With the Iowa wrestling team’s 2019-20 season cut short — too short, by most standards given the No. 1 team in the nation was the favorite to come out on top of the NCAA Championships — the question has turned to 2020-21.
The good news for the Hawkeyes is that not much has changed in terms of a potential starting lineup, and they don’t lose any edge by the small shifts that will have to be made to make up for the loss of Pat Lugo at 149 pounds and to account for the addition of 141-pound, three-time All-American Jaydin Eierman.
By these lineup projections, Iowa is going to be just as good – if not better – than the team that ran through their regular-season schedule and won the Big Ten championship a year ago. Returning nine of 10 starters definitely doesn’t hurt.
125 – Spencer Lee
Put the song on repeat — Lee, two-time NCAA Champion, 2019 Big Ten Champion, 2019 Dan Hodge Trophy winner, and too many others to list. He juggled his freestyle and folkstyle schedules flawlessly last season, a feat that he’ll have to repeat in order to reach his goals of earning a team title for the Hawkeyes and earning a spot on the now-2021 Olympic team.
This one is pretty much a no-brainer, and his resume speaks for itself. If he can be even more dominant than in 2019-20, though, then buckle up.
133 – Austin DeSanto
This is where the talks of shifting start to come into play, but for Iowa to be its most dominant in this upcoming season, Austin DeSanto belongs at 133. He’s quick on his feet, familiar with the field and has Lee to follow when Iowa holds the upper hand. No one fits better, it’s the best 1-2 punch in collegiate wrestling.
DeSanto’s year towards the end of the season was a little shaky after leaving his first match with Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young by injury default in the first period. However, DeSanto is known to return with a vengeance when the odds are against him, so he can’t be counted out in a weight class that includes both Bravo-Young and reigning Big Ten champion Sebastian Rivera.
141 – Jaydin Eierman
Some more talks of shifting. Both 141 and 149 could really go either way, Eierman/Max Murin or vice versa. When looking at the field of 141-pounders in the NCAA and the Big Ten, and where Eierman ranks among them, this seems like the spot for him.
He’ll enter next season as the No. 2 141-pounder in the country after placing third at NCAAs in 2019 and is a three-time All-American. His main challenger in the Big Ten is going to be Penn State’s No. 3 Nick Lee, and if he can take down the runner-up to the Big Ten title in 2020, that gives Iowa a huge team advantage over the Nittany Lions.
149 – Max Murin
Slotting Eierman in at 141 means Murin bumps up to 149 to fill Lugo’s vacancy. After being riddled with a shoulder injury in 2019-20 but erupting on the mat when he made his brace-less return, a healthy Murin is a dangerous one in the Iowa lineup.
His experience at 141 — with the top two wrestlers at that weight coming from the Big Ten — gives him an edge at the much-less contested 149.
157 – Kaleb Young
After being the only Hawkeye not to earn an automatic berth to 2020 Minneapolis, Young’s senior year will be one for him to prove he can compete. He began the season on a high note through the Midlands Championships in late-December but finished off with back-to-back first round losses at Big Tens.
This weight class takes Iowa into the mid-dual break, if the Hawkeyes get their way, and is an important weight for dominance.
165 – Alex Marinelli
After the break, Iowa jumps into its heavyweights which can be just as hard for opponents to get through as the top of the lineup. Reigning two-time Big Ten champion Marinelli’s goals are to finally win an NCAA title.
In the Big Ten, things are less challenging than in the NCAA. 2019 national champion Mehki Lewis is back in the picture after taking an Olympic redshirt last season, and he’ll enter next season in the No. 1 spot previously held by the Bull.
174 – Michael Kemerer
After missing all of the 2018-19 season with both knee and shoulder injuries, Kemerer came back strong at his new, heavier weight last year. He began the year with a 20-0 technical fall over UT-Chattanooga and went undefeated along the way with an explosive win over Penn State’s No. 1 Mark Hall in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He then lost his only match of the year to Hall in the Big Ten championship.
Now, with Hall gone from Penn State after graduating, Kemerer sits alone in the No. 1 spot at the weight and both the Big Ten and NCAA titles are his to take.
184 – Abe Assad
After an impressive performance at the Midlands Championships in 2019, Assad had his redshirt pulled and stepped into the role as Iowa’s 184-pounder to answer all questions surrounding the weight.
Despite his inexperience in collegiate wrestling, he came out and dominated his first matches to solidify him in that spot. Now with a year under his belt, he’s expected to grow into his role more and become a staple in this Iowa lineup.
197 – Jacob Warner
As long as Warner, a two-time All-American, can stay focused on the task ahead of him, he’s a weapon for Iowa. He’s racked up upsets and big-time wins to lift Iowa over close matches, making him an important part of the lineup.
His biggest loss of 2019-20 came as No. 14 Eric Shultz upset him, 3-1, versus Nebraska. It was attributed to his mentality and came back with a win to help lift Iowa over Penn State.
285 – Tony Cassioppi
There’s no question that Cassioppi is Iowa’s go-to heavyweight for the next three years. In his first year filling the gap that Sam Stoll left, he proved that he can stand up to the challenge of anchoring the lineup, whether the dual is a blow-out or 285 is the deciding match.
On Jan. 31, facing No. 1 Penn State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Cassioppi stepped up and won the dual for Iowa. He upset Wisconsin’s Trent Hillger in his first Big Ten dual and went the distance with Minnesota’s Gable Steveson, the top wrestler in the country. Now he has the chance to break through in the conference and in the nation.