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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    #2 Iowa vs #11 Oklahoma State (Bout at the Ballpark) Preview

    Daton Fix (left) and Austin DeSanto at the 2021 NCAA Championships (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    While the international freestyle dual between the U.S. and Iran fell through, the collegiate dual between No. 2 Iowa and No. 11 Oklahoma State will still headline Saturday's Bout at the Ballpark event. The Cowboys are on a bit of a skid having lost three of their last four duals. However, the annual rivalry match remains one of the highlights of the college season. The following is a weight-by-weight prediction of the match.

    125: No. 7 Trevor Mastrogiovanni/Alex Yokubaitis (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 12 Drake Ayala/Jesse Ybarra (Iowa)

    Injuries are likely to have a big impact on this match. Mastrogiovanni suffered an ankle injury last Friday against South Dakota State's Tanner Jordan, but he was able to hold on for the 2-1 victory. However, he sat out Sunday's match against Missouri. For the year, Mastrogiovanni has gone 12-1 with his only loss coming against No. 18 Kysen Terukina (Iowa State). He holds impressive wins over No. 9 Patrick McKee (Minnesota) and No. 19 Brody Teske (Northern Iowa). Yokubaitis, who filled in against Missouri, is only 3-3 on the year with all three of his victories coming over lower division opposition.

    Multiple-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee was originally supposed to make one more run at a title. However, after giving it a shot at the National Collegiate Duals back in December, he opted to end his season and get surgery. Iowa then pulled the redshirt from three-time Iowa state champion Ayala. He put up multiple impressive wins, but has now also suffered an injury. Ybarra, who filled in early for Lee, has been reinserted into the lineup. The multiple-time Arizona state champion is 5-4 for the season, but only one of his wins came against a Division I opponent.

    It seems unlikely that Iowa is going to send out Ayala at this point. Oklahoma State could take an early lead and perhaps take bonus points if Mastrogiovanni is able to go. If he can't Ybarra would likely be able to defeat Yokubaitis. Considering the gravity of this event, it seems likely that the Cowboys will send Mastrogiovanni.

    Prediction: Mastrogiovanni (Oklahoma State) decision over Jesse Ybarra

    133: No. 2 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 3 Austin DeSanto (Iowa)

    After winning a silver medal at the 2021 World Championships, Fix returned to Oklahoma State looking for his third finals appearance and first title. This season he has won all 14 of his matches and picked up bonus points in 10 of those matches, with signature wins over No. 17 Malyke Hines (Lehigh) and No. 18 Kyle Biscoglia (Northern Iowa).

    DeSanto is already a four-time NCAA qualifier and a two-time All-American. He has gone 13-1 so far in his last season for the Hawkeyes. DeSanto's lone loss on the season came against returning national champion No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) via a 3-2 score. He has since bounced back with a 26-11 technical fall over Kyle Burwick (Wisconsin).

    This will be the third meeting between Fix and DeSanto. Their first encounter came in the 2019 edition of this rivalry. Fix was able to get his escape in the second period and then rode out the third for a 2-0 victory. Desanto got another shot at Fix in last year's NCAA semifinals. This time Fix scored a first-period takedown and held on for a 3-2 victory. While DeSanto was able to get out on bottom in the second match, Fix's defense was on full display. It will be interesting to see if DeSanto changes up his tactics, but in the end, Fix should be able to lean on his defense and win another close one.

    Prediction: Fix (Oklahoma State) decision over DeSanto (Iowa)

    141: No. 21 Carter Young (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 2 Jaydin Eierman (Iowa)

    Young signed with Northwestern out of high school. This past summer, he placed third at the World Team Trials with victories over Nahshon Garrett, Tyler Graff and Seth Gross. Then in September, he transferred to Oklahoma State and stepped into the lineup as a true freshman. The Stillwater native has gone 8-4 and picked up victories over No. 23 Cael Happel (Northern Iowa) and Connor McGonagle (Lehigh).

    Eierman is about to finish his third season with Iowa after previously spending four seasons with Missouri. He sat out his first year with the Hawkeyes and then finished second at the NCAA tournament this past season. So far this season, he has gone 13-1 with his only defeat coming in a rematch of the NCAA finals against No. 1 Nick Lee (Penn State). In the bout, he scored a last-second takedown to send the match to sudden victory but ultimately lost in the extra period. Since that defeat, Eierman bounced back with a 13-5 major decision over Joseph Zargo (Wisconsin) last weekend.

    Young has been able to keep it close with some of the top wrestlers at this weight, but he has not really been able to break through. On the other hand, Eierman has let some of his opponents hang around during this year. As always, the Hawkeye has the ability to make a difference from the top position. If he is able to implement that offense here, bonus points are not out of the question.

