Cassioppi, Hawkeyes hope to slow down Michigan in Ann Arbor

Tony Cassioppi has quickly become a star for Iowa wrestling, and the heavyweight now looks to lead the team against its final three opponents.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s 285-pound Tony Cassioppi wrestles Wisconsin’s Trent Hillger during a wrestling match between No.1 Iowa and No. 6 Wisconsin at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. Cassioppi won by decision, 3-2, and the Hawkeyes defeated the Badgers, 32-3.

Austin Hanson, Assistant Sports Editor

Likable by nature, Iowa wrestling’s Tony Cassioppi always seems to have a smile on his face. That doesn’t stop him from being mean on the mat, where he’s stood out as a dominant heavyweight this season.

The redshirt freshman is 15-0 this year, highlighted by seven wins over ranked foes. Cassioppi’s most notable win of the season came against then-No. 2 Trent Hillger of Wisconsin.

Cassioppi has been explosive on the mat, winning by fall on five occasions. In his first dual as Hawkeye, Cassioppi pinned his opponent in under two minutes.

The heavyweight’s ruthlessness on the mat has made him a fan favorite in Iowa City.

“He goes out there and just takes care of business,” senior Michael Kemerer said. “It’s his first year in the lineup, but he’s really enjoying it. He’s not giving guys too much respect. He’s just going out there and letting it fly.

“He’s a fun guy to watch for sure for the fans, especially as a heavyweight. Some people leave during the heavyweight match, don’t like watching heavyweights, but with him I think everyone’s staying, and I kind of knew it would be that way.”

Cassioppi the wrestler almost serves as an alter ego to Cassioppi the person. The 285-pounder is renowned by his teammates and coaches for his prowess on the mat and his quality of character off of it.

“I’ve liked some of the things I’ve learned about him over the last two years,” head coach Tom Brands said. “He is a competitor. He’s a nice guy, but he’s a competitor.”

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Maintaining his edge on the mat while remaining humble and lighthearted off of it comes naturally for Cassioppi.

“I’m not like some guys on the team where like the entire day leading into the match. They’re super serious,” Cassioppi said. “Like, if you mess with DeSanto while he’s getting fruit from the [dish] after weigh-ins. It’s not fun. He’s not happy. Me, I’m cracking jokes even while I’m warming up. Like [the 184-pound match], maybe I start to focus in on my match more, but I still stay pretty relaxed the whole time.”

Cassioppi’s mental fortitude will undoubtedly be tested over the next few weeks.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Feb. 1, No. 3 Cassioppi will likely see No. 2 Mason Parris. On Feb. 15, the competition will only get stiffer for Cassioppi as he faces No. 1 Gable Stevenson of Minnesota.

Cassioppi isn’t the only Hawkeye that will be challenged in the coming weeks, either. Iowa’s battle with the Wolverines this weekend could feature two other top-10 matchups. No. 2 Pat Lugo will square off with No. 9 Kanen Storr at 149-pounds, and No. 4 Kaleb Young will wrestle No. 8 Will Lewan at 157-pounds.

“Every match is a big match,” Lugo said. “The next match is always the most important. That’s the way we look at it as individuals and as a team. We do the same routine, no matter if it’s the number one ranked guy or a guy that’s not in the Big Ten or something like that. We got to wake up for every match.”

The No. 25 Wolverines are not to be trifled with this season. Michigan has won three straight duals against ranked opponents, including a win over No. 13 Minnesota.

“This is kind of setting us up for that last run here,” Kemerer said. “So, [we’re] just especially staying healthy and really pushing our bodies and working to score points. Just the same stuff as always, but just we’re really sharpening up now, and it’s getting to be fun.”

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