Iowa men’s wrestling experimenting with lineup in season-opener against Cal Baptist

Spencer Lee, Real Woods, and Nelson Brands won’t compete for the No. 2 Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s 174-pound Patrick Kennedy grapples with Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola during a wrestling dual meet between No. 1 Iowa and No. 6 Nebraska at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. No. 4 Labriola defeated Kennedy by decision, 7-4, and the Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers, 31-6.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

The No. 2 Iowa men’s wrestling team will open its 2022-23 season against unranked Cal Baptist at 1 p.m. Sunday inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Lancers are in their first season with the Big 12, previously being a part of the Western Athletic Conference.

Cal Baptist is 1-1 on the season with a 38-9 loss against No. 28 Cal Poly and a 32-6 victory over Vanguard.

Hawkeye 125-pounder three-time national champion Spencer Lee will not wrestle on Sunday. Lee is rehabbing from two torn ACLs but is expected back on the mat at some point this season.

“Spencer looks great, feeling great,” head coach Tom Brands said on Tuesday. “… The future is strong for Spencer Lee.”

Junior Aidan Harris — one of three transfers Brands brought in this season — will fill in for Lee. Harris was an All-American at 125 pounds at Iowa Central Community College in 2021.

Harris will compete against freshman four-time Oklahoma high school state champion Elijah Griffin. Griffin went 1-1 in the Lancers’ first two meets with a pin over Vanguard’s Zack Stone.

The 133-pound weight class starter is still up in the air going into Sunday. Junior Brody Teske, a Big 12 champion transfer from Northern Iowa, and sophomore Cullan Schriever, who went 15-5 at 133 pounds in 2021-22, are battling for the spot.

“I don’t think it’s really important to have your set lineup right now,” Brands said. “Early season, you can experiment in situations where you have two really good options, and that’s what we have. We’re in no hurry, but the eyeball test is worth something.”

Senior 141-pounder and two-time All-American Real Woods — a transfer from Stanford — will also miss Iowa’s season opener. Senior Drew Bennett, who posted a 3-5 overall record at 141 pounds in 2021-22, will replace Woods in the starting lineup on Sunday.

The 157-pound race is in full force, as redshirt freshman Caleb Rathjen and junior Cobe Siebrecht are battling for the starting lineup spot.

Rathjen went 4-1 at 149 pounds while competing unattached last season. Siebrecht has an overall record of 7-3 with the Hawkeyes, taking home a title at the Luther Open in 2021.

One of the most anticipated matchups versus Cal Baptist comes in the 165-pound weight class. Hawkeye sophomore Patrick Kennedy, who won a U23 men’s freestyle national championship at the 2022 World Team Trials in Ohio, will be going up against Lancer freshman Mitchell Mesenbrink. Kennedy is FloWrestling’s 16th-ranked 165-pounder in the country.

RELATED: Patrick Kennedy to take on larger role for Iowa men’s wrestling

“I think about [walking out to a full Carver-Hawkeye Arena] all the time,” Kennedy said. “I’ll come down here at whatever time of night and I’ll walk out there with my walkout song going through my headphones just to get calm.”

Mesenbrink took silver at the U20 Freestyle World Championships this past August and won a 70kg U20 title at the 2022 U.S. Open. Mesenbrink was one of two Lancers to go undefeated in their first two meets, pinning both Cal Poly’s Daniel Vizcarra and Vanguard’s Omar Rosas.

Senior 174-pounders Brennan Swafford and Nelson Brands will not be competing for their starting lineup spot on Sunday either. Instead, Drake Rhodes — the only freshman listed on Iowa’s probable starting lineup — will make his collegiate debut in front of a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Rhodes is a three-time Montana high school state champion, winning titles at 113, 152, and 160 pounds.

“We’re gonna do what we always do and put the best team on the mat that’s available,” Brands said. “We will also make the best decision for each individual, and right now the best thing for Nelson and Swafford is to not go on Sunday. They’re really close.”

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