Iowa Cruises to Midlands Title, But Questions Remain

By RossWB on December 31, 2018 at 12:06 pm
go bull go

Iowa cruised to a 28th Midlands team championship on Sunday, a result that was fully expected. The Hawkeyes were the best team by far in the Midlands field and they were heavy favorites to continue their recent Midlands dominance as a result. So the fact that they scored 184 points and won Midlands by 64.5 points is nice, but doesn't tell us all that much. 

The bigger issue for Iowa surrounding Midlands was how Iowa would look as we prepare for the second half of the season. Due to injuries, illness, and other ailments we hadn't really seen Iowa's best possible team on the mat very much (if at all) in the early portion of the season. Unfortunately, the answers we got about this Iowa team after Midlands range mostly from incomplete to discouraging, with a few happy exceptions. 

Iowa entered the finals with six wrestlers; they ended the night with two champions. Neither of those two champions were one of the two Iowa wrestlers to earn #1 seeds at Midlands; Sam Stoll medically forfeited out of the tournament after winning his first two matches, while Spencer Lee was surprisingly upset in the finals by Northwestern's Sebastian Rivera. *checks notes* Yes, that's correct: Spencer Lee lost. And it wasn't particularly close, either -- Rivera beat him 7-3 by recording three takedowns in the first two periods. 

Happier results in the finals came from Austin DeSanto at 133 lbs and Alex Marinelli at 165 lbs. DeSanto finished off his very strong showing here with a dominant 15-5 major decision win over Campbell's Noah Gonser, his fifth bonus point win of the tournament. Marinelli beat Wisconsin's Evan Wick 4-3 in the final, avenging one of his most embarrassing losses from a season ago (Wick beat him 16-3 in the consolation bracket at the NCAA Tournament) and toppling the #2 ranked wrestler in the nation. That was a tremendous win for Marinelli. It was also (unfortunately) something of a rarity for Iowa at this event: a win over a ranked opponent. Iowa went just 10-10 against ranked opponents at Midlands, with many of those wins being against wrestlers already ranked lower than their Iowa counterparts. Outside of a few weights, the field at Midlands lacked high-end competition to really give us a chance to see how Iowa stacks up in the national race. 

125: #1 Spencer Lee (4-1, 2nd place)
R1: W, FALL (2:34) UN Malik Heinselman (Ohio State - unattached)
R2: W, TECH FALL (17-0) #16 Bryce West (Northern Illinois)
QF: W, TECH FALL (18-0) #9 Drew Hildebrandt (Central Michigan)
SF: W, DEC (12-6) #4 Patrick Glory (Princeton)
FIN: L, DEC (7-3) #2 Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern)

125: Perez Perez (0-2, DNP)
R1: L, DEC (4-2) UN Justin Cardani (Illinois - unattached)
CON: L, DEC (9-4) King Sandoval (Maryland - unattached)

Lee's loss to Rivera was the shocker of the tournament and the most alarming thing is that it didn't look particularly fluky -- Rivera had a smart gameplan (stay out of Lee's reach for the most part, then shoot in purposefully and finish quickly) and he executed it well. Kudos to him and the Northwestern coaches for that. Lee looked a bit tentative and Rivera made him pay. The good (?) news is that there should be ample opportunities for Lee to get his win back -- he should see Rivera at the Iowa-Northwestern dual later this year and likely at the Big Ten Tournament (and, potentially, the NCAA Tournament as well). He was 2-0 against Rivera last year and he's still breathtakingly good... but he's not infallible. His match with Glory also exposed the same weakness in the bottom position that Iowa State's Alex Mackall exploited at the dual earlier this year. There are some tough riders at 125, so Lee will need to work on getting out from bottom as he gears up for the postseason. 

