THE WEIGH-IN 174: Return Of The Mike

By RossWB on November 20, 2019 at 5:36 pm
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© Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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Welcome to The Weigh-In, our extensive preview of Iowa wrestling heading into the 2019-20 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. 

Previously: 125 | 133 | 141 | 149 | 157 | 165 

Eligibility Remaining
Wrestler Year Ht/Wt. 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 2023-24
Michael Kemerer SR (RS)* 5-9 / 174          
Myles Wilson SO (RS) 5-9 / 174          
Tristan McDonald JR (RS) 5-11 / 174          

THE KNOWN QUANTITY

Michael Kemerer (5'9", 174 lbs, SR (RS)*, 84-8 overall, 0-0 (2018-19), 2x NCAA All-American)

Spencer Lee has taken the lion's share of the acclaim the last two seasons (for understandable reasons) and Alex Marinelli has made a lot of noise as well, but for all they've done to jump start Iowa's program and push Iowa towards contention for Big Ten and NCAA championships, neither of them was the first blue chip recruit to start that process at Iowa. The trailblazer in that regard was Michael Kemerer. He was the first domino to fall in Iowa's string of recruiting successes over the last 4-5 years, as well as the first big get out of the Young Guns wrestling club in Pennsylvania that's gone on to produce Iowa starters Spencer Lee, Kaleb Young, and Max Murin as well. He got the ball rolling for all of that -- and now he's back to try and push Iowa over the top in the title race. 

Aside from everything Kemerer has meant as a symbol of the program and a leader for the team, he's also just an exceptionally good wrestler -- and a very, very fun wrestler to watch, too. Kemerer uses his long-limbed frame to attack from distance and he has the motor to attack early and often from neutral. He's also dangerous on the mat, as his 15 career pins can attest. Michael Kemerer is a problem for opponents no matter where the action is. It's been a long time since we've seen Kemerer in action -- March 2018 -- and longer still since he's been healthy. Shoulder and knee injuries kept him out of action all of last season, but he looks fully fit now, based on the Kemerer who took the mat in Iowa's season opener last Sunday. Kemerer is also now much larger than he was the last time we saw him, having jumped two weights, from 157 to 174. That's a big jump in size, but he looked well-suited to his new weight on Sunday and if he doesn't have to worry about a draining weight cut, this could unlock a new, even better version of Kem -- a scary thought for the rest of the 174 lb division. 

The nice thing about the All-New, Even-Better Kemerer is that we should get to enjoy it for two seasons. While he's officially listed as a redshirt senior, it's considered extremely likely that the NCAA will grant him a sixth year of eligibility after this season. They've been more relaxed about doing so in recent years and he has a strong case after missing all of the 2018-19 season.

Kemerer was one of Iowa's best NCAA Tournament performers pre-injury, with a 3rd place finish as a redshirt freshman in 2017 and a 4th place finish as a sophomore in 2018, so it's definitely exciting to consider what the bigger, better Kemerer might be able to do in that setting this spring. He's also consistently been one of Iowa's best bonus point-getters, in the regular season and in tournament settings, so adding that extra oomph to Iowa's lineup is very welcome. 

IN THE WAITING ROOM

Myles Wilson (5'9", 174 lbs, SO (RS), 18-5 overall, 2-3 (2018-19))
Tristan McDonald (5'11", 174 lbs, JR (RS), 11-19 overall, 4-8 (2018-19))

Myles Wilson filled in for Kemerer last season at 174 lbs -- until he too went down for the season with a knee injury. (The knee has been a particularly troublesome foil for Iowa wrestling over the last few years.) Wilson went 2-3 in five duals, though one of those losses was an injury default after he injured his knee during the match. Wilson went 16-2 while redshirting in 2017-18 and seems to be on a positive upward trend in his development. Hopefully his injury hasn't thrown a wrench in that development. That said, with (likely) two more years of Kemerer, plus Nelson Brands lurking around this weight and the looming addition of blue chip recruit Patrick Kennedy (who projects to be at 165 or 174 in college), opportunities to see the mat could be in short supply for the near future. McDonald has wrestled limited matches throughout his Iowa career, mostly at 165 lbs and mostly at open tournaments; I don't expect any of that to change this season. 