    Prediction: Eierman (Iowa) decision over Young (Oklahoma State)

    149: No. 13 Kaden Gfeller (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 10 Max Murin (Iowa)

    Gfeller qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2019 as a redshirt freshman. Since then, he has bounced in and out of the lineup, but it looks like he has finally locked down a spot this year. Gfeller lost his first match on the year against No. 12 Jaden Abas (Stanford), but he then rattled off 12-straight victories including wins over No. 30 Michael Blockhus (Minnesota), No. 21 Jarrett Degen (Iowa State), No. 23 Josh Edmond (Missouri) and Dom Demas.

    Murin has twice made the round of 12 at the NCAA tournament, and he is hoping to break through and become an All-American this year. He has started this season with a 7-2 record. Not only is that a solid record, but his schedule has also been tough. Murin already holds wins over Ian Parker (Iowa State), No. 19 Beau Bartlett (Penn State) and No. 11 Yahya Thomas (Northwestern). Last month, he nearly upset No. 2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) as he scored a late reversal to go up 2-1, but the scrambly Sasso reversed him back to escape with the 3-2 victory.

    This might turn out to be one of the most evenly contested matches of the dual. Both wrestlers are having resurgent seasons. However, a slight edge should be given to Murin. He appears to have figured out a strategy that works for him as he has limited opportunities for his opponents and made a difference in the top position. It is a toss up but look for Murin to pull this one out.

    Prediction: Murin (Iowa) decision over Gfeller

    157: No. 18 Wyatt Sheets (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 12 Kaleb Young (Iowa)

    For his first couple of seasons for the Cowboys, Sheets filled in as necessary. However, for the last three years he has held down the spot at 157-pounds. He qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time in 2020 and became an All-American last season with an eighth-place finish. Sheets started this season with an 8-1 mark, but then dropped three-straight matches.

    Young is a two-time All-American in his final year with the Hawkeyes. He had a very tough start to this season as he lost five of his first seven matches against Division I opponents. However, since a loss against No. 4 Brayton Lee (Minnesota), in early January, Young has settled down and won six-straight bouts. The results have not always been flashy, but he has relied on his defense and managed matches on the way to victories.

    This will be the fourth match between these two wrestlers. Young holds a 2-1 advantage in the series. Sheets is a plus rider, and Young has struggled when forced to work from the bottom. However, in their last meeting the Hawkeye showed he can mostly avoid that riding and pulled out a 3-2 victory. Look for a similar result here.

    Prediction: Young (Iowa) decision over Sheets (Oklahoma State)

    165: No. 8 Travis Wittlake (Oklahoma State) vs No. 5 Alex Marinelli (Iowa)

    In his first two years as a starter, Wittlake has gone 50-5 and finished fourth at last year's NCAA tournament to become an All-American. He holds a 9-3 record this season, but he missed some time with an injury. Wittlake returned from a brief hiatus in late January, and has gone 2-2 with wins over decision victories over No. 31 Isaac Judge (Iowa State) and No. 33 Tanner Cook (South Dakota State) as well as losses against No. 12 Austin Yant (Northern Iowa) and No. 2 Keegan O'Toole (Missouri).

    Marinelli has been a mainstay of the Iowa lineup for years. Last year, he went 7-1 on the season but dropped out of the NCAA tournament with injury and his bid for a third All-American season came up short. Marinelli is back for a final run, and he has gone 16-1 with his only loss coming against No. 4 Carson Kharchla (Ohio State). Marinelli seemed to have the match in hand after building riding time in the third period, but Kharchla escaped and scored a late takedown to pull out the 3-2 victory. Since that defeat, Marinelli has returned to form with back-to-back victories over No. 11 Brady Berge (Penn State) and No. 6 Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin).

    Wittlake and Marinelli met once before. It was a one-takedown match that Marinelli won via a 3-2 score. It took the Iowa wrestler some time to break down Wittlake's defenses, but he was the one coming forward and looking for offense throughout. Since it appears as if Wittlake is still dealing with an injury, this bout should favor Marinelli.

    Prediction: Marinelli (Iowa) decision over Wittlake (Oklahoma State)

    174: No. 10 Dustin Plott (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 2 Michael Kemerer (Iowa)

    Plott qualified for the NCAA tournament last year as a true freshman. He had a strong start to this season as he began by winning his first nine matches including victories over No. 11 Michael O'Malley (Drexel), No. 19 Anthony Mantanona (Oklahoma) and No. 15 Hayden Hastings (Wyoming). However, he has split his last four bouts. While he has picked up recent victories over No. 25 Joel Devine (Iowa State) and No. 12 Cade Devos (South Dakota State), he has also lost to No. 20 Lance Runyon (Northern Iowa) and Sean Harman (Missouri).