133: #2 Austin DeSanto (5-0, 1st place)
R1: W, FALL (2:16) UN Honor Nguyen (SIU Edwardsville - unattached)
R2: W, TECH FALL (22-4) UN Devan Turner (Oregon State)
QF: W, MAJ DEC (13-3) UN Doug Zapf (Penn)
SF: W, DQ #3 Dylan Duncan (Illinois)
FIN: W, MAJ DEC (15-5) #4 Noah Gonser (Campbell)

133: UN Paul Glynn (4-2, 5th place)
PIG: W, DEC (1-0) #8 Derek Spann (Buffalo)
R1: W, DEC (2-0) UN Michael Cullen (Wisconsin)
R2: W, DEC (3-1) #9 Josiah Kline (Arizona State)
QF: W, DEC (4-0) UN Hunter Kosco (Brown)
SF: L, DEC (1-0) #4 Noah Gonser (Campbell)
CON: L, MAJ DEC (11-3) #9 Josiah Kline (Arizona State)
CON: W, MED FFT #3 Dylan Duncan (Illinois)

DeSanto had one of the best tournaments of any Iowa wrestler at Midlands -- not only was he one of two wrestlers to leave with a title, he also scored bonus points in every match. (He earned a DQ from Dylan Duncan in the semifinals by drawing five stalling calls on Duncan in a period and a half.) DeSanto mowed through the field here; no one could keep up with his tempo. He looked solid in all positions; he's gone for a lot of takedown clinics early in the season, but he rode well here and even turned a few guys and got a pin. That's the good news. The caveat to all that is that he didn't face a very daunting field, especially once Nathan Tomasello was forced to drop out of the tournament due to injury; DeSanto was clearly the best guy in the 133 lb bracket at that point. He beat only one other ranked wrestler (Duncan). DeSanto did what he was supposed to do against a lesser field, but we still need to see more of him against top guys at 133 to know what his ceiling is at this weight this season. 

Shout-out to Paul Glynn, who was one of the nicer surprises of the tournament, making a run to the semis at this weight. Like DeSanto, he benefited from a weakened field (and Tomasello's absence was particularly beneficial for him, as he would have faced NaTo in the Round of 16 otherwise), but he took care of business through four matches. He beat two wrestlers seeded higher than him and narrowly missed out on a teammate vs teammate clash in the finals with DeSanto. That'll do.

141: #2 Max Murin (4-1, 2nd place)
R1: W, FALL (2:56) UN James Pawelski (Brown)
R2: W, DEC (6-4) UN Corey Shie (Army)
QF: W, DEC (6-1) UN Alexander McKenna (Northwestern)
SF: W, MAJ DEC (8-0) UN Michael Blockhus (UNI - unattached)
FIN: L, DEC (5-2) #1 Josh Alber (UNI)

141: #4 Vince Turk (2-2, DNP)
R1: W, MAJ DEC (16-3) UN Danny Bertoni (Maryland)
R2: W, MAJ DEC (8-0) UN PJ Ogunsanya (Army)
QF: L, DEC (5-4) #4 Yahya Thomas (Northwestern)
CON: L, DEC (5-3) #3 Tristan Moran (Wisconsin)

141: #11 Carter Happel (1-2, DNP)
R1: W, MAJ DEC (16-4) UN Chad Hay (Wildcat Wrestling Club)
R2: L, DEC (12-8) UN Marshall Keller (Princeton)
CON: L, DEC (8-6) UN Marcus Robinson (Buffalo - unattached)

141: UN Justin Stickley (0-2, DNP)
R1: L, DEC (7-4 OT) #9 Nathan Boston (Campbell)
CON: L, FALL (2:08) UN Lenny Petersen (Air Force)

Heading into Midlands, one of the questions I had was whether one of the current backups at 141 would put forth a breakout effort to challenge Murin's hold on the starting spot. The answer to that question is a pretty clear "no." Vince Turk looked good in his first two bouts, picking up a pair of major decision wins, but then suffered two narrow losses to end his tournament abruptly. Worse, his losses came against guys who are unranked or fringe Top 20 guys. Turk needed a big run here to state his case for unseating Murin and it just didn't happen. Likewise, Carter Happel had an outside chance at throwing his hat in the ring to start here, but he certainly needed to do better than 1-2 showing. 

Max Murin also put together a pretty solid run at this tournament, winning four in a row before falling to UNI's Josh Alber via a narrow 3-2 decision in the finals. Murin still needs to get to his offense more -- his match with Army's Shie was too close for comfort and only two of his four wins included bonus points. The Alber match was a good litmus test, because he's currently ranked near the bottom of the Top 10; Murin is likely going to have to beat guys like Alber (if not Alber himself) to make it on the podium in March. Based on his showing here, further improvement is needed for that to become a possibility, although the building blocks are in place. 

