Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)
The NCAA wrestling season has entered the heart of the conference dual meet season, and that means the return of storied rivalry matches. On Sunday, the Iowa Hawkeyes head to Minnesota to take on the Gophers at Maturi Pavilion. The Hawkeyes have won four out of the last five matches between the two schools, and they are the favorite on paper again this year. However, almost all of the individual bouts will be first-time matches and several have swing potential. Look for this to potentially be a close dual meet until the end.
The following is a weight-by-weight preview with predictions for Sunday's dual meet in Minneapolis.
125: No. 2 Spencer Lee (Iowa) vs. No. 6 Sean Russell (Minnesota)
After defeating Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern) twice last season, Lee was expected to walk through the Midlands field. However, in the finals, Rivera surprised Lee with some nifty leg attacks and took the match 7-3. Lee now has three losses in college and two have come at the Midlands Championships. He will be looking to get back on track here against Russell. The two met at the Midlands last season, and Lee took home a 15-0 technical fall. If he can get on top again early in this match, folks should expect a similar result.
With that being said, Lee has seemed to fade in all of his matches past the first period this season, so Russell's strategy should be to stage a late match comeback. Since transferring from Edinboro, the senior has gone 17-2 with his only two losses coming against Ronnie Bresser (Oregon State) and Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State). Since the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, he has gone 5-0 with three technical falls and two major decisions.
Prediction: Lee (Iowa) tech. fall Russell (Minnesota)
133: No. 10 Austin DeSanto (Iowa) vs. No. 7 Ethan Lizak (Minnesota)
DeSanto is coming off a first-place finish at the Midlands in a mostly cleared out weight class. His best win of the bracket was over Noah Gonser (Campbell). His lone loss on the season came when he was thrown to his back by Austin Gomez (Iowa State) in the third period of a tied match.
Lizak moved up to 133 pounds after previously spending his entire collegiate career at 125 pounds. At the new weight class, he has gone 16-3 with signature wins over Sean Nickell (CSU Bakersfield), Chas Tucker (Cornell) and John Erneste (Missouri).
On the feet, DeSanto's pace and leg attacks should give the advantage. However, Lizak may be able to take away that advantage from the top position. He has always been a tough rider, and DeSanto showed some issues on the bottom earlier this season against Tim Rooney (Kent State). If DeSanto has a strong period, he should be able to hold on for a victory. However, Lizak should be more than game in this bout.
Prediction: DeSanto (Iowa) dec. Lizak (Minnesota)
141: No. 15 Max Murin (Iowa) vs. No. 6 Mitchell McKee (Minnesota)
McKee seems to have been rejuvenated by a move up in weight. At 133 pounds, he showed flashes of the brilliance that made him a highly ranked recruit, but he seemed to have issues in the big matches. At the new weight, he may have put those issues behind. He is 10-1 on the season and defeated longtime rival Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State) earlier this season.
Murin seems to have finally settled this weight class, which had been a revolving door for Iowa over the past few seasons. He has gone 9-2 on the season and made the finals of the Midlands. However, he has dropped his only two matches against ranked opponents. Murin likes to get physical in the ties and force his opponent around the mat with snaps. That likely will not be effective against McKee. The Minnesota wrestler should be able to hold his on in the lockup and create opportunities for his upper body offense.
Prediction: McKee (Minnesota) dec. Murin (Iowa)
149: No. 12 Patricio Lugo (Iowa) vs. No. 20 Tommy Thorn (Minnesota)
Thorn was an All-American in the 2017 season, but since then he has been up and down. So far this season, he has continued the inconsistency. He has already split matches against two different opponents Alex Opsal (Air Force) and Henry Pohlmeyer (South Dakota State). The talent and scrambling ability are clearly there, but nobody knows what to expect from Thorn on a match-by-match basis.
Lugo has already experienced his own ups and downs this season. He started the year losing three of his first four matches, and at points he did not appear to be one-hundred percent. At the Midlands, he finished fourth. Along the way, he knocked off a pair of former top recruits from Arizona State, Nicholas Villarreal and Jacori Teemer, but lost matches against Matt Kolodzik (Princeton) and the redshirting Sammy Sasso (Ohio State).
While Lugo has had his struggles so far this season, this bout lines up well for him stylistically. Being short may seems like a disadvantage, but Lugo uses his lack of height well. He is able to get in on shots, avoid scrambles and finish. If he is initially able to close the distance, he should be able to score multiple takedowns and take this bout.
Prediction: Lugo (Iowa) dec. Thorn (Minnesota)
157: No. 5 Kaleb Young (Iowa) vs. No. 9 Steve Bleise (Minnesota)
Already this season, Bleise has had to fight through a rather serious injury, but he has put together a 10-1 record. His only loss on the season came against Josh Humphreys (Lehigh), and he has already knocked off Peyton Robb (Nebraska) and Andrew Shomers (Oklahoma State).
Young has looked great since coming down to 157 pounds this season. He previously competed at 165 pounds in a reserve role and even filled in as high as 174 pounds. He made the finals of the Midlands before the second-ranked wrestler in the country handed him his only loss of the season. This could easily turn into a swing match. Both wrestlers are known for their ability to stay in matches and come on strong late in the bout. In the end, Young should probably be the favorite based on takedown ability and common opponents. However, this could easily end up being a swing match.
