Sure the signing of freshman heavyweight Steve Mocco gave the program a lift after finishing a disappointing 2nd to Minnesota last spring, but there is no way the Hawks can contend for the title this year after graduating Eric Juergens, T.J. Williams, Doug Schwab, and Jody Strittmatter, is there?
Last season was hard for most Hawk fans to watch. Despite having the best group of 5-6 wrestlers in the country, Iowa was not a good dual meet or tournament team last season. Despite having a murderers row at the lower weights that scored bonus points and dominated, Iowa was only 18-4 in dual meets overall, and 6-2 in Big Ten meets. How could that be? Well, for starters, the team got almost nothing out of the 197 and heavyweight spots last season as those two weights scored zero team points in both the Big Ten championships and NCAA championships at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. In many years, 8 wrestlers scoring points and doing well at those meets might have been enough, but last season Minnesota exploited Iowa's weakness as they won the title with 10 all-Americans at the NCAA meet. Even though the Gophers did not have anyone make the finals, their quality of depth was able to overcome 4 Iowa finalists, 7 all-Americans, and 2 national champions.
After graduating the four finalists and all-American Gabe McMahon, Iowa doesn't seem to have enough firepower this season to make a run at the crown. However, if newcomers to the lineup progress and develop by the end of the season, the Hawkeyes may make a title run by using the 2000 Gopher plan - winning with numbers and quality.
The 2001 Hawkeye lineup could see as many as 7 new starters from the 2000 season, but that is a little misleading. Some of last year's backups at the lower weights were capable of being all-Americans at the 2000 NCAA meet, but they were behind guys like Schwab and Juergens. If the backups could keep their heads above water against the starters last season in practice, they should be all right against other programs this year.
Junior Matt Anderson will be a new starter at 157 or 165, but he isn't new to starting at Iowa. Matt was 24-15 at 165 lbs. as a freshman in 1999, and finished 4th in the Big Ten meet that season. Despite almost being an all-American that season, he was beat out by Ben Shirk last year. They should both be in the lineup this season at different weights, and should both be all-Americans. Steve Mocco is facing a normally tough test of starting at heavyweight as a true freshman, but Mocco is anything but normal. No recruit has come into the Iowa Room and held his own as well as Mocco since Lincoln McIlravy was a freshman. To put that into perspective, Lincoln was a three-time NCAA champ that won the national championship as a freshman.
None of the new starters are likely to consistently dominate the way that Juergens, Schwab, Williams, or Strittmatter did last season, but as a group, Iowa might be a better dual team and have more all-Americans this year. Besides, returning starters like Mike Zadick, Jessman Smith, and Ben Shirk are already all-American quality themselves.
A look at the Iowa lineup for 2001:
125 - Luke Eustice looks like the clear-cut favorite to replace Strittmatter. As a redshirt freshman last season, Luke was 13-4 mostly as an unattached wrestler. In matches against top place winners at the NCAA meet, he lost to Chris Williams of Michigan State, 4-2. He was 1-0 in the Iowa lineup in dual meets as he beat Robert Potashnick of Northwestern, 21-5. Also finished 5th at the Midlands Championships. He is ranked #10 at his class by Intermat.
133 - Cliff Moore is in a similar position to Eustice in that he is a talented redshirt freshman that is replacing a dominant senior. Eric Juergens won two NCAA titles and was a four time all-American. Not only did Moore get to learn from Eric every day in practice, but he went 17-3 as mostly an unattached wrestler. In matches of note, Cliff lost to NCAA placewinner Pat McNamara of Michigan State by the score of 4-2. He also lost to placewinner Brett Lawrence of Minnesota, 7-3. However, at times last season, Ryan Lewis of Minnesota was the starter in dual meets against Iowa and Eric Juergens because he did better against Eric than Lawrence did. Although Moore was pinned by Lewis the first time they wrestled, Cliff won the rematch at the end of the season, 8-7. He is currently ranked #9 in the Intermat polls.
Unlike 125, 133 has competition that could beat Moore out for the starting spot. Marc Juergens has dropped weight to compete at 133, and Matt Shankey is a very talented redshirt freshman that competed at the 2001 Junior World Championships. In addition, Moore has been recovering from knee surgery and might not be ready for the start of the year. However, in an unattached match last season, Moore defeated Shankey, 6-2.
141 - Junior Luke Moffitt looks to be the frontrunner for this spot. A former junior college national champion at Iowa Central, Luke compiled a 20-5 record during his unattached redshirt season. He is ranked #18 in the preseason polls by both Intermat and W.I.N and is 9-0 so far this year. Redshirt freshman Ryan Heim was 16-5 during his redshirt season last year, but one of his losses was a pin by Moffitt. Moffitt also pinned Heim already this season at the Central Missouri State Open. Senior Josh Budke was 16-7 at 149 last year, and is 12-2 at 141 so far this season.
149 - Senior Mike Zadick is ranked #2 in all preseason polls after finishing 3rd at the NCAA championships last season. Zadick finished strong, but had a very inconsistent 25-8 record. He had great moments where everything clicked in wins over Reggie Wright of Oklahoma State and Jared Lawrence of Minnesota, but he also lost to both of those individuals during the year. Of the wrestlers he lost to last season, the only one he did not beat at some point was Keaton Anderson of Ohio State. If he can find a way to dictate his style and be more consistent, Mike could definitely wrestle for a Big Ten and national title this season. Sometimes last season he did not open up on offense till it was too late in the match. If he wants to take a step forward in his senior year, he needs to wrestle from the first whistle instead of relying on his ability to come back late in the match. Zadick is 6-0 so far this year.
