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Know Your Wrestling Foe: Iowa Hawkeyes

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The defending NCAA Champion Hawkeyes bring back everyone from a dominant 2021 squad

COLLEGE WRESTLING: MAR 07 Big Ten Wrestling Championships
Iowa’s three-time NCAA Champion Spencer Lee
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After taking a look at Nebraska’s potential lineup in 2021-22, it’s time to start previewing the competition. First up is the defending NCAA champion Iowa Hawkeyes.

The top-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes are truly the picture of depth and dominance. They haven’t lost a dual since dropping one to No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2019 and have swept the last two Big Ten tournaments.

Iowa won the 2021 NCAA team title, its first since winning it in 2010. After being the heavy favorites to win in 2020 only for the NCAA tournament to be cancelled, Iowa broke through against Penn State in 2021 with 129 team points. Penn State finished second with 113.5 points. Nebraska finished a disappointing 13th.

This year, with the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility, Iowa again returns its entire starting lineup, led by three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee at 125 pounds (Iowa’s lone individual NCAA champ from 2021). After putting seven guys on the podium as All-Americans a year ago, Iowa is looking to repeat as NCAA champs. With seven seniors in the likely starting lineup, the Hawkeyes will again be formidable this season.

Weight-By-Weight Preview

125 pounds

Iowa senior Spencer Lee is the clear favorite to win his fourth NCAA title. If he can do so, he’ll be just the fifth to win four titles. He also is a two-time Hodge Trophy winner, and if he can win a third Lee would be just the second to do so, alongside Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson (wrestling for Iowa State).

Lee holds a 75-5 career record and hasn’t lost since a 2019 loss to Sebastian Rivera in the Big Ten final.

133 pounds

Iowa boasts one of the country’s best at 133 pounds in senior Austin Desanto. After finishing third at the 2021 NCAA tournament, Desanto is now a two-time All-American. His only losses in 2021 came to NCAA finalists Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) and Daton Fix (Oklahoma State).

Big Ten Championship
Austin Desanto
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

With a career 71-19 record, Desanto figures to be playing catch-up to Bravo-Young and Fix, but the Hawkeye is a lock for All-American honors again.

141 pounds

Completing Iowa’s Big Three to start their lineup, seventh-year senior Jaydin Eierman returns for another run at a title. Eierman transferred to Iowa as a senior from Missouri and went undefeated until losing in the NCAA final to Penn State’s Nick Lee. The four-time All-American has a chance to be one of the first five-time All-Americans we’ll see as time goes on due to the NCAA’s eligibility waiver (Nebraska’s Chad Red Jr., also at 141 pounds, has a chance to also earn five-time All-American status this season).

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Jaydin Eierman after losing the 2021 NCAA final to Penn State’s Nick Lee.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Eierman went 89-14 at Missouri, winning three MAC titles, before going 12-1 at Iowa as a senior while winning a Big Ten title. His career record is 101-15.

149 pounds

Another senior, Max Murin returns for Iowa after an up-and-down 2021 season. After going undefeated in the regular season in 2021, Murin went 0-2 at Big Tens with a loss to Nebraska’s Ridge Lovett before not placing at NCAAs.

Murin has a 39-18 career record for Iowa and will be looking for his first All-American finish in 2021-22.

157 pounds

Senior Kaleb Young is coming off a solid 2021 season that saw him finish seventh at NCAAs for All-American honors. The 2021 Big Ten finalist, Young will be looking for his third All-American finish in 2021-22.

With a 58-22 career record, Young will again be a tough out for the Hawkeyes.

165 pounds

Alex “The Bull” Marinelli returns for Iowa to lock down the 165-pound spot. Marinelli has had a dominant career, going 73-10 so far, but he’s struggled at the NCAA tournament. He’s a two-time All-American but his finishes were sixth (2018) and seventh (2019). He was named an All-American in 2020 after the NCAA tournament was cancelled, but he failed to make the podium in 2021.

