Welcome to The Weigh-In, our extensive preview of Iowa wrestling heading into the 2018-19 season. We'll be doing weight-by-weight previews for all ten weight classes, as well as some full team breakdowns -- and maybe a few extra goodies as well.
|Pat Lugo||JR (RS)||5-5 / 149|
|Keegan Shaw||JR (RS)||5-8 / 149|
|Aaron Meyer||JR (RS)||5-8 / 149|
|Zach Axmear||FR (RS)||5-8 / 149|
THE KNOWN QUANTITY (sort of)
Pat Lugo (5'5", 149 lbs, JR (RS), 69-20 overall (nice), 4th Midlands Championships (2017), 1st EWL Tournament (2017), 3rd EWL Tournament (2016))
Lugo is something of a known quantity, in that he has two years of starting experience and is a two-time NCAA qualifier... he's just not really a known quantity for us, since none of that experience came in an Iowa singlet. Lugo spent his first two seasons at Edinboro before transferring to Iowa in the summer of 2017. He redshirted last year while Brandon Sorensen finished up his Iowa career, but now the path is clear for Lugo to take over for the next two seasons.
Sorensen leaves some big shoes for Lugo to fill, though -- he was a four-time All-American, becoming the fourth Iowa wrestler of the Brands Era to accomplish that feat (behind Mark Perry, Derek St. John, and Cory Clark). He finished fourth, second, third, and fifth at the NCAA Tournament and had three runner-up finishes (and a third-place finish) at the Big Ten Tournament. The fact that he could never get the top spot on the podium at 149 had more to do with the presence of one Zain Retherford over the last three seasons and less to do with any particular failings on Sorensen's part. Regardless, Sorensen was a consistent winner for Iowa and routinely placed highly in the biggest events; the task for Lugo will be to match or better those results.
Lugo has been at the NCAA Tournament twice, making the Round of 12 as a freshman in 2016 before going 1-2 as a sophomore in 2017. The 2017 season was also when we first became acquainted with Lugo, as that was the year he sprung on upset on Sorensen (7-5 in sudden victory) in the Iowa-Edinboro dual. Little did we know that a few months later he'd be transferring to Iowa and that around 20 months later he'd be suiting up in black and gold as Sorensen's replacement. Lugo didn't wrestle much last year -- he actually only competed at Midlands, where he went 6-2 and finished 4th. He lost to Arizona State's Josh Maruca and Northwestern's hulking Ryan Deakin at that event, but did record wins over North Carolina's Austin O'Connor (who went 20-3 while redshirting last year and is ranked #15 to start the year by Flowrestling) and Princeton's Matthew Kolodzik, the consensus #1 guy at 149 to start the season. Lugo has talent, no question, but we need to see what he can do on a consistent basis.
IN THE WAITING ROOM
Keegan Shaw (5'8", 149 lbs, JR (RS), 22-9 overall)
Aaron Meyer (5'8", 149 lbs, JR (RS), 19-15 overall)
Zach Axmear (5'8", 149 lbs, FR (RS), 3-4 overall)
Shaw and Meyer are both juniors who have wrestled sparingly for Iowa over the last three seasons, exclusively in tournaments. In fact, it's fair to wonder if they would be options at 149 given that Shaw wrestled last season at 157 and Meyer wrestled last season at 141. I included them here because Iowa's official roster lists them both at 149, but that's hardly gospel. (That same roster lists Jeren Glosser at 149, for instance, but it sounds far more likely that he'll be vying for the starting job at 157.) The official roster also lists Axmear, a redshirt freshman who went 3-4 last year, at 149, although he wrestled all season at 157 last year. Any of these three may be available to pinch hit for Lugo on a spot start here and there if he needs to sit for rest or a minor injury, but I wouldn't expect to see them any more than that. They'll likely be busiest once again competing unattached in tournaments.
It's also likely that none of these three are the future at 149 lbs after Lugo. It's more likely that Lugo's replacement isn't currently in the Iowa room yet -- or, if he is, he's wrestling at a different weight (Max Murin, currently at 141 lbs, has been oft-discussed as an option to slide up to 149 and replace Lugo in a few years). Either way, this is very much the Pat Lugo Show for the next few seasons; the identity of the starter beyond that is very unclear.
