Iowa wrestling's starting lineup has looked very similar for a long time now; the 2021-22 starting ten featured seven wrestlers who were at least three-year starters in black and gold (and that would have been eight with a healthy Spencer Lee). So there were a lot of familiar faces in that lineup; many of those familiar faces are now departing, which means that Iowa is looking at a very different lineup in 2022-23. How different? Let's take a look at how Iowa could hit the mats next year.
Spencer Lee (SR)
Drake Ayala (SO)
The best thing about Iowa wrestling next year? One more year of Spencer freaking Lee in a black and gold singlet. The potentially even better thing about Iowa wrestling next year? Getting to see perhaps the best version of Spencer freaking Lee. Lee's spent a great deal of his Iowa tenure either rehabbing a torn ACL or figuring out how to effectively compete with a torn ACL. Lee arrived at Iowa roughly six months removed from ACL repair surgery and began his Iowa career as a true freshman with a bulky knee brace. He shed that by the end of his true freshman season and arguably the very best Spencer Lee we've seen at Iowa was the one who steamrolled the field at the 2018 NCAA Tournament; that remains the only NCAA Tournament he's been able to start and finish with two healthy ACLs.
But after having surgery to repair both ACLs earlier this year, we could get a fully healthy Lee during the 2022-23 season. Recovery from two ACL repairs won't be a simple process, but we're not going to start doubting Spencer Lee now. The prospect of a Spencer Lee with fully healthy knees should inspire terror in the rest of the 125 lb field -- and giddiness in Iowa fans.
Lee's return should allow Drake Ayala to use his redshirt during the 2022-23 campaign. He was thrust into the fire early in 2021-22 and growing pains -- as well as actual injury-related pains from a lingering arm/shoulder injury -- contributed to a disappointing end of season for him. But with a year to rest, recover, and learn from one of the greatest 125ers of all time, Ayala can get ready to attack the field at 125 in 2023-24.
Cullan Schriever (SO)
Jesse Ybarra (SO)
This is the first of several weights where Iowa will need to replace a multi-year starter. 133 has been a money weight for Iowa during the Tom Brands Era (Dan Dennis, Tony Ramos, Cory Clark, Austin DeSanto), but the options for 2022-23 are going to need to show rapid improvement to maintain that level of accomplishment. Schriever went 15-5 at 133 in 2021-22, but most of those matches came in open tournaments against lesser opposition. He went 0-2 while filling in for DeSanto in dual meet competition. The two wrestlers he lost to in duals -- Illinois' Lucas Byrd and Northwestern's Chris Cannon -- are good wrestlers, but if the goal is to contend for a Big Ten title and earn an All-America finish, they're also the sort of wrestlers that Schriever will need to beat.
Ybarra has only wrestled at 125 lbs at Iowa (going 5-5 at that weight in 2021-22), but his future seems to be at 133, in part because the presence of Drake Ayala at 125 in the future should limit Ybarra's opportunities at that weight. If he wants to crack the Iowa lineup, 133 looks like the best spot for him to do so. Again, we haven't seen him compete at 133 in college, so it's difficult to make projections on what he might be able to do at that weight. Whether it's Ybarra or Schriever, though, there will be big shoes to fill at 133 with DeSanto's departure.
Real Woods (JR)
Drew Bennett (JR)
It looked like this was going to be the spot for redshirt freshman Wyatt Henson to enter the Iowa lineup, but that ship looks to have sailed. As noted yesterday, Iowa's added Stanford transfer Real Woods at this weight and Henson has entered the transfer portal in response. Woods should provide a short-term upgrade from Henson, as a wrestler able to step in and immediately compete for Big Ten and NCAA championships. Like 133, this is another weight with a replacement trying to fill big shoes -- Jaydin Eierman was a Big Ten champion and NCAA runner-up in 2021 and four-time All-American. When healthy (which he sadly was not at the 2022 Big Ten or NCAA Tournaments) he was, at worst, the second-best wrestler in the country at 141 lbs.
But the clear-out of top competitors at this weight should benefit Woods and give him ample opportunity to contend at the upper ranks of this weight. He should also be one of the top point-scorers on the team; Woods has a career bonus rate of 56%, though it dipped to 48% last season.
Drew Bennett, a transfer from UNI before last season, looks like the main backup to Woods in Henson's absence. He backed up Eierman this past season and went 3-5 overall, including 1-1 in dual meets.
Max Murin (SR)
Cobe Siebrecht (SO)
One more year for the Maximal in the Iowa lineup. The big question for Murin in his senior season: can he finally get over the hump in March? Murin went 9-2 in the regular season this past season, 4-1 last year, and 13-1 in 2019-20. But he's struggled to turn those regular season victories into postseason success. His best finish at the Big Ten Tournament was a third-place finish this year, following a DNP last year and 5th and 7th-place finishes before that. The NCAA Tournament has been full of heartbreak for Murin, with season-ending losses in the Round of 12 in 2019, 2021, and 2022.
