On paper, even for a storied program like Iowa Wrestling that has won 20 national team titles, the Hawkeye Grapplers are off to a nice start.
Yet, for all of their early season success and improvement from last season, the squad has not yet performed with the consistency that other Hawkeye teams have shown over the last thirty seasons. The potential is there to have nine all-Americans, but a few starters have some work to do. After the squad wrestles against UNI at Cedar Falls this Friday, they have over two weeks to practice, finish academic requirements, and work on improving before the National Duals and the Big Ten dual season. Northern Iowa, under former Hawkeye national champion Brad Penrith, is not a tremendous threat to beat the Hawks, but the Panthers will offer some tough challenges at 141, 149, 165, 174, and 197. It should be a good meet since the Panthers pose more lineup threats than Iowa State at this point of the season.
125 - Junior Luke Eustice is showing that last year's second place finish at the NCAA meet was no fluke. He is ranked first in the nation this season, and has wrestled like the favorite in all four of his matches so far. He has not wrestled any top rated opponents, but has dominated with two major decisions, a technical fall, and a pin. He takes on redshirt freshman Chad Davis this Friday. Davis is 5-3.
There is some very good depth at 125 and 133 for the Hawks, but many of the backups have been average in open competition to this point. Sophomore Matt Shankey has been the best as he is 9-3 and was second at the UNI Open. Shankey beat UNI's Davis in that meet (7-2), and also beat him at the Kaufman-Brand Open (5-1). Freshman Jeff Pfaffinger is redshirting this year, but the talented grappler has had diet problems and is only 4-4.
133 – Junior Cliff Moore has been inconsistent after a great win against Ryan Lewis in the dual meet against the Gophers. Cliff got off to a hot start last year and won the Midlands Championship, but by the end of the season had fallen a notch and finished 30-10 and sixth at the NCAA meet. This season has seen the high of beating Lewis in a great performance, and the lows of losing three of his next seven matches. He is currently ranked either fourth or fifth nationally, but experts do not know what to think about him since he has lost three but beaten Lewis (#3) and Zach Roberson (#6) of ISU.
Panther sophomore Mark Manchio (9-4) is a solid opponent, but Moore is certainly capable of controlling the match. Manchio won his weight class at the UNI Open and wrestled very well against former Hawkeye Marc Juergens last season.
141 – Senior Luke Moffitt is off to a nice start at 8-2, but the reigning Big Ten champion was doing well until about this point last season. Last season Luke started 16-1 before losing to Aaron Holker of ISU and Dylan Long of UNI by the scores of 14-0 and 13-4. This season, Luke was 8-1 before getting dominated once again by Holker, 14-0. Can he turn it around after the loss, or will he let it affect him like last year? Last year he was able to bounce back at the end of the season, but the middle was a nightmare for him as both he and Juergens struggled to become a regular at the weight. In his defense this year, Holker is ranked first in the weight class, Luke has beaten two people that beat him last year, and twice has beaten fifth-ranked Dana Holland of Arizona State. Moffitt is currently nationally ranked between tenth and twelfth.
Panther junior Dylan Long is ranked fourth in the latest polls and is 8-2. ASU's Holland handily beat Long this year, but Long should still be favored over Moffitt. Long is 1-1 versus Moffitt, losing 5-2 at the 2001 Kaufman-Brand Open and winning the 13-4 major decision in the meet last season.
149 – Redshirt freshman Ty Eustice is still feeling his way around, but the younger brother of Luke is starting to adjust to the role of being in the Iowa lineup. After going 18-3 in an unattached role during his redshirt season, Ty has built upon that success and is 7-3 this year. Eustice was manhandled in his opening loss to defending champion Jared Lawrence of Minnesota, 13-3, but has only lost twice since then. Both losses were to top-ranked Eric Larkin of ASU. In the second match in Iowa City, Eustice showed against Larkin that he is closing the gap between himself and the top of the class. Ty is currently ranked 14th. He will wrestle Jon Garvin on Friday in Cedar Falls. Garvin is 11-6 and won his weight class at the UNI Open.
Hawkeye sophomore Cory Connell has been solid so far in open action as he is 8-3. Cory lost to Garvin at the UNI Open, 6-4.