149: #5 Pat Lugo (5-2, 4th place)
PIG: W, FALL (4:23) UN Nicholas Villarreal (Arizona State)
R1: W, TECH FALL (15-0) UN Jake Bergeland (Minnesota)
R2: W, INJ DEF #12 Ryan Diehl (Maryland)
QF: W, INJ DEF #4 Joshua Heil (Campbell)
SF: L, DEC (7-4) #1 Matthew Kolodzik (Princeton)
CON: W, DEC (10-3) Jacori Teemer (Arizona State - unattached)
3rd: L, DEC (6-4 OT) #16 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State - unattached)

Lugo had a rocky start to the season this year, but he looked solid at Midlands. He ran through the competition early, picking up a pin and a 15-0 technical fall to kick things off. He then got fortunate by winning two straight matches when his opponent was unable to continue -- although he was also leading pretty comfortably in both bouts before his opponents got injured as well. His matches with Kolodzik and Sasso exposed one of his biggest weaknesses, though: an inability to finish shots against better opponents, particularly bigger, stronger, longer foes. He could get to the leg against both Kolodzik and Sasso, but he struggled to finish those shots; worse, they were often able to turn his shots into scoring opportunities for themselves. I think this was overall an improved performance from Lugo and we got a better glimpse of the potential he can bring, but until he can finish his attacks better, his ceiling appears a little lower than we'd like to see it. 

157: #2 Kaleb Young (5-1, 2nd place)
PIG: W, TECH FALL (17-0) UN Elijah Davis (Purdue)
R1: W, TECH FALL (16-0) UN Tracy Hubbard (Central Michigan - unattached)
R2: W, FALL (4:13) UN Isaiah Hokit (Fresno State)
QF: W, TECH FALL (15-0) #7 Luke Weiland (Army)
SF: W, DEC (9-2) UN Zach Hartman (Bucknell)
FIN: L, DEC (6-2) #1 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern)

157: #12 Jeren Glosser (8-2, 4th place)
PIG: L, DEC (4-3 OT) UN Jacob Wright (Fresno State)
CON: W, MAJ DEC (12-0) UN Jon Murphy (Omega Training Center)
CON: W, DEC (10-4) UN Conor Melbourne (Princeton)
CON: W, MAJ DEC (12-1) UN Davey Tunon (Indiana)
CON: W, DEC (5-1) UN Colten Carlson (South Dakota State)
CON: W, FALL (1:59) UN Kendall Coleman (Purdue - unattached)
CON: W, DEC (5-2) #7 Luke Weiland (Army)
CON: W, DEC (9-2) #3 J Vanbrill (Rutgers - unattached) 
CON: W, DEC (3-1 OT) #5 Eric Barone (Illinois)
3rd: L, DEC (8-3) UN Zach Hartman (Bucknell)

157: UN Keegan Shaw (3-2, DNP)
PIG: W, DEC (13-6) UN Anders Lantz (Wisconsin)
R1: L, MAJ DEC (16-5) #1 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern)
CON: W, TECH FALL (16-0) UN Elijah Davis (Purdue) 
CON: W, DEC (8-6) UN Mason Kauffman (Northern Illinois)
CON: L, DEC (10-8 OT) #6 Christian Pagdilao (Arizona State)

Prior to the finals, Young was looking like arguably the most impressive Iowa wrestler at Midlands. As was the case at many weights, the competition wasn't the fiercest (only Weiland was a ranked opponent), but Young was utterly dominant against it, picking up three technical falls, a pin, and a lopsided 9-2 decision in the semis. Young was finishing shots well, putting in monstrous rides from the top position, and completely controlling matches. That all came to a halt against Deakin in the finals and while there's no shame in losing to Deakin (clearly a top 3-4 guy at 157), it did suggest that Young has some work to do to ascend into some of the upper reaches at this weight. But this was still overall a very strong showing for him. 

Massive props to Jeren Glosser and the incredible run he went on through the consolation bracket here. After losing his opening round pigtail match by a narrow margin, Glosser fell into the wrestlebacks -- and promptly rattled off eight straight wins. Now that's some hustle and grind. Glosser also picked up a handful of wins over currently ranked opponents (Weiland, Barone, Vanbrill), which was very nice. He provides some very solid depth for Iowa at this weight. 

