IOWA CITY — Like many of his teammates in the Iowa wrestling room, Michael Kemerer is tired of hearing the same old thing.
“Maybe next year, maybe next year,’’ is how the returning all-American put it Monday at the Hawkeyes’ preseason media day. “We’re ready to win right now. It doesn’t matter how old you are or aren’t. We’ve got guys here who are ready.’’
Iowa’s readiness will be tested beginning Friday, when the third-ranked Hawkeyes open their 2018-19 season with a double dual at Kent State with Cal Bakersfield.
Coach Tom Brands’ 13th Iowa team returns a group of seven NCAA qualifiers and four all-Americans including defending 125-pound national champion Spencer Lee.
But, many of the obstacles that have stood between Iowa and the NCAA team championship since 2010 remain.
Three-time defending NCAA champion Penn State returns three NCAA champions while national runner-up and defending Big Ten champion Ohio State is building around a pair of wrestlers who open the season ranked in the top two in the country.
Both begin the season ranked ahead of the Hawkeyes in national preseason polls, just as things ended when team trophies were handed out last March at the NCAA Championships.
“Penn State, they’re on top of the mountain right now, but the pieces are here for us to do big things,’’ Lee said. “The pieces are here for us to make it happen. It’s up to us.’’
Brands labels it a challenge.
“Two, three or four is easy,’’ Brands said. “One, that’s tough. Being one is tough.’’
Iowa has been tough enough to be the one three times during Brands’ tenure, but its best finish since 2010 is a runner-up effort in 2015.
“The challenge is great. If you want to be the champion, be the champion,’’ Brands said.
Toward that objective, Brands encourages his Hawkeyes to “be like Lee.’’
No wrestler in last year’s NCAA Championships accumulated more points than Lee did in becoming a national champion as a freshman.
“Go out and take what you want,’’ Brands said. “… He scores a lot of points and we want guys to score points. He inspires guys, scoring a lot of points and turning those into bonus points.’’
Lee doesn’t plan on resting on past success.
“The approach doesn’t change,’’ Lee said. “Go out and win.’’
Iowa returns all-Americans in three other weight classes well, with Kemerer moving up from 157 pounds to 174 after a fourth-place finish and Sam Stoll at 285 and Alex Marinelli at 165 looking to build on fifth- and sixth-place finishes respectively. Kaleb Young is expected to replace Kemerer at 165.
The Hawkeyes will have newcomers involved as well.
Drexel transfer Austin DeSanto defeated Bettendorf’s Paul Glynn for the starting nod to open the season at 133 and Edinboro transfer Pat Lugo will open the year at 149.
“There is more talent and more energy in the room now than there was a year ago,’’ Glynn said. “We’re all getting pushed by some of the new guys, the transfers, the freshmen. It’s making us all better. It’s a good situation. We’re all working for the same thing.’’
DeSanto, an NCAA qualifier during a 29-7 freshman season at Drexel, has brought energy to the Iowa wrestling room.
“The attitude, the way guys work here, it’s off the charts,’’ DeSanto said. “I’m ready to be a part of it and make some things happen.’’
He’s not alone.
Redshirt freshman Max Murin won a wrestle-off at 141 that involved 2017-18 starters Vince Turk and Carter Happel, and redshirt freshman Jacob Warner will move into the lineup at 197, moving returning starter Cash Wilcke to 184 where he defeated returning NCAA qualifier Mitch Bowman of North Scott in a wrestle-off last week.
Warner, coming off of international competition in October, will not compete for Iowa until later this month but Brands believes he will strengthen the Hawkeyes lineup.
Brands also anticipates that shifting Wilcke to 184 will allow him to use his athleticism to create success at the lower weight.
“He’s leaner, he’s meaner, hungry like a wolf, not a fat cat on the back of a couch on a sunny day in the window basking, being lazy, eating and feeding, all those things ...’’ Brands said.
“He won a match Friday in a lopsided fashion against a guy I think very highly of in Mitch Bowman, a guy who was one round away from placing last year.’’
That tells Brands there are good things going on in the wrestling room as the season begins.
“We have to keep getting better. We have to get better every day,’’ Brands said, adding that is the only path that will lead the Hawkeyes to where they want to be.
“The challenge is great and we’re up for it. We’re never not up for it. We’ve just have to do a better job. … Here is the thing. If you want to be the champion, be the champion.”