Sesker Slant: No weak links in loaded Hawkeye lineup

By Craig Sesker For The Predicament

IOWA CITY - The Iowa Hawkeyes are back in a familiar spot.

Ranked No. 1 in the country.

As the calendar flipped to December, Iowa sent a resounding message to the college wrestling world for the second straight weekend.

This team is for real. And ready to make a run at the storied program’s first national team championship since 2010.

Iowa’s impressive 32-3 home win over No. 6 Wisconsin on Sunday night certainly was proof of that.

What’s not to like about this Iowa team? They are experienced, talented and on a mission to overtake a Penn State program that has ruled college wrestling eight of the past nine seasons.

Iowa teams always are in superb physical condition, and this team is no exception.

What really caught my attention Sunday was how technical this team is. The Hawkeyes have a reputation for being tough, gritty and hard-nosed, but this team also has guys who score in an abundance of ways. And they are scoring with well-executed techniques.

One of the prime examples of that is Iowa All-American Austin DeSanto, who has expanded his arsenal on his feet. He can score with more than just a fireman’s carry attack. That was evident when he scored three takedowns in a 6-2 win over 2018 NCAA champion and top-ranked Seth Gross at 133 pounds.

DeSanto also topped Nick Suriano of Rutgers last year at home before Suriano went on to win a national title. DeSanto definitely looks improved and he’s worked hard at keeping his emotions under control. He likely will ascend to the No. 1 ranking this week.

Junior Spencer Lee is the home run hitter at the top of Iowa’s loaded lineup. The two-time national champion continues to supply a spark in rolling to dominating wins to start duals at 125. Lee definitely leads the way for this powerful squad.

Junior Alex “Bull” Marinelli experienced a disappointing end to his season last March, but the two-time All-American looked sharp in downing second-ranked Evan Wick. Marinelli finished impressively in scoring a pair of takedowns at 165.

The return of two-time All-American Michael Kemerer is huge for the Hawkeyes. Kemerer is up two weight classes after missing last year with an injury, but he looks strong at 174. He is a guy with the potential to reach the national championship match this season.

Talented sophomore Jacob Warner is ranked fourth at 197. Warner is a big-time wrestler who will be a force as he looks to open up more in his bouts.

Returning All-Americans Kaleb Young (157) and Pat Lugo (149) also looked sharp. They are both capable of climbing higher on the NCAA medal podium this season. Returning starter Max Murin also has made gains at 141.

Iowa still has to figure out who their starter is at 184. National qualifier Cash Wilcke lost a close bout to a good wrestler Sunday and freshman Nelson Brands is already making a strong case to be the guy in this weight class. Brands scored a big win over Iowa State’s highly ranked Sam Colbray the previous Sunday. Brands has a motor and he will keep improving despite being undersized at 184. Either way, the Hawks are solid with either Wilcke or Brands in this division.

Freshman heavyweight Tony Cassioppi capped the dual against Wisconsin by earning an impressive win over No. 3 Trent Hillger. Cassioppi is new to the lineup, but he wrestles with the poise of a fifth-year senior.

The lopsided team score was a bit deceiving when you consider Iowa won a handful of tight matches against a strong Badger team.

But the Hawkeyes are worthy of their perch as the No. 1 team in the land. They have seven wrestlers ranked in the top five nationally.

There are still three months left in a long, grueling season and Penn State is a team that knows how to peak when the stakes are highest.

But the Nittany Lions know they will have a challenge on their hands.

The Iowa Hawkeyes are determined to make a run at the gold trophy this season.

And at this point in the season, the Hawkeyes definitely look like the team to beat.