IOWA CITY – Rebuild? Reload?
It’s probably a little of both for the Iowa wrestling team, which finds itself in a unique position entering a season that promises to at times test the patience of 12th year coach Tom Brands.
"This is the first time where I’ve approached a season like this where the exciting things are unknowns," Brands said Wednesday at the Hawkeyes’ annual media day.
Iowa does have some known commodities, and the Hawkeyes will count on the leadership provided by returning All-Americans Brandon Sorensen at 149 pounds and Michael Kemerer at 157.
Both look to build on third-place finishes at last year’s NCAA Championships as part of a lineup that includes returning NCAA qualifiers Sam Stoll at 285, Cash Wilcke at 197 and Joey Gunther, moving from 165 to 174 this season.
With the five lineup spots open and a group of intriguing possibilities in its freshman class, Brands expects his team to evolve over the course of the season.
"What you saw in the wrestle offs last weekend and who emerged there, that is (where) our lineup starts. It could look different going into March or maybe even going into December and the start of our Big Ten schedule," Brands said.
Both three-time Pennsylvania state prep champ Spencer Lee at 125, who is working his way back from an anterior cruciate ligament tear toward an expected return at the Midlands Championships, and three-time Illinois state high school titlist Jacob Warner at 197 have the potential to make an immediate impact.
Four other freshmen — Myles Wilson at 174, Justin Stickley at 125 or 133, Max Murin at 141 and Aaron Costello at 285 — are also in the mix, as is 141-pounder Pat Duggan, a transfer from Lock Haven.
Brands said he is in no rush to put it all together.
The uncertainty about how the lineup will ultimately look has Iowa rated seventh nationally in preseason polls, a neighborhood the Hawkeyes haven’t lived in since finishing eighth in the NCAA finals in 2007.
"There are some good freshmen in the room, highly-motivated, independent guys who can do a lot of things," Sorensen said. "We’ll need several of them to step up."
Brands said sophomore Vince Turk at 141 and redshirt freshman Alex Marinelli at 165 need to make the most of their opportunities, and Stoll, sidelined with knee injuries at times the past two seasons, must stay healthy.
Stoll has cut down to about 265 pounds, providing him with more mobility and flexibility.
"There is a little more pizzazz and a giddy-up in his step, and that’s a positive for him," Brands said.
Two Quad-City area wrestlers expect to be part of the answer to Iowa’s questions this season and positioned themselves in that mix by winning their weight classes during tournament-style wrestle-offs last weekend.
Paul Glynn, a sophomore from Bettendorf, won at 133 while Mitch Bowman, a junior from North Scott, finished first at 184.
Glynn edged senior Phillip Laux in his wrestle-off final at the weight Cory Clark won a national title at last season, and both are among 17 Hawkeyes who will compete on Saturday at the Luther Open.
"This is the next step for me," Glynn said. "My job now is to be the solution at 133 and to compete that way, not move in and out of the lineup. I want to be the guy. I feel good. I feel ready, and this is what I’ve been working toward."
Bowman wrestled at 184, 197 and 285 pounds for Iowa last season and finished 1-2 in dual competition.
That experience left Bowman wanting more.
"I’m excited about the possibilities. I’m in a position where I can help the team," he said. "I’m at a weight (184) where I’m comfortable and where I’m ready to compete. I feel like my technique has improved, and I worked hard all summer to be ready to go."
Bowman’s first action is expected to come when the Hawkeyes host the Iowa City Duals on Nov. 17, and he welcomes the chance to help Iowa off to a good start.
"This team has a chance to surprise some people," Bowman said. "There are a lot of guys people may not be familiar with right now, but that’s going to change. We have some new difference-makers in this room."