    Kemerer is a seventh-year senior and still one of the top wrestlers in college. The three-time All-American has gone 6-1 on the season and his only defeat came against No. 1 Carter Starocci (Penn State). The match was truly a battle of will as neither wrestler was able to crack the other's prolific defense. After multiple challenges and reviews, Starocci ultimately won in tie breaker. Kemerer got back on track last weekend with a major decision over No. 26 Andrew McNally (Wisconsin).

    Against Starocci, Kemerer showed that he has plenty left in the tank. He might not jump on opponents from the start the way he used to, but in the absolute worst case scenario, he should be able to depend on his defense. Plott presents some interesting challenges, but against Kemerer this might be a struggle to keep it to a regular decision.

    Prediction: Kemerer (Iowa) major decision over Plott (Oklahoma State)

    184: No. 11 Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 15 Abe Assad (Iowa)

    After qualifying for the NCAA tournament for Edinboro in 2017, Geer transferred to Oklahoma State where he has become a two-time All-American. So far this season, he has built an 11-3 record. He hit a rough patch recently that saw him drop back-to-back matches against No. 4 Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa) and No. 7 Marcus Coleman (Iowa State). However, last weekend, he scored a 2-0 decision over No. 24 Jeremiah Kent (Missouri).

    Assad qualified for the NCAA tournament as a true freshman back in 2020 and sat out last year with an injury. He is 10-4 for his sophomore season and coming off a 4-2 decision over No. 27 Chris Weiler (Wisconsin). Assad went to overtime earlier this year against No. 6 Kaleb Romero (Ohio State) but ultimately lost. He also picked up impressive wins over No. 28 Max Lyon (Purdue), No. 21 Zac Braunagel (Illinois) and Jack Jessen (Northwestern).

    While Assad has taken some losses this year, he has proved that he belongs in the rough Big Ten 184-pound weight class. However, for his career, he has only two victories over All-American wrestlers and none this season. Geer will have an experience edge, and that should be enough to guide him to a victory here. Iowa fans likely expect Assad to pull that one out, and that possibility is certainly on the table.

    Prediction: Geer (Oklahoma State) decision over Assad (Iowa)

    197: Gavin Stika (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 4 Jacob Warner (Iowa)

    No. 1 AJ Ferrari's car accident and subsequent injury have pressed Stika into service. Since joining the starting lineup, he has gone 1-3 with a victory coming over John Gunderson (Northern Iowa). Prior to starting, Stika competed down at 184 pounds this season where he went 12-3 and placed third at the Reno Tournament of Champions.

    Warner is a two-time All-American who finished fourth at the last NCAA tournament. He dropped his first match against a Division I opponent this year, No. 14 Younger Bastida (Iowa State), but he has since settled down and now holds a 12-2 record. Two weeks ago, Warner held a lead over No. 2 Max Dean (Penn State). However, the Penn State wrestler turned things around in the third period. Warner returned to form last weekend with a 3-1 victory over Junior World champion No. 22 Braxton Amos (Wisconsin).

    In all likelihood, Warner's ability to reattack and ride should be more than enough to carry him to a victory here. If he is able to possibly score a tilt from the top position, he could easily find himself in bonus territory. This is an unfortunate bout for Oklahoma State as they would likely be the favorites here if Ferrari was in the lineup.

    Prediction: Warner (Iowa) decision over Stika (Oklahoma State)

    285: No. 31 Luke Surber (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 4 Anthony Cassioppi (Iowa)

    Surber is the latest in a long line of 197-pound wrestlers to move up to heavyweight for the Cowboys. Last year at the lower weight, he went 8-1 competing in open tournaments and extra matches. This year he has started the whole way for Oklahoma State at heavyweight. Surber's season record currently stands at 8-6, but he is 1-4 in his last five matches with his only victory coming over No. 24 AJ Nevills (South Dakota State).

    Cassioppi finished third at the last NCAA tournament and appears to be one of the best heavyweights in the country yet again this season. Despite uncharacteristically dropping his debut match of the season against Jack DelGarbino (Princeton), the Hawkeye has gone 11-2 with his only other loss coming against Olympic champion No. 1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota). Two weeks ago, he scored a key victory over No. 5 Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State) who was riding high off a victory over No. 3 Mason Parris (Michigan) at the time.

    While Surber being undersized might actually help him against some heavyweight since he will have a quickness and agility advantage. However, that certainly will not be the case against Cassioppi. The Iowa wrestler is extremely tough on top, and he could easily turn this one over for a fall.

    Prediction: Cassioppi (Iowa) major decision over Surber (Oklahoma State)

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