The makeover of the Iowa wrestling lineup continues, this time with a departure. In somewhat surprising news, Joey Gunther is leaving Iowa City to finish up his college wrestling career, as first reported by our pals at IAWrestle:
Hawkeye Joey Gunther Transferring out of Iowa
— IAwrestle (@IAwrestle) June 3, 2018
Gunther, an Illinois native from Libertyville, Illinois, is headed to the University of Illinois to complete his career; he has two years of eligibility remaining (but no redshirt) and will be eligible to compete immediately, so far as I know. His departure comes as a bit of a surprise because he was effectively a regular starter for Iowa over the past two seasons. Gunther started 14 duals at 165 lbs in the 2016-17 season (going 10-4) and went 1-2 at the Big Ten Tournament and 2-2 at the NCAA Tournament. Last year Gunther bumped up to 174 lbs and started 12 duals in the 2017-18 season (going 10-2) and went 3-3 at the Big Ten Tournament (placing sixth) and 0-2 at the NCAA Tournament.
Gunther was challenged for the starting job last year by Kaleb Young (who started three duals at 174 lbs last season) and there was some expectation that Young would move up to 174 lbs full time to challenge Gunther for the starting spot there this season. While Gunther had the experience edge and a solid record, he had come up short against the tougher opponents at the weight and showcased an overly conservative style in several of his matches. Just 10 of his 36 wins (27%) over the past two seasons featured bonus points and most of those came against severely overmatched opposition. It was far more common to see Gunther wrestle very tight, low-scoring matches decided on a single takedown. He could be effective in that style -- it's still fairly mindblowing to consider that he won three matches at the Big Ten Tournament despite recording all of one takedown in all of those matches combined -- but it's hardly a formula for sustained success. It was also pretty hard to watch, to be frank. Gunther got the nod over Young for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments largely because he beat him at wrestle-offs before the season and before the postseason, but it's awfully hard to argue that he did enough in those postseason performances to cement his spot in the lineup.
Gunther's decision to transfer also adds fuel to the rumor that Michael Kemerer is moving up in weight -- from 157 lbs all the way up to 174 lbs for this coming season. There has been some chatter that the cut down to 157 was becoming untenable for Kemerer and if he can handle the weight, he could be a very intriguing option at 174 for Iowa. (165 is likely not much of a consideration because Alex Marinelli has settled in well there and seems well-suited to that weight; Kemerer's frame seems to lend itself to 174 more than Marinelli's does.) If Kemerer is indeed moving up to 174 lbs, then Gunther's days as the starter there were likely numbered, which makes his decision to move on a bit more understandable. Kemerer's move would free up the 157 lb spot, but cutting that much weight may not be feasible (or desirable) for Gunther; adding weight to go to 184 might also be have been undesirable.
Regardless of the movement this offseason at Iowa's middleweights, one thing is clear: Joey Gunther won't be a part of the musical chairs at those weights. He's headed to Champaign to wrap up his career. He could be a frustrating figure to watch at times, given his very conservative approach from neutral, but we certainly respect his effort and the two seasons of competition for Iowa. And we'll definitely miss the Gunther-stache. Thanks for the memories, Joey, and good luck at Illinois (except when you're facing an Iowa wrestler, of course).