165: #2 Alex Marinelli (5-0, 1st place)
R1: W, FALL (6:33) UN Cael McCormick (Army)
R2: W, MAJ DEC (12-2) UN Dan Braunagel (Illinois - unattached)
QF: W, DEC (8-6 OT) #7 Jonathan Viruet (Brown)
SF: W, DEC (4-1) #3 Josh Shields (Arizona State)
FIN: W, DEC (4-3) #1 Evan Wick (Wisconsin) 

165: Jeremiah Moody (2-2, DNP)
PIG: W, DEC (6-4 OT) UN Emil Soehnlen (Purdue - unattached)
R1: L, DEC (7-4) UN Evan DeLuise (Penn)
CON: W, DEC (9-7 OT) Adam Kemp (Fresno State - unattached)
CON: L, DEC (7-0) UN Caden McWhirter (Northern Illinois)

Marinelli was Iowa's other champion at Midlands and, unlike DeSanto, he did have to beat some strong competition to earn that honor. The Bull bested three ranked opponents, including two ranked in the Top 10 (Shields, Wick). Wick was ranked #2 in the country and had a previous blowout win over Marinelli (a 16-3 win from the NCAA Tournament last year). Marinelli's ability to turn that defeat around was very impressive; he looked much better prepared for Wick's incredible length this time and used his strength and explosiveness to finish two takedowns in the first period. He still needs to work on getting an escape from under Wick's tangle of limbs (although the stall calls he got dinged for in the second seemed a little dubious, given that he was often working to escape and Wick was doing little to improve his position much of the time) and he needed to be a bit more active in the third period. But overall, this was a nicely-wrestled match from Marinelli against a very tough opponent. An inability to escape also dogged Marinelli a bit against Viruet, so that's definitely an area of his game he'll want to work on over the next few months. 

174: #8 Mitch Bowman (2-2, DNP)
PIG: W, FALL (3:26) UN Devon Sievers (South Dakota State)
R1: W, MAJ DEC (11-3) UN Leonardo Tarantino (Harvard)
R2: L, DEC (6-4) #9 Willie Scott (Rutgers)
CON: L, DEC (10-7) #14 Andrew Morgan (Campbell)

Seeing Bowman's debut at 174 lbs was another thing I was looking forward to seeing at Midlands, but the results were mixed. He picked up two wins and scored bonus in both, but then he suffered back-to-back losses to swiftly end his tournament. Neither Scott nor Morgan are particularly accomplished opponents (neither is ranked), so Bowman will need to up his game if he hopes to make noise in March this year. One thing he definitely needs to work on is not exposing himself to back points; he was a little too loose at times in several of his matches here, which enabled opponents to reverse him or expose his back for nearfall points. Bowman's ability (and willingness) to cut down to 174 is hugely commendable, but further improvement is needed if he's going to provide Iowa with point-scoring potential. 

184: #2 Cash Wilcke (5-1, 2nd place)
PIG: W, FALL (6:41) UN Peter Acciardi (Buffalo - unattached)
R1: W, DEC (5-0) UN Anthony Pedro (Brown)
R2: W, DEC (2-0) UN Kyle Jasenski (Maryland)
QF: W, DEC (4-1) UN Cade Belshay (Arizona State - unattached)
SF: W, DEC (8-2) #6 Mason Reinhardt (Wisconsin)
FIN: L, DEC (3-2) #1 Drew Foster (UNI)

Wilcke picked up five straight wins to make the finals at 184 lbs, but, in true Wilcke-like fashion, just one of those wins included bonus points. He's never going to be an explosive, high-tempo point scorer, even at his more natural weight of 184 lbs, but too often he waits until the third period to start uncorking shots and going on the attack. He didn't do that against Reinhardt and was rewarded with a takedown in each period; that match would be a great blueprint for Wilcke to try and follow going forward. Much as l'd like to see bonus points and big wins, I'd settle for just seeing more comfortable decision wins from Wilcke, instead of sweating over 1- and 2-point decisions. 

