The crown jewel of Iowa wrestling's 2018 recruiting class is Illinois heavyweight Anthony Cassioppi and he's been living up to the hype lately. After polishing off his high school career with a 50-0 record and a second consecutive state championship (achieved in a state tournament run in which he never had to wrestle into the third period), Cassioppi has been competing on the summer freestyle and Greco Roman circuits in his age group. And he's been doing quite well.
After capturing a national championship at the Junior Folkstyle National Championships in March with four first-period pins and a 3-1 win in the finals, Cassioppi continued his dominant run in Fargo last week. First, at the Junior Freestyle National Championships, Cassioppi blitzed the field with three pins and three technical falls on his way to a second-straight freestyle championship, earning Outstanding Wrestler honors in the process. Then, a few days later, he romped to a title at heavyweight in Greco Roman to complete the triple crown, winning in the finals with an 11-0 technical fall. Not too shabby. And, oh yeah, it was the second straight year that he's been a triple crown champion.
The only other wrestler to become a two-time triple crown champion? You've probably heard of him: stellar Michigan heavyweight Adam Coon (who wrapped up his college career this past March). That's pretty good company for Cassioppi to be in, I'd say. If Cassioppi has a college career as good as Coon's, we'll be in for a treat.
Unfortunately, like Coon, Cassioppi may have to deal with a freakishly talented phenom for most of his career. Coon ended up with no NCAA championships (two runner-up finishes) and no Big Ten titles (two more runner-up finishes) mainly because his career unfortunately overlapped with those of N.C. State's Nick Gwiazdowski and (of course) Ohio State supernova Kyle Snyder, two of the best heavyweights to hit the college scene in the past 30+ years. Cassioppi will have to deal with incoming Minnesota freshman Gable Steveson, who projects to be the dominant force at heavyweight for the next four years. Steveson has absolutely laid waste to all comers at the prep ranks for the last few years (171 straight wins, 4x Minnesota state champion, 2x cadet world champion, 1x junior world champion) and while college heavyweights will be a step up in terms of size, strength, and savviness, his skills are breathtaking. (He's also had success against Cassioppi on the freestyle circuit, most recently dispatching him 12-2 in just over two minutes at the Freestyle Team Trials in May.)
But that's something to worry about down the road. For now, we celebrate Cassioppi and his recent excellence -- excellence that may be making it to the Iowa lineup sooner rather than later. The initial plan was for Cassioppi to redshirt during the 2018-19 and step in as Sam Stoll's replacement beginning with the 2019-20 season. However, with the the condition of Stoll's knee still murky following last month's gun incident, there's a chance that Cassioppi's services might be needed sooner than expected and that he could become the second true freshman starter at Iowa under Tom Brands in as many years. Whether that happens or not is dependent on the health of Stoll's knee, which is a mystery at this point. Still, after the show that Cassioppi has put on over the past few months, there's no denying that we're excited to see him compete in an Iowa singlet, whether that's this year or next. Congratulations on another phenomenal triple crown run, Anthony.