Prediction: Young (Iowa) dec. Bleise (Minnesota)
165: No. 2 Alex Marinelli (Iowa) vs. Carson Brolsma (Minnesota)
Marinelli entered the postseason last year with an undefeated record and holding a win over the returning champion at this weight, Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State). However, he failed to win either the Big Ten or NCAA tournament. With that being said, he has come out of the gate strong once again in his sophomore season. He won all 11 of his matches including four falls. In the finals of the Midlands, he knocked off Evan Wick (Wisconsin) who had defeated him via major decision when they last met at the NCAA tournament.
Many expected Jake Allar to hold down this spot for the Gophers this season, but Brolsma took control of the position early with a sudden victory win over Allar at the Daktronics Open. On the season, he has gone 13-4. In his last bout at the South Beach Duals, he nearly knocked off Demetrius Romero (Utah Valley) but ultimately fall 12-10 in sudden victory.
Marinelli appears to have made strides in the offseason. He will be a big favorite in this match and will try to give his team some bonus points. Brolsma has only surrender bonus once this season against Chandler Rogers (Oklahoma State), but Marinelli might just be able to force the issue.
Prediction: Marinelli (Iowa) maj. dec. Brolsma (Minnesota)
174: Mitch Bowman (Iowa) vs. No. 11 Devin Skatzka (Minnesota)
After filling in at both 184 pounds and 197 pounds over the past two seasons, it looked like Bowman might be the odd man out of the Hawkeye lineup this season. However, an injury to All-American Michael Kemerer at 174 pounds created an opening, and Bowman worked his way down. His first action at the new weight came at the Midlands where he went 2-2 and failed to place. It may not have been an inspiring start, but the senior is almost certainly their best choice for the weight.
Skatzka transferred over from Indiana in the offseason where he was a two-time NCAA qualifier at this weight class. So far in his new home, he has gone 16-5. All of those losses have come against ranked competition. At the South Beach Duals, he won three out of his four matches including a fall, a technical fall and his third victory this season over Kimball Bastian (Utah Valley). Skatzka is a grinder who can score from a variety of positions. He has been around the Big Ten and picked up invaluable experience. Bowman should be a test, but he should be able to power through and pick up the win.
Prediction: Skatzka (Minnesota) dec. Bowman (Iowa)
184: No. 14 Cash Wilcke (Iowa) vs. Brandon Krone (Minnesota)
Wilcke should be the favorite in this bout. He is the one who is ranked, and he is coming off a finalist performance at the Midlands where his only loss was a one-point decision against Drew Foster (Northern Iowa). However, Krone's ability to ride and score points from the top position make him a consistent upset threat. He knocked off Wilcke's teammate Bowman twice last season by doing damage from the top position. That will certainly be his game plan. An upset from Krone would go a long way towards helping Minnesota pull the upset in the dual, but it probably is not in the cards.
Prediction: Wilcke (Iowa) dec. Krone (Minnesota)
197: No. 6 Jacob Warner (Iowa) vs. Rylee Streifel (Minnesota)
Streifel has moved down to 197 pounds after Steveson came out of redshirt earlier this season. At the new weight, he has gone 3-4 including a loss against teammate Dylan Anderson. In theory, he may have lost the starting spot with that defeat, but he started all four of Minnesota's matches at the South Beach Duals. It will be interesting to see how he slots in at 197 pounds, but he will be facing a tough test here against Warner.
Some Iowa fans may feel the need to adjust their expectations after Warner's recent performance at the Midlands. He came into the tournament ranked fourth in the country, but he dropped matches against Tanner Sloan (South Dakota State) and Rocco Caywood (Army) and ended up finishing fifth. He may not end up being a finalist contender, but he is still an aggressive wrestler on the feet. His penchant to push the pace and move forward will get Streifel in a lot of trouble in this match and likely lead him to victory.
Prediction: Warner (Iowa) dec. Streifel (Minnesota)
285: No. 1 Sam Stoll/Aaron Costello (Iowa) vs. No. 2 Gable Steveson (Minnesota)
On paper this should be the marquee match of the dual meet. It should be a battle between the first and second ranked wrestlers at heavyweight. However, odds are that this match will not take place. To say that Stoll has been on a pitch count would be an understatement. He has wrestled only three matches all season and dropped out of the Midlands after only two matches. Whether he is hurt or simply rounding into form is unknown. Either way, it will likely be Costello for this match. He has shown well in limited fill-in duty this season, but he is still only 6-4 and will not be a challenge for Steveson.
Steveson came into this season with a lot of hype and, so far, he has more than lived up to it. He has gone 19-0 on the year and won three tournaments, including the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. He has already defeated the likes of Derek White (Oklahoma State), Tanner Hall (Arizona State) and Jordan Wood (Lehigh) and shows no signs of slowing down.
If Stoll goes this could be an interesting match. Steveson should still be able to take the bout with his activity and takedown ability. However, it will likely be Costello who will have a hard time avoiding the fall.
Prediction: Steveson (Minnesota) fall over Costello (Iowa)
Predicted Dual Meet Score: Iowa 24, Minnesota 12
This story also appears in the Jan. 11 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.