157 – Senior Matt Anderson is at the same level as Luke Moffitt right now. Both wrestlers have been solid, but neither has stepped up so far this year to show that they are more consistent and better overall than their solid seasons last year. Anderson is 6-2 and wrestled poorly in both of his losses (#1 Luke Becker of Minnesota, Derek Zinck of Lehigh). However, Matt did beat second-ranked Shane Roller of Oklahoma State at the Kaufman-Brand Open, 5-1. He is currently ranked either sixth or seventh in the national polls and was 32-13 last season. His opponent this Friday is freshman Chris Bitetto, who is 10-7. Anderson defeated Bitetto 6-5 at the Kaufman-Brand Open in November.
Iowa backup Joe Johnson is having a solid season, as the redshirt freshman is 15-4. Joe defeated Bitetto at the UNI Open, 14-6.
165 - Two years ago, 197 and heavyweight were the weak links on the Iowa Wrestling team. Last season 165 and 197 were the weak links. Ryan Fulsaas seems to have solidified the 197 position, but 165 is still a question. With all of the off season competition for the spot, it seemed as if someone would step forward have a decent season. Junior Jason D'Agata surprised many followers of the program by beating out freshmen Cole Pape, Blake Anderson, and Mark Mueller in the wrestle-offs to claim the spot. However, even though Iowa fans love the bulldog mentality of Jason, he has struggled to a 5-7 record. He will not be favored against Panther junior Drew Kelly. Kelly is 11-1 and ranked thirteenth nationally after winning at the UNI Open.
Backup Pape was 16-9 during his redshirt season, but has struggled this year in open competition to a 6-5 record. Mueller is 10-5 so far, but the true freshman will probably redshirt. Anderson is 9-6.
174 - Junior Tyler Nixt is ranked second in the latest poll. He is 7-1 on the season and was 33-11 last year. He and senior Jessman Smith are not wrestling at the same level as Luke Eustice or Steve Mocco, but they are wrestling more consistently than the rest of the lineup. Tyler has a good matchup with UNI sophomore Eric Hauan. Hauan is ranked eighth and is 16-1 after winning the UNI Open. Nixt and Hauan are 2-2 against each other, with Eric winning 3-2 in both first round and consolation finals of the 2001 Northern Open, and Tyler winning 6-4 in both the 2001 Kaufman-Brand Open and the 2002 dual meet.
184 - Jessman Smith is 8-0, and his toughest match so far this year was probably against Hawkeye recruit Willie Parks. Smith beat the Iowa Central wrestler in the finals of the Kaufman-Brand Open, 4-1. Jessman is ranked either second or third in the national ratings and is one of the leaders on this team.
Jordan Holm of Northern Iowa is ranked thirteenth after winning the UNI Open. The sophomore is 9-4 this year.
197 - Ryan Fulsaas still has a lot to prove, but the junior has gone from one of the most criticized wrestlers in the program to, perhaps, a crowd favorite. He is ranked seventeenth or lower in the polls, but is 7-3 with some good efforts. Besides performing well in a tough environment in the Minnesota meet, Ryan recorded a pin in the Iowa State meet and took down top-ranked Jon Trenge of Lehigh four times in the third period in a losing effort.
His match with Sean Stender is one of the more even meetings on paper. Stender is 12-3 and ranked tenth. The sophomore is 1-1 with Fulsaas, with Fulsaas winning an 11-5 decision in the 2002 dual. Sean won an 8-6 sudden death victory in the Kaufman-Brand in November. Last year Fulsaas was bigger and stronger than Stender and that proved to be the difference in the match.
Hwt. - Top-ranked Steve Mocco is looking for opponents to wrestle. Iowa State coach Bobby Douglas chose to forfeit to Mocco rather than letting his struggling heavyweights go against him. Northern Iowa all-American heavyweight Paul Hynek is hurt and will not wrestle on Friday, but he never really wants to wrestle Mocco anyway. In his place the Panthers will send freshman Michael Shedek. Shedek is 5-7.
Mocco was 39-3 as a true freshman last season, and placed second at both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. For as successful as that sounds, Steve is MUCH better than last season. He still does leg sweeps and counters with great quickness, but his offensive attack is vastly improved. He is bigger and stronger, and actually has a leg attack in most matches. He was always impossible to legally ride and attack, but with his offensive improvement, he might dominate most of the weight class. If he continues to improve, he may shake the heavyweight field to its very core and force others to pick up the pace and look to score more. He is on the verge of being good enough to be able to dictate his style and pace against whomever he wrestles. It must scare the opposition that his technique still has a lot of room for improvement and he has one of the best work ethics on the team.