So: can he get over that obstacle this year? Let's hope so, because Iowa's championship ambitions likely need more than a finish outside the Top-3 at Big Tens or a finish off the podium at NCAAs. He's shown the ability to hang with top competitors and beat a few of them, but he needs to show that he can do it when the pressure is at its highest. The bad news for Murin is that unlike some weights, 149 returns a lot of heavy-hitters. If he's going to end his career on a high note, it's probably going to come from Murin finding a way to hit another level.
Cobe Siebrecht looks like the most likely option to back up Murin at 149 next year, although either of the options listed at 157 (Reyna and Rathjen) may be stronger long term replacements for Murin after the 2023 season. Siebrecht went 5-2 overall in 2021-22, including 1-2 in dual meets.
Caleb Rathjen (RS FR)
Bretli Reyna (RS FR)
Like 133 and 141, another weight where Iowa is looking to replace a multi-year starter. Kaleb Young wasn't always the most thrilling wrestler in an Iowa singlet, but he was pretty reliable over the course of his Iowa career. There isn't an immediately obvious replacement for Young on the Iowa roster, either. The two most likely replacements for Young seem to be Rathjen and Reyna, two redshirt freshmen who were touted recruits upon arrival at Iowa.
Reyna went 5-2 at 149 lbs in 2021-22, including a 1-2 outing at the Southern Scuffle. Rathjen went 4-1 at 149 last year, including a 1-1 showing at the Southern Scuffle (his second "loss" was a medical forfeit). Neither guy had such blinding success during their redshirt years that you would tip them to make a big immediate impact. In this case, there's also the matter of competing at a different weight -- does one of these guys handle a move up to 157 lbs better than the other? Would a move up next year make it difficult to get back down to 149 in subsequent seasons? There are simply a lot of unknowns at this weight. If Iowa's looking to add any additional wrestlers through the transfer portal, I would tip this as one of the weights for them to target for a transfer addition.
Patrick Kennedy (RS FR)
Joe Kelly (JR)
Another weight where Iowa is looking to replace a multi-year starter and this is one of the biggest holes in the lineup. It's truly weird to think about an Iowa lineup without Alex Marinelli at 165 lbs, but we're going to see it next year. After five seasons, four Big Ten championships, and a whole lot of NCAA Tournament heartbreak, The Bull is off for other pastures. The good news is that unlike some other weights where Iowa is trying to replace multi-year starters, they appear to have a really good heir apparent here in Patrick Kennedy.
Kennedy was a Top 10 overall recruit in the Class of 2020 and the gem of Iowa's recruiting class that year. He's bided his time behind The Bull since then, going 19-4 overall in non-attached competition, including 17-3 last year while redshirting. That includes championships at the Cyclone Open, UNI Open, and Last Chance Open. His only losses last season came in a 3-2 loss to Marinelli at the Luther Open and a pair of 6-4 sudden victory defeats at the Southern Scuffle.
Given his recruiting hype, there may be a lot of pressure on Kennedy to step into the Iowa lineup and be an immediate Big Ten and NCAA title contender and I don't know if he'll be that right off the jump. He posted a bonus rate of 50% in his wins last year and those two losses at the Scuffle came against solid (but not elite) opponents. I think Kennedy is likely to be very good from the jump for Iowa, but it may take him a little time to be a major podium threat. Still, there's tremendous potential here and he looks like one of the future leaders of this team.
Joe Kelly may be the most likely backup for Kennedy at 165. He went 4-5 at the weight last year, although all four wins came against non-Division I competition.
Nelson Brands (JR)
Brennan Swafford (SR)
The fifth and final weight where Iowa is looking to replace a long-time starter -- and they don't get much more long-time than Michael "Grandpa" Kemerer, although he was "only" a starter at 174 for the past three seasons (after beginning his Iowa career at 157 lbs). The departure of Kemdawg seems to clear the way for Nelson Brands to again have a starting role in the Iowa lineup. Brands filled in for Kemerer at the start of the season, going 5-1 in duals. His only loss came in a 4-2 decision against NC State's Hayden Hidlay, who, as luck would have it, also knocked Kemerer out of the championship bracket at the NCAA Tournament and beat him again in the 3rd place match. Hidlay: kind of a Hawkeye-killer this past season.
In addition to those starts at the beginning of this season, Brands also started the entire (abbreviated) season for Iowa at 184 lbs, going 9-4 overall (but just 1-2 at the NCAA Tournament). It was never clear if Brands was starting that season because the was the best man for the job or because Abe Assad was injured all season, although the fact that a healthy Assad reclaimed the 184 spot this past season would tend to suggest that Brands was the main guy at 184 in 2020-21 due to Assad's injuries. But 174 looks like Brands' best weight at this point; he's gone 10-1 at that weight over the past three seasons. The question to be answered in 2022-23 is whether Brands can compete at the highest levels at 174, as most of those aforementioned 10 wins came against lesser opposition. Like Murin at 149, Brands is another experienced competitor in the Iowa lineup that Iowa will need to take a leap forward in terms of podium finishes in order to mount a serious title threat at Big Tens or NCAAs.
