Iowa men’s wrestling to kick off 2021-22 season Friday

The Hawkeyes will battle the Princeton Tigers at 7 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.


Nichole Harris

Iowa’s 184-pound Abe Assad grapples with Nebraska’s Taylor Venz during the final session of the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament in Piscataway, NJ on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Venz won by decision 6-4. Assad finished in third place in the 184-pound bracket, and Iowa won the team title with 157.5 points.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

The Iowa men’s wrestling team will begin its national title defense tonight at 7 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The top-ranked Hawkeyes will take on the No. 21 Princeton Tigers.

Many of the Hawkeyes’ best wrestlers aren’t on the dual’s probable bouts sheet. Notable wrestlers like 125-pound national champion Spencer Lee and 141-pound Max Murin aren’t slated to compete.

Iowa head coach Tom Brands said at a meeting with reporters Nov. 16 that he’s taking the individual needs of each of his wrestlers into account ahead of the Hawkeyes’ first dual of 2021-22. Brands noted that all his guys could probably wrestle if it was Big Ten Championship week, but he doesn’t want to jeopardize his athletes’ health this early in the year.

Iowa’s 2020-21 starter at 184-pounds, Nelson Brands, isn’t likely to wrestle Friday either. Sophomore Abe Assad is listed as the Hawkeyes’ starter at that weight.

RELATED: Point/counterpoint | Who will Iowa men’s wrestling start at 184 pounds?

Assad hasn’t wrestled in a dual since the 2019-20 season.

The Illinoisan, who was an All-American in 2019, watched the Hawkeyes’ duals from the sidelines last year, as Tom Brands opted to insert his nephew Nelson into Iowa’s starting lineup at 184 pounds.

Assad also sustained an injury on the practice mat last year.

After a rocky 2020-21 campaign, Assad is ready to start wrestling in duals again this season.

“I’m excited,” Assad said Tuesday. “It’s kind of hard to put into words, you know. It’s been a long time, and I’m excited. And obviously there’s a lot of work to do this week, and I gotta stay focused on what’s ahead of me, right, taking it one day at a time, one practice at a time, one shot at a time. But yeah, I’m excited. You know, there’s gonna be a lot of fans there. It’s gonna be fun.”

Assad, along with many of his Hawkeye teammates, wrestled at the Luther Open on Nov. 13, placing second in the event’s 184-pound bracket.

Friday will mark Assad’s first match in front of the Iowa faithful at Carver-Hawkeye Arena since Feb. 1, 2020.

Assad will face Forest Belli or Travis Stefanik. Assad has never faced either wrestler.

Tom Brands said he is looking for Assad to come out fast and wrestle with pace in his first dual meet action in nearly two years.

“I like his potential,” Brands said of Assad. “… I’m kind of waiting to see him pick it up a little bit … We just gotta get it going a little bit with his pace. Tremendous potential … We know that the edge is what sets us apart as competitors and one of his edges is going to be the pace that he wrestles at. Add it to your wrestling and don’t wait. Do not wait.”

Pace is something that Assad said he’s focused on in preparation for this season. Assad added that competing against his teammates in practice bouts has helped him build the necessary stamina to wrestle at the pace he and the coaches want.

“When you’re wrestling a guy in practice, live, that’s when it really really, really matters,” Assad said. “… You’re in there wrestling 30 minutes straight or whatever it is. In that last five, six minutes is when you feel tired is when you really gotta go and that’s what’s gonna help me the most.”

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