The 2022 college wrestling national championships are over … but the great...
Iowa-Penn State dual features #1 vs. #2 and ‘fresh’ meetings
By Mike Finn
The Jan. 31 dual meet between No. 1 Iowa (8-0) and No. 2 Penn State (7-1) in Carver-Hawkeye Arena will give fans a better idea of who the top dual-meet team in the country is for the 2019-2020 season. It will also give fans a preview of some key match-ups of possible NCAA Championship matches at a number of weights that could greatly affect the 2020 NCAA team race between these two top teams.
The dual will also feature a total of 12 former All-Americans, including a pair of meetings between top-ranked wrestlers at two weights, and two bouts that feature four freshmen.
The following is a weight-by-weight preview of the 10 individual bouts that will be contested Friday, Jan. 31, in Iowa City, Iowa.
The higher-ranked wrestler, according to WIN Magazine’s Jan. 27 rankings, is listed first.
125 — #1 Spencer Lee, Jr. Iowa (Murrysville, Pa.) vs. Brandon Meredith, Fr. (Limerick, Pa.)
Lee (10-0), the two-time NCAA champion, has scored bonus points (off two pins, seven TFs and one MD) in every bout this winter. The Olympic hopeful also earned a spot in this year’s Olympic Trials in April when he won the U.S. Senior Nationals in December.
Meredith (11-8) is a former walk-on and three-time PIAA qualifier, who opened the season behind early-season starter Brody Teske, the Iowa native who later transferred to Northern Iowa. One of Meredith’s bigger wins was an 8-5 victory over Penn’s Michael Colaiocco on Dec. 8.
This would be their first career meeting.
133 — #2 Austin DeSanto, Jr. Iowa (Exeter, Pa.) vs. #4 Roman Bravo-Young, So. (Tucson, Ariz.)
These two 2019 All-Americans met twice last season with the Hawkeye winning both times: 12-8 in the Big Ten tournament and 7-2 in the second round of the NCAA Championships.
DeSanto, who started his career at Drexel in 2018 before transferring to Iowa (where he finished fifth in the 2019 NCAAs), is 12-1 this season with one pin, five TFs and three MDs. His biggest win was a 6-2 decision against Wisconsin’s Seth Gross (the 2018 NCAA champion), which earned the Hawkeye a No. 1 ranking. Gross avenged that loss, 6-5, in the Midlands final.
Bravo-Young, the true sophomore who placed eighth nationally for the Nittany Lions less than a year after winning four Arizona state championships, enters this meeting undefeated (12-0) with a one technical fall and six major decisions. RBY’s biggest win was a 7-6 decision at Arizona State’s Josh Kramer, a 4-2 sudden-victory win over Rutgers’ Sammy Alvarez, and an 11-3 major vs. Nebraska’s Ridge Lovett.
141 — #1 Nick Lee, Jr. Penn State (Evansville, Ind.) vs. Carter Happel, Jr. (Lisbon, Iowa)
The top ranked Lee has had an outstanding season. He’s 12-0 with three pins, five TF and three majors. The Nittany Lion true junior, who placed fifth in the past two NCAA tournaments, scored a 9-1 major decision over Nebraska’s highly-ranked Chad Red on Jan. 24. Lee also qualified for the Olympic Trials by claiming third at 65 kilos at the Senior Nationals in December.
Happel, who is subbing for an injured and nationally-ranked Max Murin, is 6-4 this season and three of those losses have occurred in the last four bouts.
149 — #2 Pat Lugo, Sr. Iowa (Homestead, Fla.) vs. Jarod Verkleeren, So. (Greensburg, Pa.) or Luke Gardner, Jr. (Pottsville, Pa.)
Lugo (13-1), the former transfer from Edinboro, was ranked No. 1 this season after the 2019 All-American defeated North Carolina’s top-ranked Austin O’Connor in winning the Midlands (where he also beat Northern Iowa’s Max Thomsen). But, a 2-1 tiebreaker loss to Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso on Jan. 25 dropped the Hawkeye in the rankings. Lugo has one pin, one TF and three majors.
Verkleeren (12-3) has been a part-time starter the past two years after winning a PIAA state title in 2017. The Nittany Lion had won three straight before losing by fall to Nebraska’s Collin Purinton on Jan. 24. Gardner (6-1), a former PIAA place winner, compiled a 15-10 record the past two years as a reserve, and opened the season as PSU’s starter before losing 3-2 to Verkleeren in the finals of the Army Invitational in November.
157 — #4 Kaleb Young, Jr. Iowa (Punxsutawney, Pa.) vs. Bo Pipher, Jr. (Paonia, Colo.) or Brady Berge, So. (Mantorville, Minn.)
Young (11-2) has won nine straight matches — including a Midlands championship — heading into this dual after losing to Iowa State’s David Carr, 6-1, and Princeton’s Quincey Monday, 3-2, before Christmas. Among his biggest wins was an overtime pin against Purdue’s Kendall Coleman at the Midlands. This comes a year after he placed fifth at the 2019 NCAAs where he earned a pair of wins over current No. 1-ranked Ryan Deakin of Northwestern. This will be Young’s first match against a Penn State wrestler in his career.
Pipher, a former three-time Colorado state high school champ, compiled an 18-18 record in his first two seasons and is just 8-9 as a starter this season. Berge, the former three-time Minnesota state champ, had only wrestled one match this winter after moving up from 149 pounds, where he qualified for last year’s Nationals by claiming sixth at the Big Tens.