Swafford looks like the main backup to Brands at the weight. He went 14-7 overall at 174 last year, though just 10-6 against Division I opponents.
Abe Assad (JR)
Myles Wilson (SR)
After an injury-plagued 2020-21 season, Abe Assad got healthy and returned to the Iowa lineup in 2021-22 -- but it wasn't exactly a season to remember. Assad went 14-10 overall (11-9 against Division I opponents) and lost eight of his final 13 matches. That was certainly an uninspiring way to close out the season.
Still, Assad has flashed enough ability, in the form of a handful of solid wins over good opponents and good efforts in some close losses, that it still doesn't seem unreasonable that he can achieve better, and more consistent, results at this weight. But Assad also needs to actually go out and do that and get results in matches. Barring a surprise transfer addition at this weight, it looks like he'll again get the opportunity to impress at this weight; hopefully he can take a step forward and find the consistency -- and high-caliber wins -- that have often eluded him so far in his Iowa career.
Myles Wilson should be his primary backup at 184 next year. Wilson went 16-2 during his redshirt year in 2018 before spending the next three seasons at 174 lbs; he returned to 184 last year and went 2-1 while filling in for Assad in some early season dual meets.
Jacob Warner (SR)
Zach Glazier (SO)
There are two wrestlers in Iowa's projected lineup next year with experience in NCAA championship matches: Spencer Lee and... Jacob Warner. Still feels a little weird to say that, but it's true! Jacob Warner is the defending NCAA runner-up at this weight. The four-time All-American scored the best podium finish of his career last season (improving on a 7th-place finish in 2019 and a 4th-place finish in 2021) in dropping a 3-2 decision to Penn State's Max Dean in the NCAA finals.
That NCAA runner-up finish came on the heels of another 3rd-place finish at the Big Ten Tournament (his fourth consecutive third-place finish at Big Tens), which is more proof of his consistency in tournaments. He certainly isn't the flashiest or most thrilling wrestler to watch, but his ability to get results for Iowa has been rock-solid for the past four seasons and there's little reason to expect that to change in 2022-23. Granted, when you wrestle as many close matches as Warner does, there's always a chance of slipping up and getting upset -- but his track record shows an impressive ability to win lots of those close matches.
Ideally, of course, Warner would use this final year at Iowa to take a step forward -- to turn those narrow wins into slightly more comfortable wins and to improve his podium finishes by a spot or two. The only way Warner will be able to do that is if he can develop ways to more consistently score points against the best wrestlers at this weight. The good news was that Warner made it to the NCAA finals this past year; the bad news that he didn't score a single takedown in his final three matches. It's very hard to consistently win matches that way and even harder to win titles that way.
Zach Glazier should be Warner's primary backup option next year, though the exciting future at this weight looks to be Kolby Franklin, a Top-40 overall recruit in the Class of 2022. He'll redshirt in 2022-23, but could be a factor in the lineup in 2023 and beyond. Glazier went 3-2 at 197 last year, though he was 0-2 against Division I opponents.
Tony Cassioppi (JR)
Aaron Costello (SR)
Here's the good news for Tony Cassioppi next year: Gable Steveson is gone, off to prepare for his future in the WWE. But here's the bad news for Tony Cassioppi next year: nearly everyone else is back.That includes Michigan's Mason Parris, Penn State's Greg Kerkvliet, and Arizona State's Cohlton Schultz. Cassioppi has struggled mightily against Parris in the past, 0-3 across his career, with the closest defeat being an 11-5 loss in the NCAA Tournament last month. He's had more success against Kerkvliet (3-0 lifetime) and Schultz (1-0 lifetime), but Kerk continues to narrow the gap on Tony and Schultz has improved since their first meeting in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
All of which is to say: there's a path to Big Ten and NCAA titles now that Gable's gone, but Tony is going to need to continue to get better if he hopes to be on top of the podium next year. The competition at heavyweight is going to be absolutely fierce. But outside of Spencer Lee, Cassioppi still looks like Iowa's best shot at an NCAA finalist (or champion).
Longtime deputy Aaron Costello looks likely to be Cassioppi's backup at heavyweight once again next year. He went 11-2 last season, 9-2 against Division I opponents.
So that's an early look at the potential Iowa lineup for the 2022-23 season. It should be a good lineup. Is it a championship-caliber lineup? Probably only if several guys are able to take significant steps forward in their development. The biggest question marks are at 133 and 157, where there's a great deal of uncertainty about who will wrestle and what sort of results Iowa might be able to expect at those weights. Of course, as we saw with the addition of Woods last weekend, the transfer portal can shake things up in a hurry. We'll have to wait and see if Iowa seeks any additional help through the transfer ranks.