Big Ten Championship
Alex Marinelli
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

A perennial title contender, Marinelli may just break through for a title this season.

174 pounds

Returning for a seventh year is senior Michael Kemerer. The four-time All-American, Kemerer has yet to win an NCAA title despite never finishing worse than fourth in his career. In 2021, Kemerer finished runner-up after falling to Penn State freshman Carter Starocci in the NCAA final.

Iowa v Penn State
Michael Kemerer
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

With an 86-8 career record, Kemerer again enters the season as one of the clear-cut favorites to win the title.

184 pounds

After seven-straight seniors to start the lineup, sophomore Nelson Brands figures to again man the 184-pound slot. The son of assistant coach Terry Brands, Nelson Brands finished fourth at the 2021 Big Ten Championships before failing to place at NCAAs.

Also in the hunt will be sophomore Abe Assad, who went 22-7 in 2019-20 as the starter, also finishing fourth at Big Tens. Then there’s freshman Patrick Kennedy who will eventually replace Kemerer at 174. The No. 3-ranked overall recruit in the class of 2020 may make a move up to 184 to attempt to get into the lineup at an apparent “weak spot”.

197 pounds

Jacob Warner returns for Iowa here after finishing fourth at NCAAs in 2021 for his second All-American honors. Warner has finished third at Big Tens all three years of his career and holds a 54-14 career record. He’s always a tough out at this weight class.

285 pounds

Iowa sophomore Tony Cassioppi is fresh off a third-place finish at the NCAAs as he hasn’t been able to get past Minnesota’s Gable Steveson and Michigan’s Mason Parris. Steveson is in a tier all alone as Team USA’s Olympic heavyweight and the defending NCAA champ, while Parris has proven to be in the second tier of collegiate heavyweights all by himself. Cassioppi is easily the third-best heavyweight in the NCAA, finishing third at both Big Tens and NCAAs in 2021.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Tony Cassioppi
Photo by Scott Rovak/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

With a 33-6 career record, Cassioppi looks to be another lock to earn All-American status again.

How Would Nebraska Fare in a Dual?

Facing Iowa in a dual this season will be a tall order for any team. The Hawkeyes haven’t lost a dual in a long time, and their home-mat advantage at Carver-Hawkeye Arena is ominous.

With that said, assuming the dual started at 125 pounds, the Hawkeyes with their front-heavy lineup would almost assuredly build a big lead on the Huskers with their uncertain front-end to their lineup.

Spencer Lee beats everybody, and he’ll beat Nebraska’s Liam Cronin much like he did a year ago, getting pinned in the first round.

Desanto should easily beat whoever Nebraska puts out at 133, and Eierman will be a heavy favorite over Chad Red. Eierman beat Red 8-4 and 7-1 a year ago.

At 149, Nebraska’s likely starter Brock Hardy will have a chance against Murin, but the Hawkeye figures to be the favorite here.

If Ridge Lovett moves to 157 for Nebraska, I think he has a legitimate shot to knock off Kaleb Young. Young is tough, but he’s not elite. Lovett has been progressing quickly and could get a statement win.

At 165, there’s Peyton Robb who lost to Marinelli 9-3 a year ago. Robb, who’s representing Team USA at the U23 World Championships in November, is a sophomore on the rise and could pose a legitimate threat to Marinelli.

Kemerer versus Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola would be a barn-burner. We were denied the matchup last season as Kemerer sat out the dual, but it would no doubt be the most anticipated match of the dual.

At 184, Nebraska’s Taylor Venz should be favored against Brands or Assad, while Eric Schultz at 197 has had Warner’s number historically.

At 285, Cassioppi should easily dispatch of Christian Lance, who lost to the Hawkeye 4-0 a year ago.

I think Nebraska could definitely win four matches in this hypothetical dual between Red, Hardy, Lovett, Robb, Labriola, Venz and Schultz. And since I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see the Huskers win any one of these matches, they could definitely put together a run where there could be an upset in the making.