197: #2 Jacob Warner (3-2, 5th place)
R1: W, MAJ DEC (13-3) UN Sam Schuler (Buffalo)
R2: W, DEC (6-1) UN Matt Wroblewski (Illinois)
QF: L, TECH FALL (19-3) UN Tanner Sloan (South Dakota State - unattached)
CON: W, DEC (5-3) UN Beau Breske (Wisconsin - unattached)
CON: W, FALL (5:59) #10 Josh Hokit (Fresno State)
CON: L, DEC (5-3) #4 Rocco Caywood (Army)
5th: W, MED FFT #8 Thomas Lane (Cal Poly)

197: UN Connor Corbin (1-2, DNP)
R1: L, MAJ DEC (12-4) #1 Patrick Brucki (Princeton)
CON: W, FALL (4:40) UN Steven Mercadante (Franklin & Marshall)
CON: L, DEC (2-1 OT) #11 Drew Phipps (Bucknell)

Until Lee's loss to Rivera, Warner's blowout defeat to Tanner Sloan in the quarterfinals was the surprise of the tournament. And it might still be a bigger shock: Rivera is legitimately the 2nd best 125er in the country, so it's not completely stunning that he could beat Lee, even as good as Spencer is. Sloan, on the other hand, is an unheralded true freshman from small-town Iowa -- and he absolutely wrecked a guy who was a coveted Top 10 overall recruit a few seasons ago. Recruiting rankings don't mean a ton once college careers start, but still. Warner didn't look all that sharp in his wins before the Sloan loss (he took a while to get going in the win over Wreblowski), but nothing led me to expect a complete whupping. Sloan took Warner down a few times and blew the match open with a few tilts in the second period. Warner rebounded to some extent in the consolation bracket, but simply put he needs to wrestle much, much better in order for him (and Iowa) to have any hope of achieving their goals this season. That starts with wrestling with more fire, showing more attacking intent early in matches, finishing shots well, and maintaining pressure from beginning to end. 

285: #1 Sam Stoll (2-0, DNP)
R1: W, FALL (1:58) UN Izaak Shedenhelm (UNI)
R2: W, DEC (3-1) UN Andrew Gunning (North Carolina)

285: #10 Tony Cassioppi (3-2, 7th place)
R1: W, FALL (2:20) Duece Rachal (Illinois)
R2: W, DEC (12-8) #7 AJ Nevills (Fresno State)
QF: L, MAJ DEC (11-3) #2 Jere Heino (Campbell - unattached)
CON: W, DEC (5-1) UN Andrew Gunning (North Carolina)
CON: L, FALL (0:43) #6 Matt Stencel (Central Michigan)
7th: W, MED FFT #4 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin) 

285: UN Aaron Costello (3-2, DNP)
R1: W, DQ UN James Valentino (Brown)
R2: L, FALL (3:26) #5 Mason Parris (Michigan - unattached)
CON: W, DEC (4-1) UN Ian Buttertbrodt (Brown)
CON: W, MAJ DEC (11-3) UN Blake Wolters (South Dakota State)
CON: L, FALL (1:12) #6 Matt Stencel (Central Michigan)

On the bright side, Sam Stoll got on the mat for a couple of matches and won both, including a pin inside two minutes. On the down side, he didn't look all that sharp in his 3-1 decision win over Gunning and he shut it down for the tournament after that. The only thing that matters with Stoll is having him healthy for March, but it's certainly alarming that he seems so rusty/limited at present. The Stoll we saw this weekend is certainly not a threat to make the podium in March, let alone vie for a national title. 

Meanwhile, this weekend also served as an opportunity to pump the brakes on the Tony Cassioppi hype train. After mauling overmatched opponents at open tournaments through the first two months of the season, Cassioppi hit his first patches of adversity at Midlands, scraping by a win over Fresno State's Nevills (not currently ranked), getting dominated by the redshirting Heino from Campbell, and then getting blitzed for a pin in under a minute by Stencel. Cassioppi remains a very exciting prospect, but Midlands made it clear that he still has a lot of development to do as well and a redshirt this season is definitely the best idea. 

So that's Midlands in the books. My overall grade for Iowa wrestling right now? Incomplete. They have a lot of work to do over the next two months. 

NEXT: at #9 Minnesota (7-1) on Sunday, January 13 (12 PM, BTN)

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