows how much work there still is to do. Hopefully Iowa can get in on some of the remaining Top-10 overall recruits in 2018; there have been a few links between Iowa and 145 lber Sammy Sasso (#7 overall) and they should certainly be kicking the tires on 126 lber Joey Silva (#9 overall) after Teasdale's decommitment.
But yeah: the rich get richer and Iowa's future prospects take a hit. Sigh.