It's worth taking a step back to look at the great Iowa wrestlers that have come through this program in the last several decades. Who really is the greatest Hawkeye wrestler ever? And if all of the greats wrestled in the same era, what would the strongest Iowa lineup look like? Those are the questions that prompted this task, task of building the all-time best Iowa wrestling lineup across decades.
Previous wrestling fans and reporters have worked through similar questions, and my answers here certainly don't mean that there's no debate. In fact, the debate is part of what makes this fun.
Let me explain how I made my choices. First, I looked through the long list of Hawkeye NCAA champions. This is, after all, an "All-Time College Lineup," so folkstyle matters first. Three-time champs were placed in the lineup at a weight that corresponds best to the weight where they won their titles. Two-time champs were then considered for any open weights. If a multiple-time NCAA champion was not available at a given weight, as is the case at 197 pounds exclusively, Olympic experience was taken into consideration. Olympic experience, however, was only factored in after the three-time champs and two-time champs had been placed in the best folkstyle weight that aligned with their folkstyle titles.
There are some legendary wrestlers on the bench, but this is one perspective on the best all-time Iowa lineup throughout history.
125 pounds: Spencer Lee
Immediately, there's a roster battle: Spencer Lee or Barry Davis?
Davis won three titles in 1982, 1983 and 1985 and took home silver in the 1984 Olympics. He's a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and is a legendary, award-winning coach.
Good morning Cedar Rapids!— Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling (@Hawks_Wrestling) October 3, 2020
Home town of 3x NCAA Champion, 2x World Medalist and Olympic Silver Medalist, Barry Davis.
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But then there's Lee. A three-time champ, two-time Hodge Trophy winner, Lee is on track to become the greatest Hawkeye wrestler ever. He's undefeated on the year and hasn't taken a loss since March 2019. Not to mention, Lee's bonused 100% of his opponents this year and is doing everything on two recently reconstructed knees. While Lee has yet to earn an Olympic spot, if he runs through his bracket at NCAAs, he could become the first Iowa wrestler to win four titles and just the fifth wrestler ever to achieve this feat. Giving Lee this spot is bold, considering the fact that his career is ongoing and the fact that Davis set a high bar, but let's send Lee out at 125 and let him pin whomever Iowa takes on in this imaginary scenario.
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There are a few other historic Iowa wrestlers with multiple titles worth mentioning here as well, starting with the most recent: Matt McDonough. A champ in 2010 and 2012 at 125 pounds, McDonough is one of three additional Hawks who could have fought for a spot in this weight. Randy Lewis, for instance, also has titles at 126 and 134, but the depth at the next weight class up, 133 pounds, is insane, so Lewis can sit here in third or fourth on the depth chart at 125 as a result of his titles in 1979 and 1980. If the old weight classes were still in play today, Iowa's Terry McCann could have battled Barry Davis for a spot at 115, but given the modern weights, McCann would struggle to beat out Spencer Lee or Davis at 125 pounds, so he'll also be in the bench, despite his titles in 1955 and 1956.
133 pounds: Tom Brands
Spencer Lee and Tom Brands would be quite the 1-2 punch. Brands, an NCAA champion at 134 pounds from 1990-1992, ruled this weight in his era. He won gold in the 1996 Olympics and took home top honors at the 1993 World Championships. The coolest part of Tom's story, though, is that he achieved much of this success with his twin brother by his side. Terry Brands won two titles at 126 pounds in 1990 and 1992 and he also went on to compete in the Olympics, winning bronze in 2000. Today, Tom and Terry now coach the latest prodigy in Hawkeye history, Spencer Lee.
Mark Ironside, another two-time Iowa champ, sits behind Spencer Lee and the Brands brothers on this all-timers list, though his championship wins in 1997 and 1998 do demonstrate his dominance. Add Eric Juergens' two titles at 133, and the depth is beyond evident. Given this history, it's no surprise that Iowa has the most dominant lightweight in the country competing one weight below these guys. This is a team with a tradition of stellar smaller wrestlers.
141 pounds: Jeff McGinness
The previous two weights forced tougher decisions, but this weight belongs to Jeff McGinness. He earns this spot by virtue of his title at 142 pounds in 1998.
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A four-time high school state champion at four different weights, McGinness excelled at the collegiate level as well, winning two Big Ten titles and taking home his two national championship wins, one at 126 pounds and one at 142 pounds. Making the Iowa all-time lineup in the lighter weights is so difficult, and the 141 pound spot in open. It's all McGinness.
149 pounds: Lincoln McIlravy
In the conversation about best Hawkeye wrestlers ever, Lincoln McIlravy is up near the top of that list. A three-time NCAA champion, McIlravy won his first title as a freshman in 1993, wrestling at 142 pounds before jumping up to 150 and winning two titles there. Neither 142 nor 150 are weights in the modern era of wrestling, but McIlravy best slots in at 149 pounds in the Iowa all-time lineup, given his success at the equivalent weight of 150.
McIlravy also competed well in freestyle during his collegiate career, finishing second in the U.S. Open in 1996 and third at the Trials. He qualified for the Olympics in the following cycle and earned bronze in Sydney, adding his name to the list of Hawkeye Olympians.