165 — #1 Vincenzo Joseph, Sr. Penn State (Pittsburgh, Pa.) vs. #2 Alex Marinelli, Jr. (Miamisburg, Ohio)
Penn State’s Joseph has wrestled his best when its mattered the most at the past three NCAAs — claiming national titles in 2017 and ’18 before settling for second place in 2019. Marinelli has had a pair of All-American finishes: claiming sixth in 2018 and seventh last March. But when it comes to head-to-head match-ups between these All-Americans, the Hawkeye holds a 2-0 career margin over the Nittany Lion; winning 9-6 two years ago in the regular season in a dual in State College, before also earning a 9-3 win over Joseph in the 2019 Big Ten finals.
This year, Marinelli is 14-0 with seven pins and has impressive wins over three All-Americans: 4-2 over Wisconsin’s Evan Wick, 5-3 over Virginia Tech’s David McFadden for a Midlands championship and a 4-3 victory over Nebraska’s Isaiah White.
Joseph, who lost to Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis (who is redshirting) in last year’s NCAA final, is 7-0 this winter with three pins and one technical fall.
174 — #1 Mark Hall, Sr. Penn State (Apple Valley, Minn.) vs. #2 Michael Kemerer, Sr. (Murrysville, Pa.)
Hall, the former six-time Minnesota state champ from Apple Valley High School, became a starter midway through his true freshman season in 2017 and eventually won an NCAA championship over Ohio State’s Bo Jordan that season. Since then, the Nittany Lion had to settle for a pair of second-place finishes against Arizona State’ Zahid Valencia, who has moved up to 184 pounds this winter. This year, Hall is 15-0 with six pins, two TFs and three majors. One of those falls came last week over Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola.
Kemerer has enjoyed an undefeated (8-0) in his first season at 174 pounds after earning two All-American honors (third in 2017 and fourth in 2018) at 157 pounds before an injury forced the Hawkeye to redshirt last winter. Three of Kemerer’s victories this season came against Top-10 foes: Purdue’s Dylan Lydy, 8-4, Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola, 3-1, and Ohio State’s Kaleb Romero, 7-1. While he is listed as a senior, he hopes to earn another year of eligibility after this season.
184 — #7 Aaron Brooks, Fr. Penn State (Hagerstown, Md.) vs. #8 Abe Assad, Fr. (Carol Stream, Ill.)
This will be a battle between two true freshmen who earned starting spots over the holidays for their respective schools.
Iowa took the redshirt off Assad (19-3), a two-time Illinois state champ and Cadet World bronze medalist, shortly after he finished second at the Midlands. Assad lost 4-0 to Northern Iowa’s Taylor Lujan in the finals in Evanston. Among his biggest wins this season was a 6-4 victory over Nebraska All-American Taylor Venz.
Brooks is coming off a banner high school career at North Hagerstown, where he won four Maryland state championships and four NHSCA national titles. Since becoming a starter, Brooks won his first seven bouts this winter, including two falls, before losing to Venz last weekend. He also earned a spot in the 2020 Olympic Trials by claiming sixth at the Senior Nationals in December.
197 — #7 Jacob Warner, So. Iowa (Tolono, Ill.) vs. #19 Shakur Rasheed, Sr. (Coram, N.Y.)
This has been a bit of a roller-coaster sophomore season for Warner (10-3), who finished seventh nationally last March. After opening the season with seven straight wins, including a 5-4 win against Princeton’s Pat Brucki, he lost a pair of matches at the Midlands to Virginia’s Jay Aiello and Brucki. Then, after dominating Purdue’s Christian Brunner, 8-2, he lost 3-1 to Nebraska’s Eric Schultz.
Rasheed, a 2018 All-American, earned an extra year of eligibility in what has been a bumpy season for the Nittany Lion who opened his injury-plagued career at 165 pounds in 2015. After medically redshirting in 2017, Rasheed moved up to 197 pounds in 2018 when he claimed seventh place. But, after dropping down to 184 pounds last winter, the Nittany Lion finished second at the Big Tens and missed earning a second All-American honor at the NCAAs last year. This year, he returned to 197 but did not see action until Jan. 10 and has split four bouts this winter.
285 — #3 Tony Cassioppi, Fr. Iowa (Roscoe, Ill.) vs. #13 Seth Nevills, Fr. (Clovis, Calif.)
In this battle of college rookies, Cassioppi was expected to wrestle for the Hawkeyes coming into the season. Nevills did not. But, when Penn State’s defending national champion Anthony Cassar suffered a season-ending injury at the Senior Nationals in December, Nevills, a true freshman from Clovis, Calif., where he won four California state titles, became Penn State’s starter after Christmas and stands 10-0 coming into this dual. The younger brother of Nick Nevills, the former two-time All-American, Seth is coming off his biggest win of his young career, a 4-0 victory over Nebraska’s Christian Lance that helped the Lions win 20-18 on Jan. 24.
Cassioppi, a former two-time Illinois state champ who compiled a 20-2 record while redshirting last winter, enters this dual with a 13-0 record with five pins and a Midlands championship. Among his biggest wins this winter was a 3-2 victory over Wisconsin All-American Trent Hillger early in the season.