From ranked upsets to first period pins, the third week of college wrestling had it all. All seven conferences appeared in action this week, headlined by the No. 1 Iowa Hawkeyes dominating No. 6 Nebraska 31-6 behind the impressive leadership and savviness of 125-pound, two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee. Top-ranked 141 pounder Jaydin Eierman also made his debut for the Hawkeyes, while No. 1-ranked 197-pounder Noah Adams notched a solid 3-2 ranked win for West Virginia and heavyweight leader Gable Steveson did Gable Steveson things with a tech fall and a fall for the Gophers. Here’s everything you need to know about the wrestling results from this weekend and what to make of recent lineup changes, athlete performances and potential championship success.
Hawkeyes soar past Huskers with big points from Lee, DeSanto, Young and Brands
If you come for Iowa, you get The Bull...and nine of his teammates. Iowa’s 165-pound senior Alex Marinelli, also known as “The Bull,” is just one of five Iowa seniors to notch a win against No. 6 Nebraska on Friday, and it’s this kind of veteran leadership that is expected by Hawkeye fans to carry Iowa to its first team title in over 10 years this March. The team’s first performance of the year lived up to the hype, and the Hawkeyes walked all over the Huskers with a 31-6 win, dropping just two of ten matches and picking up bonus points at four weights that skewed the score far in the favor of the Black and Gold.
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Spencer Lee and Austin DeSanto, potentially the most dangerous 1-2 combination in the country, led things off with a fall and a tech fall, both within the first five minutes of their bouts. Their impressive performances set the tone for what would be a Hawkeye night, as Iowa wrestler after wrestler took to the mat looking for bonus points. Graduate transfer Jaydin Eierman notched a big win himself with a funky 8-4 decision over All-American Chad Red, and junior Max Murin stepped up at his 149-pound debut with a workmanlike 6-2 win over ranked Brock Hardy. At 157 pounds, All-American Kaleb Young made Hawkeye fans smile when he barrelled past Caleb Licking 17-5 for a major. Young went 0-2 at the Big Ten tournament in 2020, needing a wildcard to earn his spot in the NCAA tournament bracket, but he looked back at full form on Friday night. His confident wrestling continued the tone that the Hawkeyes had from 125-149 pounds, and he proved that he’s back in the title conversation at 157 pounds. Alex Marinelli was also dependable as always at 165 pounds, topping Peyton Robb 9-3 to bring the Iowa lead to 24.
The Hawkeyes lost just two matches, one at 174 pounds when true freshman Patrick Kennedy stepped in for graduate student and three-time All-American Michael Kemerer and took a close loss to All-American Mikey Labriola. The Huskers also picked up three more points when No. 2 Eric Schultz topped No. 4 Jacob Warner in a tight one 3-2, but heavyweight Tony Cassioppi wrapped up the dual for Iowa with his smooth 4-0 win over Christian Lance.
Nestled near the upper-weights of Iowa’s lineup was the biggest surprise of the night, as sophomore Nelson Brands came out to the mat like a man on a mission and pushed for a major decision against Nebraska’s Taylor Venz. His performance lit up the Iowa bench and solidified him as the man at 184 pounds, at least for the time being. Brands went 9-4 last season and opened with two wins, but he ultimately took a backseat to true freshman Abe Assad, who wrestled at the weight until the cancellation of the NCAA tournament. Brands shoutout Assad in freestyle at the Hawkeye Wrestling Club exhibition event this fall, and he’s now shown that he’s more than just a freestyle wrestler. Add Nelson Brands to the list of Iowa Hawkeyes that could win a title this year, and be prepared to see him potentially part of a national championship team that brings gold back to Iowa City.
Illini success stands out against Ohio State, Wisconsin
Ohio State, a team that has finished in the top-three at the NCAA tournament for the last five years, is always in the hunt for a trophy come March. This year though, adversity struck early as the team’s 165-pound budding star went down with an ACL tear and set up some early challenges. It’s not the start head coach Tom Ryan wanted for his squad, but it’s clear that he finds a way to win despite any obstacle. However, Sunday didn’t follow that trend. In a tight 18-15 dual, No. 24 Illinois topped the No. 8 Buckeyes behind wins at 133, 141, 165, 184, 197 and heavyweight. The battles were tough with only Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso picking up bonus points for either team, but the Illini found a way to win.