Fellow Hawk Chuck Yagla could also be a solid fit for this weight class, given that both of his two titles came at 150 pounds in 1975 and 1976, but three titles put McIlravy in the lineup over Yagla.
Then there's Brent Metcalf, one of the fiercest Hawks in recent memory and a wrestler who embodied the Iowa Style. Metcalf won titles at 149 pounds in his first two years, earning a Hodge Trophy in his first championship run. He lost just three matches during his entire tenure under head coach Tom Brands in his three years and will still be remembered as one of the great athletes to come through that program. His two titles still put him behind McIlravy, but you can't talk about best Hawks in history without acknowledging Metcalf's achievements.
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157 pounds: Jim Zalesky
Head coach Tom Brands is not the only former coach on the all-time lineup list for the Hawks, as three-time NCAA champion Jim Zalesky also earned his spot at the 157 pound weight class as a result of his three titles at 158 pounds. Zalesky grew up in the state of Iowa and made an immediate impact on the Hawkeye lineup in his first year with the Black and Gold. He finished fifth in his first national tournament before starting a run of three consecutive title wins from 1982 to 1984 that encompassed an 89-match winning streak during his last two seasons. Following his athletic career, Zalesky coached for the Hawks and the Oregon State Beavers, sharing his expertise with a new generation of wrestlers.
Iowa has two additional wrestlers who could fit this spot, but neither of them have as many titles as Zalesky. T.J. Williams notched two titles in 1999 and 2001 at 149 and 157 pounds, but Zalesky gets the edge here with his three titles and most dominant wrestler performance in 1984. Marty Kistler also fits in between 157 and 165 with his two titles 1985 and 1986 at 158 and 167. Kistler could back up Zalesky at 157 or Joe Williams at 165, but in either spot, he'll be topped by the three-timers.
165 pounds: Joe Williams
One decade separates the two best middle-weight Hawkeyes who could take over this spot, as Joe Williams won three titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998 while Mark Perry won two titles in 2007 and 2008. Williams wins by virtue of his third title, but Perry remains a notable alum who has an argument to be the guy here given that he better aligns with the weight.
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Williams finished his career as a four-time All-American with a 129-9 record and two team titles. His first two titles came at 158 pounds, while his third title came at 167, so while 165 isn't exactly the weight Williams wrestled, he's the best fit for this spot. Perry, a two-time champ and four-time All-American, did wrestle at 165 pounds, but Williams gets the nod. Williams' international credentials are impressive as well, as he qualified from the 2004 Olympics and won two World Championship bronze medals.
174 pounds: Joe Scarpello
This might have been the toughest choice across all 10 weights. Two-time NCAA champions Joe Scarpello and Royce Alger have nearly identical statistics. Scarpello won his two titles at 175 pounds in 1947 and 1950. Alger took home top honors at 167 and 177 pounds in 1987 and 1988. Both won multiple conference tournaments as well and picked up All-American honors in their non-championship years.
The Bull is going for #️⃣3️⃣— Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling (@Hawks_Wrestling) March 3, 2021
Joe Scarpello was the first Hawkeye to win three Big Ten titles. He won four from 1947-50. T.J. Williams is the last Hawkeye three-timer. He won titles from 1999-2001. #B1GWrestle pic.twitter.com/hhtN2HG4Ov
But, in the end, Scarpello's fourth All-American honor elevated him past three-time All-American Alger. Scarpello finished his career with a 51-5 record. Add to this the fact that Scarpello is a military veteran who served in the Air Force during World World II, and he emerges as Iowa's guy at 174 pounds in this competitive weight battle.
184 pounds: Ed Banach
The first of two Banach brothers on the Hawkeye all-time list, Ed Banach won three titles for the Black and Gold in 1980, 1981 and 1983. His first two titles came at 177 pounds while he wrapped up his career at 190 pounds. Though neither of these weights align with 184, Ed Banach is needed in the all-time lineup, so we're splitting the difference between his weights. Banach also won gold in the 1984 Olympics, further solidifying him as one of the best to ever wrestle for the University of Iowa.
197: Chris Campbell
The upper-weights were strong for the Hawks in the late 70s and early 80s as Chris Campbell also notched two titles at the weight in 1976 and 1977. He's in the position that a lot of two-time Hawkeye champs are in that there is someone throughout the history of the program with one more title at a weight similar to his. We're going to put him at 197 pounds though to keep him on in the starting lineup, and this move is justified because he won an Olympic medal up at 198. Iowa has also not had a two-time champ at a weight close enough to 197 pounds that would likely outwrestle Campbell, which secures him a position on this list.
285: Lou Banach
There's one name that stands alone on the Hawkeye list of greats at heavyweights, and that name is none other than Lou Banach, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist and an NCAA champion in 1981 and 1983. Banach arrived in Iowa City in 1979 from New York where he and his brother Ed played competitive football along with wrestling. Their toughness became their trademark, and both brothers produced successful collegiate careers with the Hawkeyes. Lou Banach finished with an 89-13-2 overall record to accompany his two national titles, ending his time with the Black and Gold by posting and overall winning percentage of 85.58. He is the perfect anchor for this team of stars.