Unsung wrestlers step up

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(The Daily Iowan/Anthony Vazquez

Iowa’s Edwin Cooper, Jr grapples with Minnesota’s Brandon Kingsley, the #2 Iowa Hawkeyes defeated the #23 Minnesota Gophers 34-6 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa on Friday Jan. 29, 2016(The Daily Iowan/Anthony Vazquez)

When senior Edwin Cooper Jr. and junior Alex Meyer were on the bout sheet before the Iowa wrestling team’s season-opening dual with Oklahoma State, there were questions about how the two new starters would fit into the lineup.
Cooper, who wrestles at 157, took over the spot from Michael Kelly — a two-time NCAA qualifier.

Meyer — a 174 pounder — had even bigger shoes to fill. Prior to Meyer, Mike Evans spent three years at the weight, garnering All-American honors each season.
In order for Iowa to be worthy of serious team national title consideration, it would need some sort of production out of both weights. So far this season, Cooper and Meyer have done their part, combining for a record of 30-8 and 11 bonus-point victories.

It’s still a month and a half until the NCAA Championships begin in New York, but it seems likely both Cooper and Meyer will qualify for the tournament.

“I know that I need to be more consistent this time of the year,” Cooper said. “The only thing I can do is to keep getting wins and helping my team.”

Cooper, a junior-college transfer, won a national championship during the 2011-12 season with Iowa Central Community College. After not competing during the 2012-13 season, he wrestled for Upper Iowa the following year, finishing runner-up at the Division-2 National Championships.

He then spent last season wrestling at 149 and 157 for Iowa but appeared in only one Big Ten dual. Cooper has wrestled exclusively at 157, where he’s 12-6 and has a No. 18 ranking from Intermat.

“He hasn’t spent a ton of time on the mat, and every time he’s out there, he’s going to get better — especially with his attitude,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said. “He’s really buying in.”

With both wrestlers being upperclassmen, it wasn’t just Cooper who had to wait to get his shot. Meyer, sitting behind Evans, had just four Big Ten duals appearances in his previous two, non-redshirt years. He did, however, win both and jumped on the scene with a pin last season against current No. 4 Zac Brunson.

It was a huge win and, although he didn’t get to wrestle in the Big Ten or NCAA championships, he still compiled a 3-1 record against ranked competition. It was obvious who the coaching staff had in mind to follow Evans, and so far, Meyer has lived up to expectations.

He’s gone 4-2 against ranked competition and has been in the top 10 at 174 for most of the season. Meyer is sitting at No. 12 but is still a serious contender for an All-American spot — perhaps even more.

“I can’t wait to get out there every weekend,” Meyer said. “I know my offense is going to come if I keep toughing it out, and we just have to keep building on what we’ve already done.”

As Meyer mentioned, his offense can be an issue at, though that isn’t exclusive to him. Cooper has just four bonus-point victories, three of which have been pins.

With that said, each wrestler wins matches, and that is welcome news to those hoping for Iowa’s first national championship since the 2009-10 season.

To make that a reality, Iowa will need points from Cooper and Meyer in the postseason. A tall task, but not an impossible one.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re undefeated or in a different category where there’s a lot of doubt from the outside,” Brands said. “It’s how you go forward every time out and your mentality in doing so.”

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