IOWA CITY — Among the challenges Iowa’s wrestling team faces today against Oklahoma State is the one Cash Wilcke welcomes.
The Hawkeyes’ 197-pound sophomore is off to a 13-0 start to the season, rising to fifth in this week’s national rankings as he prepares to face the Cowboys’ third-rated Preston Weigel in one of five matches in the 3 p.m. dual at Carver-Hawkeye Arena pairing wrestlers ranked in the top 10 in the country.
Weigel won a 6-0 decision over Wilcke a year ago, a win that allowed Oklahoma State to secure its 24-11 victory over Iowa in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
The loss was a rarity for Wilcke, now 32-3 in his Hawkeye career, but it now provides him with a chance to gauge his progress as the Battle Creek, Iowa, native continues to build on what he accomplished during his freshman season.
The year ended in the Round of 12 at the NCAA Championships, where he dropped a 7-6 decision to finish one match shy of earning all-American honors after qualifying for the tourney on an at-large basis following an eighth-place finish at his first Big Ten Championships.
He hasn’t looked back since.
"I knew I always had it in me," Wilcke said. "I just feel like I’ve filled out better this year, and I’m wrestling in a better place right now, more prepared, more ready. I feel like I’m a different wrestler this season. I’ve learned from a year ago."
Wilcke’s 3-1 decision in sudden victory against Illinois’ 10th-rated Andre Lee gave Iowa a chance to rally for a dual win in its Big Ten opener.
He repeated the feat in overtime by an identical score in his title match at the Midlands Championships, defeating Penn’s 13th-rated Frank Mattiace.
Weigel, a returning all-American, is just 3-0 in the start of a junior season delayed because of an injury.
"It will be another good test for me and for us as a team," Wilcke said. "It’s a big dual, but our guys are ready for it."
Iowa’s lineup for the Oklahoma State dual could include as many as three freshmen, with Spencer Lee expected to make his second start at 125 and Alex Marinelli looking to build on his 7-0 start at 165.
Freshman Carter Happel and Vince Turk will both weigh in as potential starters at 141, the same situation Bettendorf’s Paul Glynn and Phillip Laux are in at 133. The Cowboys counter with fourth-rated Dean Heil at 141 and third-ranked Kaid Brock at 133.
"Those young guys bring a lot of energy to the room," Wilcke said. "You can’t even tell they are freshmen."
Oklahoma State features rated wrestlers at nine weights and could send as many as six competitors rated in the top eight nationally into the tradition-filled dual between programs that have combined for 57 NCAA championships in the sport.
"This team coming in is in that championship-caliber ranking," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "We’re probably just outside of that, but this is a great opportunity to position ourselves in that category, which is where we want to be."
Today’s test is the first of three straight duals against opponents ranked in the top 10 nationally in the most recent National Wrestling Coaches Association Division I poll.
The Hawkeyes travel to second-rated Ohio State one week from today before hosting eighth-ranked Michigan on Jan. 27.
Brandon Sorensen is preparing to face the Cowboys in a dual for the fourth time in his career.
The second-ranked 149-pound senior said the approach in preparing for a rated opponent from Oklahoma State — he’ll either face Boo Lewallen or Geo Martinez — remains the same.
"You have to be who you are," Sorensen said. "Stay calm, stay focused, get to your attacks, get to where you need to be. Some scores may be harder to finish, but you have to trust yourself and your style. The little things matter. They always do against these guys."
At the other end of the spectrum, Lee is preparing to face sixth-rated Nick Piccininni today after earning a pin in his Hawkeye debut last week.
Lee was in the stands at Kinnick Stadium the last time Oklahoma State visited Iowa City, part of a crowd of 42,287 that watched the Hawkeyes earn an 18-16 victory in the unique outdoor dual.
"I know these two teams have been battling for a long time and that it’s always been a hard-fought, fun dual," Lee said. "I’m pretty excited to be part of it."