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Illinois has been a surprisingly dominant Big Ten team in its first three duals this season, pushing past Indiana 39-3 last weekend and then picking up big wins this weekend against Ohio State and Wisconsin, 21-9. The team is solid from top to bottom, but this week, heavyweight Luke Luffman emerged as the star. The sophomore hometown hero proved to be the difference-maker in the Illini’s win against No. 8 Ohio State, topping No. 7 Tate Orndorff 3-2 in just the second match of his college career to give his team three critical points. He then followed the Orndorff win with another top-ten win with an overtime win against No. 5 Trent Hillger of Wisconsin later in the afternoon.
Luffman’s teammates Lucas Byrd, Danny Pucino, Dan Braungel, and Matt Wroblewski also picked up two wins in Illinois’ two duals this weekend, while 184-pound Zac Braungel notched one ranked win against No. 11 Rocky Jordan in the Ohio State dual.
Ohio State ultimately recovered from the Illinois dual as the Buckeyes turned it around to beat Wisconsin later in the afternoon. Lightweight Malik Heinselman notched a major against Eric Barnett of the Badgers in the second dual to go 2-0 on the day to finish with bonus. He and Sasso were the only Bucks to pick up more than a decision in either dual, but Kaleb Romero did also go 2-0 with solid wins over DJ Shannon of Illinois and Jared Krattiger of Wisconsin. With losses to Illinois and Ohio State, the Badgers went 0-2 on the weekend and will take on Purdue next Sunday, while the Illini will battle the Boilermakers on Friday.
More missing faces
With the postponement of the Penn State vs. Rutgers dual and the North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech dual, No. 1 Austin O’Connor and the duo of No. 1 and No. 2-ranked Hokies Mekhi Lewis and Hunter Bolen were out, but those weren’t the only names missing from action this weekend. Michael Kemerer of Iowa sat out for precautionary reasons, according to head coach Tom Brands, and Northwestern also rested No. 1 Ryan Deakin. Kemerer is expected to be back next weekend against Minnesota while Deakin, if he comes back, could compete in a tri-meet against Maryland and Nebraska.
The Michigan Wolverines still have yet to wrestle 133-pound title contender Stevan Micic and 184-pound contender Myles Amine, but there’s still a lot for Maize and Gold fans to be excited about with the squad that is competing. Michigan topped Indiana 32-6 without its two stars, and if the lineup returns to full strength soon, this is a dangerous team that could make a run against Iowa. Four of the top six teams hail from the Big Ten, so the conference tournament will once again offer a national championship preview, but this isn’t the only conference producing fireworks.
Midshipmen make their mark
Unranked Navy sent a message in the EIWA this weekend as the Midshipmen picked up its first top-20 win with a 21-9 victory over the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. The win marked the first time since 2011 that Navy beat Lehigh and is a statement finish for first-year Navy head coach Cary Kolat who is looking to set up a new tradition of success in Annapolis.
Lehigh, the conference champions for the last three years, put forward a lineup that looked different from previous years after the graduation of Jordan Kutler and the transfer of Chris Weiler to Wisconsin, but the Mountain Hawks did still pick up wins at 125 and 133 pounds from Jaret Lane and Malyke Hines as well as at 174 pounds from Jake Logan.
For the Midshipmen, the wins were gritty, with nine of the ten matches in the dual being decided by three points or less. Sophomore Jacob Koser, who picked up a ranked win for the Midshipmen at 197 pounds against Jake Jakobsen 7-4, told the Capital Gazette that just having head coach Cary Kolat in his corner has given him and the team tremendous confidence to go out and perform. Kolat expressed equal excitement about Koser’s performance, praising his athlete for his “dynamic” wrestling.
Kolat, who previously coached Campbell to a top-20 ranking, is now here to do the same for Navy. His history of success as a coach and an athlete has given him this reputation as an inspirational leader, and his big win this weekend can only improve the already growing excitement for Navy wrestling. Navy is now 2-1 on the year with its lone loss coming against No. 12 Pittsburgh. Kolat and the Midshipmen will take on American next while Lehigh will battle Drexel this upcoming weekend.
More action returns next week as well across the country, with the Hawkeyes, Buckeyes, Illini, Midshipmen, Huskers, Gophers and more continue wrestling. With the season so short this year, every dual matters, and each week brings new developments for what could happen when everything culminates in St. Louis later this spring.