The "off-season" in wrestling is anything but, if we're being honest -- in reality, there's a pretty steady stream of events from the conclusion of the high school (and college) seasons in February and March until those seasons resume again in November and December. At the pre-college level, the Junior Freestyle and Greco Roman National Championships, held each year in Fargo, North Dakota, are some of the biggest events around. And some future Iowa wrestlers did very well at this year's Junior Freestyle National Championships.
Two future Hawkeyes, Patrick Kennedy and Abe Assad, earned national championships at Fargo by putting together hugely impressive runs at their respective weights. Kennedy went 7-0 at 170 lbs and saying he won all seven matches really underscores how good he was. He was absolutely dominant, as just one of his seven wins even went to the second period (a 9-5 win in the semifinals). He won his other six matches in first period technical falls (though it's worth remembering that a technical fall in freestyle means winning by 10 points, not 15 points as is the case in folkstyle). Kennedy outscored his opponents 72-5 over his seven matches. Kennedy, a rising high school senior, is a Class of 2020 recruit and will be able to sign his Letter of Intent with Iowa this fall; he won't be on campus until the 2020-21 season.
Assad's wins weren't quite as dominant as Kennedy's -- but they weren't far off. He went 6-0 (he had a bye in the first round) at 182 lbs and outscored his six foes 57-6 and four of his technical fall wins came in the first period. What makes Assad's performance so impressive is that it came in what was widely regarded as the deepest and most challenging weight at this year's event. In his run to the title, Assad beat the wrestlers currently ranked #1, #3, and #5 by Flowrestling at 170 lbs. His finals win was the exclamation point on his triumph -- and sweet vindication, as he beat top-ranked Dustin Plott (an Oklahoma State recruit), 8-2. Plott beat Assad at the Junior National Duals in June, but Assad avenged that loss in impressive fashion in Fargo. With Plott going to Oklahoma State and Assad headed to Iowa, though, we could see many more tussles between them in the future. Assad, a Class of 2019 recruit, will be on campus at Iowa this fall, though he's expected to redshirt behind fifth-year senior Cash Wilcke at 184 lbs.
Two other Iowa recruits earned All-America honors as well. Southeast Polk wrestler Gabe Christensen went 7-2 and finished 5th at 220 lbs. Christensen made it to the finals before dropping a high-scoring 13-9 decision to fall into the consolation bracket. He won two matches there before losing again in the consolation semis, but managed to win his final match of the event in the 5th place bout. Minnesota wrestler Zach Glazier went 7-3 and finished 6th at the same brutally tough 182 lb weight class that Assad won. Glazier lost 7-0 in the Round of 16 to the #2 ranked wrestler at 182 (Rocky Elam), but rebounded with four straight wins in the consolation bracket, including a wild 11-10 win over #5 ranked John Pozanski. He lost in the consolation semifinals and again in the 5th place bout to finish 6th. Again, given the difficulty of that weight class, though, a podium finish is nothing to sniff at.
And while he's not an Iowa commit, Iowa recruiting target Drake Ayala had a dazzling display at Fargo. Ayala went 6-0 and won the national championship at 113 lbs, becoming the 66th Fargo national champion from Iowa, the most of any state. After winning an Iowa state championship in 3A this past season with a 43-0 record with pins or technical falls in 42 of those 43 wins, Ayala won a folkstyle national title in March, narrowly missed out on making the Cadet World Team, excelled at the Junior freestyle national duals (7-0), and put on an impressive show here at Fargo. Ayala is already a top target in the Class of 2021 and performances like this will only boost his stock further. His eligibility would also align nicely with Iowa's needs in the lower weights; he has two more years of high school remaining, but by 2021-22, Iowa will be looking for replacements for guys like Spencer Lee and Austin DeSanto at the lower weights; an in-state gem like Ayala could fit nicely at one of those spots. He'll be an interesting target to watch over the next several months.
Congratulations to Kennedy and Assad for their championships and to Christenson and Glazier for their solid showings. Full results are available here, courtesy of Todd Conner's indispensable Iowa Wrestling Fan blog. Showings like this give us plenty to get excited about when it comes to the future of Iowa wrestling.