It took 11 years total and almost five sessions (or eight, depending on how you want to count them) of wrestling this week, but Iowa wrestling is at last back atop their perch as the best of the best in college wrestling. Iowa clinched their 24th and most recent championship in the medal rounds on Saturday morning. The title was officially clinched at the end of the 197 lb matches. Iowa entered those matches needing either a win from Jacob Warner (facing 1-seed Myles Amine in the 3rd place match) or any result from Penn State's Michael Beard that wasn't a win by fall in the 7th place match. Warner came up short against Amine, dropping a 5-3 decision, but Beard could only manage a 10-8 win in sudden victory -- not the win by fall that Penn State needed to preserve their (mathematical) hopes at winning another national championship.
It feels fitting that this year's championship was won in the consolation matches because this was definitely a title that owes a lot to wrestlers who did work after getting eliminated from championship contention. Iowa's stars at this event were Spencer Lee, Jaydin Eierman, and Michael Kemerer, all three of whom will wrestle for individual national championships in the finals tonight (6 PM CT, ESPN). Combined, they'll end up contributing around 60-75 points to Iowa's team total, which is of course significant.
But Iowa needed more than just that trio and they got it from their four other All-Americans. Austin DeSanto and Tony Cassioppi scored a lot of points for Iowa on the championship side of the bracket as they made it to the semifinals before suffering defeats. But they also rebounded from those painful semifinal defeats with excellent performances this morning to contribute key points to Iowa's triumph.
DeSanto kicked things off with a 19-4 technical fall win (scoring five points for Iowa in the process), then locked up third place with a 10-6 victory over 3-seed Korbin Myers. Cassioppi started his consolation journey this morning with a dominant 8-0 major decision win, then added a 5-0 win over #4 Cohlton Schultz in his own 3rd place match. DeSanto tied for the highest-scoring third place finisher (along with Minnesota's Patrick McKee) at this year's NCAA Tournament, finishing with 19.5 points -- that's more than 11 NCAA finalists right now (though a few of those guys will inevitably surpass him when they win championships tonight). He had a phenomenal NCAA Tournament run and ended it with a flourish this morning. He and Cassioppi left no doubt that they were third-best wrestlers in the country at their respective weights.
— Iowa Hawkeyes | The Gazette (@GazetteOnIowa) March 20, 2021
Iowa has clinched its NCAA wrestling team title and first since 2010.
Back on top. pic.twitter.com/V8jHuHausu
But kudos are due to Kaleb Young and Jacob Warner as well. Young was eliminated in the second round on Thursday night, then won three consecutive matches on Friday to ensure an All-America finish -- and the precious points that come with a podium position. He won his seventh place match to help Iowa inch closer to clinching the title as well. All told, he added 8.5 points to Iowa's team tally at this tournament, which was a very welcome sight.
Warner rebounded from a narrow loss in the quarterfinals yesterday morning to rattle off two wins last night, first locking up All-America status (crucial) and then locking himself into the Top-6 at 197 lbs. Those wins contributed seven points to Iowa's team total and kept Iowa humming toward a title. This morning he added another win in the consolation semifinal (another 3.5 points for the Hawkeyes). In the end, his run added up to 12.5 points for Iowa's team total. If he had gone out in the Round of 12 (or blood round) last night, perhaps while still stewing over his quarterfinal loss, he would have scored just two points for Iowa at this year's tournament. He rebounded from that loss and ended up accumulating a further 10.5 points for Iowa's championship efforts. Not bad at all for a guy who was thisclose to losing in the very first round after falling into a 6-0 hole and nearly getting pinned.
Plenty of hosannas are due to Lee, Eierman, and Kemerer too, of course, but their stories aren't yet finished this year -- we'll laud them after their championship matches tonight. Hopefully there's still another exciting chapter to write in those stories.
CHAMPS pic.twitter.com/pn2C96e9tz— Go Iowa Awesome (@IowaAwesome) March 20, 2021
It's been a long, painful wait for Iowa fans. Dan Gable's two decades of dominance set an impossible standard and spoiled generations of Iowa fans. Tom Brands recaptured a taste of that dominance with the three-peat he was able to guide Iowa to from 2008-10, but the last decade has been a tough pill to swallow. No NCAA Championships. Just two Big Ten championships, one of them shared. A series of disappointing -- and distant -- finishes at the NCAA Tournament, as another program, Penn State, emerged as the sport's new dynasty and racked up crown after crown.
Over the last few years, the foundation of a title-contending team was assembled behind an influx of tremendous wrestlers from Pennsylvania, led by Michael Kemerer and Spencer Lee. Visions of new championships danced in the minds of Iowa fans. 2020 was meant to be the culmination of that vision; Iowa had steamrolled their way through the regular season and the Big Ten Tournament and was poised to end their decade-long title drought in front of the biggest crowds to ever attend an NCAA Tournament, at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic put the entire world on pause, just days before the NCAA Tournament was set to begin. No tournament. No championship. No more wrestling.
Slowly, fitfully, and in unusual formats and structures, sports returned, with college wrestling finally coming back this winter with an abbreviated schedule, a six-week sprint of a regular season in January and February, followed by TOURNAMENT SZN in March. Things were still very different -- no, or very limited, fans in attendance, omnipresent face masks, additional cleaning and distancing protocols, among so many other things -- but in the end it all came together.
And now, at long last, and for the 24th time in history, the Iowa Hawkeyes are the national champions. THE CHAMPS ARE HERE.
— Go Iowa Awesome (@IowaAwesome) March 20, 2021
GO HAWKEYE WRESTLING AWESOME