STANDING IN THE WAY
Few weights this year have seen as much turnover as 149, which is returning just three All-Americans from last season -- Kolodzik, Missouri's Grant Leeth (6th) and Oklahoma State's Boo Lewallen (8th). The most significant absence from this weight is, obviously, Penn State's Zain Retherford, who dominated this weight to an extent scarcely imaginable. He won three straight NCAA titles and three straight Big Ten titles and, oh yeah, he never lost a match at 149 lbs. Retherford started his career at 141 lbs, then took a redshirt; when he came back he was at 149 and unstoppable, winning his next 94 consecutive matches, over 85% of them via bonus points. He was as untouchable a champ as we've had at any weight in recent years.
Kolodzik is the top returnee; he finished 3rd at last year's NCAA Tournament and looks poised for a big year. That said, he's far from untouchable -- he lost six matches last year and he's not a bonus points maven (he scored bonus in just 31% of his 29 wins). Leeth and Lewallen are the other All-American returnees at this weight, who will be using the relative clear-out here to help them climb the ladder and vie for the top spot on the podium. Max Thomsen (UNI) and Justin Oliver (NC State, formerly of Central Michigan) will be two other guys from outside the Big Ten who will be vying for All-America honors (or better) this year.
The departure of Retherford (and Sorensen) has definitely left a vacuum at this weight in the Big Ten and it comes as little surprise that high-profile guys from other weights are moving in to try and fill that void, Ohio State's Micah Jordan and Rutgers' Anthony Ashnault. Jordan has bounced between 149 and 157 during his OSU career (and even spent a season at 141), but after spending last year up at 157 (where he finished 6th at the NCAA Tournament), he's moving back down to 149 to contend for top honors. His length could make him a tricky match-up for Lugo. Ashnault, a three-time All-American at 141, sat out all of last season while recovering from a knee injury and is moving up to 149 to complete his college career. If he's fully healthy, he looks like a solid favorite at this weight in the Big Ten.
|11/16/18||#1 Matt Kolodzik||Princeton||non-conf||Iowa City, IA|
|12/1/18||#12 Jarrett Degen||Iowa State||non-conf||Iowa City, IA|
|12/8/18||#17 Cortlandt Schuyler||Lehigh||non-conf||Iowa City, IA|
|1/13/19||#11 Tommy Thorn||Minnesota||B1G||Minneapolis, MN|
|1/18/19||#3 Anthony Ashnault||Rutgers||B1G||Iowa City, IA|
|2/8/19||#15 Alfred Bannister||Maryland||B1G||Iowa City, IA|
|2/17/19||#18 Cole Martin||Wisconsin||B1G||Madison, WI|
|2/24/19||#5 Boo Lewallen||Oklahoma State||non-conf||Stillwater, OK|
(all rankings via Flo)
Lugo is set to have eight matches against guys currently ranked in the Top 20 by Flo, but only three of those matches are against Top 10 opponents. The rest are guys that we should expect Lugo to beat if we expect him to seriously contend for All-America honors this year. He could face Kolodzik in Iowa's third dual of the season, which would be a very high-profile match-up and a give us a good early sense of where he stands with the top guys at this weight. Matches against Ashnault and Lewallen late in the year should give us a few more valuable data points about Lugo's ability. If he's able to hold his own against Kolodzik, Ashnault, and Lewallen (and he did beat Kolodzik at Midlands last year), then it's fair to consider Lugo right there with the title threats at this weight. If he struggles with them, then we'll likely need to re-adjust our expectations for him this ceiling.
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN
Lugo was good before he came to Iowa and obviously the hope is that after a year spent practicing in the Iowa room with the likes of Sorensen and Michael Kemerer that he's been able to take his game up a notch or two. Now it's time to get Lugo out there in a black singlet and see if that's the case. I think he finishes third in the Big Ten and makes the podium at the NCAA Tournament and right now I think a finish near the middle-to-back of the podium is more likely. Check with me again after we see how Lugo fares with Kolodzik and Ashnault during the regular season.