Drake Ayala (right) and Devin Schroder (Photos/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
How to Watch: January 9th, Big Ten Network (3pm EST)
We didn't have much time to speculate or continue this will he/won't he game regarding Iowa's replacement for three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee. On Friday night, Tom Brands unleashed blue-chip, true freshman Drake Ayala at 125 lbs opposite returning All-American Patrick McKee (Minnesota). Starting a true freshman has been a rarity during Brands' tenure, so sending out Ayala in the first dual without Lee speaks volumes to how the staff views Ayala.
Through 13 matches in his first year in Iowa City, Ayala has compiled a 10-3 record, with all three losses coming to 2021 NCAA third-place finisher McKee. In each contest, Ayala has never looked out of place or outclassed. He's hung with, and even led the All-American, which has given many observers the indication that Ayala could flip this result with more time in the Iowa room and experience against DI competition.
That's what we're looking at today; Ayala's path for the remainder of the regular season and the Big Ten Championships. By the time the conference meet rolls around, in early March, he'll undoubtedly be battle-tested as the Hawkeye schedule is loaded with potential tests at the 125 lb weight class. Starting today!
At 3pm (eastern), on the Big Ten Network, Ayala will tangle with two-time Big Ten runner-up Devin Schroder (Purdue). The Boilermaker veteran is currently ranked fifth in the nation and possesses one of the most dangerous top games at this weight. Many freshmen struggle on the mat, so this will be a considerable test for Ayala.
January 14th - #17 Michael DeAugustino (Northwestern)
The 2021 NCAA Round of 12 finisher did not see action this year before Friday evening. DeAugustino made his presence known and took out returning All-American #4 Eric Barnett (Wisconsin) in his debut. He is definitely ranked lower than his abilities indicate, more of a function of a lack of data for the 2021-22 season.
January 16th - #24 Justin Cardani (Illinois)
The 2020 NCAA qualifier is coming off a title at the MatMen Open, where he downed a pair of ranked wrestlers.
January 21st - #14 Malik Heinselman (Ohio State)
The much-improved Heinselman currently sports an 11-1 record and is looking to improve upon his fourth-place finish at the 2021 Big Ten Championships. While known as being slick on his feet, Heinselman has been more well-rounded during this campaign.
January 28th - Drew Hildebrandt (Penn State)
This will be a colossal matchup in one of the most-anticipated duals of the year. Hildebrandt made his PSU debut on Friday with a pin against Maryland, but it remains to be seen what kind of shape he's in. If anywhere close to his 2021 form that led to a fourth-place finish at NCAA's, Hildebrandt will be a huge test for Ayala.
February 5th - #4 Eric Barnett (Wisconsin)
The third 2021 All-American on Ayala's schedule, Barnett presents a different challenge from some of the other opponents. He's capable of scoring points in bunches and with big moves, so he may be the most dangerous of the crew.
February 12th - #9 Trevor Mastrogiovanni (Oklahoma State)
The Iowa/Oklahoma State match is one that will take place at the Texas Rangers' stadium (Globe Life Field) alongside a dual with Team USA/Iran. #3 Oklahoma State is one of the few teams with enough balance to perhaps defeat the Hawkeyes. This bout between Ayala and undefeated Trevor Mastrogiovanni is likely one that propels the winner to a team victory.
February 20th - #23 Liam Cronin/Jeremiah Reno (Nebraska)
If this final dual with Nebraska represents a "let up" for Ayala in the schedule, that tells you just how difficult is upcoming slate is. Returning national qualifier and #13 seed at NCAA's, Cronin, is 3-3, but hasn't competed since the Daktronics Open in late November. Since then, Reno has gotten the call and is 3-6, overall.
March 5/6th - Big Ten Championships
#4 Barnett, #5 Schroder, #7 McKee, #14 Heinselman, #17 DeAugustino, #23 Cronin, #24 Cardani, #25 Jacob Moran (Indiana), #30 Dylan Shawver (Rutgers). Plus, currently unranked Nick Suriano (Michigan) and Hildebrandt.