STANDING IN THE WAY

OPPONENT ELIG SCHOOL OVR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Mark Hall SR Penn State 94-5 3x NCAA finalist, 2017 NCAA Champion, 2x Big Ten Champion
Jordan Kutler SR Lehigh 70-12 2x All-American, 2x EIWA Champion
Mikey Labriola SO Nebraska 35-10 2019 All-American
Joe Smith SR Oklahoma State 71-19 2x All-American (157 lbs), 2x Big 12 Champion (157 lbs)
Devin Skatzka SR Minnesota 83-37 2019 All-American
Bryce Steiert SR UNI 76-27 2019 All-American (165 lbs)

Only four of last year's eight All Americans are back this year -- despite the fact that only one of them (Missouri's Daniel Lewis, the 4th place finisher) has graduated. The biggest absentee is two-time defending NCAA champion Zahid Valencia, who's moved up to 184 lbs this season. Valencia went 101-3 in his non-redshirt career at 174 lbs, with two of those losses come to Mark Hall. Valencia also got bonus points in almost 80% of his matches; he was unquestionably one of the best wrestlers in the spot, at any weight, so removing him from the equation creates possibilities for everyone else at 174 lbs. Also gone from last year's podium finishers are Michigan's Myles Amine (3rd place), who's taking an Olympic redshirt, and Virginia Tech's David McFadden (5th place), who's moved back down to 165 lbs. 

That said, Mark Hall is a very notable returnee; he's a three-time NCAA finalist and the 2017 NCAA Champion. He'd almost certainly be a multi-time NCAA champion at this point if not for the presence of Valencia in the weight class over the last three seasons. He's the heavy favorite at this weight and for good reason given that he has a lifetime record of 97-5 and the only matches he's lost the last two seasons were NCAA finals showdowns with Zahid. Anyone who wants to win 174 lbs this year will need to prove that they can beat Hall, which won't be easy. 

The other top returnees are Lehigh's Jordan Kutler, a two-time All-American, and Nebraska's Mikey Labriola and Minnesota's Devin Skatzka, who finished 6th and 8th, respectively, last season. They don't have the fear factor that Hall possesses, but they're very capable wrestlers and poised to make hay at this weight with so many other big names gone. UNI's Bryce Steiert, an All-American at 165 a year ago, could vie for podium honors again at this weight in 2020, while Oklahoma State's Joe Smith would be a podium threat if he wrestles at this weight (he's also wrestled at 157 and 165 during his NCAA career, so it's not entirely what weight he might compete at this season). 

KEY MATCHES

RANK OPPONENT ELIG LOCATION DATE
#8 Dylan Lydy SR at Purdue 1/12/20
#4 Mikey Labriola SO vs Nebraska 1/18/20
#14 Kaleb Romero SO vs Ohio State 1/24/20
#1 Mark Hall SR vs Penn State 1/31/20
#6 Devin Skatzka SR vs Minnesota 2/15/20
#5 Joe Smith SR vs Oklahoma State 2/23/20

Kemerer will get to test himself against many of the best at this weight over the course of the season, though not until the calendar turns to 2020 (depending on which teams compete at Midlands this year). Purdue's Dylan Lydy could be a fringe All-America contender and a nice early January test for Kemerer at this weight. He should also get to match up with Labriola, Skatzka, and (maybe?) Smith at duals later in January and Febraury. The big match will be against Mark Hall on 1/31, though. That will be their first-ever meeting -- but probably not their only meeting this season, if both men are able to handle their business at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. Seeing how Kemerer fares against Hall in the dual will give us a great idea of just how serious a title threat he might be to Hall this season. 

WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN

Although the competition wasn't outstanding, the fact that Kemerer looked absolutely fantastic in his season debut (and 174 lb debut as well) on Sunday was extremely exciting. He looks big, he looks healthy -- he looks poised to do a lot of damage at this weight this season, which is a very exciting prospect. Plus, 174 lbs is, frankly, a fairly weak-looking weight class outside of Hall and a few other guys. I'm penciling in Kemerer for a Big Ten Tournament finals appearance -- and we'll know in a few months if Kemerer has a good shot at winning that match. Kemerer has had a bit of bad luck at the NCAA Tournament in the past -- he got shocked by Cornell's Dylan Palacio in the quarterfinals in 2017 and lost in the quarters to eventual NCAA champion Jason Nolf in 2018. I think he gets over the hump this year, though, and makes his first appearance on the raised stage on Saturday night. Hopefully it ends with him getting his arm raised. 

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