Ty Eustice is a true freshman from Minnesota who could be the future at this weight. The younger brother of fellow Hawk Luke, Ty is 8-2 so far this season.
157 - Matt Anderson has dropped down to this spot after backing up Ben Shirk at 165 last season. The junior was 15-8 last season mostly as an unattached wrestler, but placed 4th in the Big Ten at 165 as a freshman in 2000. He was 24-15 that season and was a victory away from reaching all-American status at the NCAA meet, but lost his position in the lineup last season after losing in the team wrestle-offs to Shirk. Matt is capable of being an all-American this season, but needs to become more consistent. He is ranked by Intermat at #10 this season, and is 9-1 so far.
Joe Johnston is a talented true freshman from Kansas who is 9-3 so far this season, while fellow true freshman Cole Pape of Maquoketa is 5-5. Both of these wrestlers have the talent to help return Iowa Wrestling back to dominance in upcoming seasons.
165 - Senior all-American Ben Shirk is currently ranked at either #5 or #6 in each of the wrestling preseason polls following his wild 2001 season. Unlike a lot of Iowa Wrestlers that thrive on takedowns and scoring from the standing position, Ben is a tumbler who many times scores from reversals and back points. Just when you think he is in a bad position, Shirk might end up getting a pin. Unfortunately, Ben might also end up getting caught and lose the match. Shirk was 29-16 last season with a 7th place finish at the Big Ten meet and a 8th place finish at the NCAA meet. He was 29-16 on the season, and is 7-3 this season. Because of his style, the inconsistency in Ben's overall results may continue in 2002. He is a senior and has a year of starting experience to draw from, but it may be difficult for Shirk to do anything more than what his current ranking is.
174 - Sophomore Tyler Nixt is in a similar position as some of the lower weight starters. He may not have been in the lineup much last season, but he was good enough to contend for all-American status had he not been behind an all-American in the Iowa program. Although Gabe McMahon was only 6th in the NCAA tourney last season, the margin between him and the five wrestlers that finished in front of him was very thin. The margin between McMahon and Nixt was also small last season as Nixt beat McMahon in the Iowa wrestle-offs. McMahon ended up reclaiming his spot in the lineup, but Nixt had a nice season as an unattached role. Tyler was 20-9 on the year, and defeated three Big Ten placewinners. This last summer he also placed in the top-eight in the 76-kilogram class at the 2001 FILA Junior World Championships. He is currently ranked between #12 and #15 in each of the preseason national polls and is 7-1 so far. Adam Fellers is a true freshman from Fort Dodge that is currently 7-3 on the season.
184 - Junior Jessman Smith is ready to breakout after two NCAA near misses. After a freshman season in which he was 20-13 with a 7th place Big Ten finish, Jessman improved to 22-12 and a 4th place Big Ten finish last season. Both years he was one win away from being an all-American. Although he did improve as the season went on, Smith had too many matches that he lost in the third period. A majority of his losses last season were to Damion Hahn of Minnesota and Cael Sanderson of Iowa State. In addition to having his weight under control and another year of maturity and experience, Smith should be better this season because Sanderson moved up to 197. The gap between Smith and Hahn also narrowed as the year went on. This season, Jessman is 9-1 and ranked at either #6 or #7 in the national polls. Paul Bradley of South Tama is another talented true freshman that is currently 8-1 so far in an unattached role.
197 - This position and heavyweight were huge holes in the Iowa lineup last season as neither scored a single point at either the Big Ten or NCAA meets. This season, 197 looks to be much stronger as redshirt freshman Trey Clark and sophomore Ryan Fulsaas fight it out for the chance to start. Fulsaas is the returning starter, but was 6-17 last season. Although the coaches feel he is physically stronger and mechanically more sound this fall, Ryan still has a lot to prove after losing twelve out his last thirteen decisions last season. In open competition, Fulsaas is 3-1 this year.
Clark wrestled his matches in an unattached role last season, but is ranked at #19 in the preseason after posting an 11-4 record last season. Clark is a talent, but is still an unknown since he has yet to wrestle this season. Whoever wins this starting spot has the chance of sneaking up and surprising opponents this season, but right now it is the biggest question mark on the team. People assumed Clark would be starting, but Fulsaas might have a different mental outlook and more skills to score with this season. If that is the case, good things should come from this weight no matter who wins the wrestle-offs.
Heavyweight - Randy Fulsaas and Josh Liddle took turns starting last season, but both struggled. Although both are back and should be better this season, neither have a chance to start because Steve Mocco has moved into the Iowa Room. As a true freshman, Mocco is dominating everyone so far as he is 9-0 on the season. Even though he had never wrestled a match at Iowa yet when it came out, W.I.N. rated Steve at #4 in the preseason because of his high school accolades.
As the best recruit in the country, Mocco finished his prep career with a 216-1 record and 188 pins. He was a three-time junior freestyle champion, and had not lost in three years. Not only has he helped to improve the competition among the upper weights in the Iowa Room, but he is already beating all-Americans like Paul Hynek of Northern Iowa. Mocco is not big and ripped like former Gopher Brock Lesner, but he is as athletic and flexible as any heavyweight that Hawk Head Coach Jim Zalesky has ever seen. Mocco may not win a national title as a freshman, but that is his goal. In a weight class in which some of the NCAA placewinners have a style of stalling and waiting for overtime, Steve should have a good season if he can dictate his style and pace. His work ethic, attitude, and skills have already drawn rave reviews from both Zalesky and assistant coach Tom Brands.