Three Iowa men’s wrestlers advance to Big Ten Championship finals

Spencer Lee, Real Woods, and Patrick Kennedy will compete in the conference finals Sunday night at the Crisler Center.


Ayrton Breckenridge

No. 1 seeded 125-pound Iowa’s Spencer Lee wrestles No. 5 seeded 125-pound Minnesota’s Patrick McKee during session two of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. on Saturday, March 4, 2023. Lee defeated McKee by technical fall, 20-2, advancing to the finals.

Kenna Roering and Matt McGowan

ANN ARBOR — Three Iowa men’s wrestlers advanced to the title match of their respective weight classes on Saturday night at the Big Ten Championships. 

The Hawkeyes’ No. 1 seeds Spencer Lee and Real Woods advanced to the 125-pound and 141-pound championship rounds, respectively, while No. 3 seed Patrick Kennedy will battle for the crown at 165 pounds on Sunday evening. 

Six Penn State wrestlers advanced to the conference championship round. The Hawkeyes trail the first-place Nittany Lions 120 to 105.5 through the semifinals. Nebraska is behind Iowa with 98.5 points and will have five wrestlers compete in title matches.

No matter where Iowa ends up in the team race, all 10 Hawkeye wrestlers earned their automatic qualifying spots for the 2023 NCAA Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from March 16-18.  

“We won three in the semis, and lost three,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said at a media availability session after Session II Saturday night. “And those last two, [we lost] to a team we’re in a tight race with.” 

Lee earned his eighth consecutive Big Ten Championship victory in dominant fashion, collecting three four-point near falls, three takedowns, and a reversal. The two-time Big Ten 125-pound individual champion cruised to a 20-2 tech fall victory in the second period over Minnesota senior and No. 5 seed Patrick McKee. 

During the Hawkeyes’ visit to Minnesota on Feb. 3, Lee had his narrowest win of the year against McKee — a 7-1 decision. This time around, Lee nearly tripled his point output.  

While Woods pinned Purdue’s eighth-seeded Parker Filius in the quarterfinals, the Stanford transfer narrowly slipped past his semifinal opponent en route to his first-career Big Ten title match. 

In the semifinal round, Woods’ third-period takedown clinched a 3-0 victory over Northwestern’s No. 4 seed Frankie Tal Shahar. Woods had previously beaten Tal Shahar, 17-2, in this year’s dual meet between the Hawkeyes and Wildcats. 

In a similar fashion to Woods, Kennedy mustered another clutch performance with a 3-2 victory over Michigan’s No. 2 seed Cameron Amine. 

Down, 1-0, heading into the third period, Kennedy tied the bout with an escape point. Then, with 25 seconds remaining, he snagged Amine’s right leg. With Amine’s right leg in his arms, Kennedy swept the Wolverine’s other leg, knocking him to the mat for a takedown to silence the home crowd inside the Crisler Center. 

In spite of Amine’s countering escape point, Kennedy held on to win, 3-2, sparking a “Let’s Go, Hawks,” chant from the Black and Gold faithful in attendance. 

“It was even, it wasn’t really a comeback,” Brands said. “It was even, and it was going to be the guy who put the other guy down. We were in deep, and we let [Amine] do what he was good at, and we got deep again and made it happen for ourselves …[Kennedy] stayed on his feet, stayed in the center of the mat, took his time, was patient, and locked it down.” 

Iowa’s other three wrestlers in the semifinals couldn’t find the win column, each falling via regular decision to higher-seeded opponents. 

Hawkeye 149-pounder and No. 6 seed Max Murin matched up against Ohio State top seed Sammy Sasso, who was undefeated against Murin heading into Saturday’s clash. 

Sasso jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first period and then carried that advantage to an 8-2 victory, forcing Murin to the consolation bracket. Murin will face Northwestern’s No. 3 seed Yahya Thomas tomorrow night — the winner will advance to the third-place bout, while the loser will wrestle for fifth place.

Entering the 197-pound semifinal match, Iowa had the chance to send more finalists than Penn State. The Hawkeyes had three qualifiers compared to the Nittany Lions’ four, and Iowa’s 197-pound No. 5 seed Jacob Warner and heavyweight No. 3 seed Tony Cassioppi were set to battle their Penn State counterparts.

Taking on his 2021-2022 NCCA finals opponent Max Dean, Warner held the top-seeded Nittany Lion scoreless in the first period. Dean, who defeated Warner earlier this season, sprung a 3-0 lead to start the second period. In spite of Warner’s multiple shots to the ankles, Dean evaded the attacks to hold a 3-1 victory. 

In Iowa’s final bout of the evening, Tony Cassioppi took on a familiar foe in Penn State’s No. 2 seed Greg Kerkvliet. Cassioppi had won three of his four career matches against Kerkvilet heading into their semifinal bout. 

Kerkvilet got off a quick takedown in the first period and rode Cassioppi the rest of the way, amassing 3:22 in riding time for a 5-0 shutout victory. 

“They’ve got to come back strong tomorrow, that’s important,” Brands said of Murin, Warner, and Cassioppi. “They’ve got to be ready, not looking in the rearview, we’re looking forward. The nationals are not tomorrow, the nationals are two to three steps down the road.” 

Iowa wrestlers Abe Assad, Brody Teske, Nelson Brands, and Cobe Siebrecht all wrestled in the second round of consolations and won. 

Here’s a full recap of Iowa’s round-three consolation matches:

133 POUNDS: No. 4 Chris Cannon (NU) over No. 8 Brody Teske (IA) via 9-4 decision

  • Teske will wrestle Rutgers’ No. 7 seed Joe Heilmann for seventh place on Sunday afternoon

157 POUNDS: No. 8 Trevor Chumbley (NU) over No. 5 Cobe Siebrecht (IA) via 3-2 decision

  • Siebrecht will wrestle for seventh place on Sunday afternoon against Indiana’s No. 10 seed Derek Gilcher

174 POUNDS: No. 7 Nelson Brands (IA) over No. 6 Donnell Washington (IND) via 3-1 sudden victory decision

  • Brands will face Minnesota’s No. 4 seed Bailee O’Reilly on Sunday night. If Brands beats O’Reilly, he will advance to the third-place match. If Brands loses, he will wrestle for fifth place.

184 POUNDS: No. 8 Brian Soldano (RUT) over No. 5 Abe Assad (IA) via fall

  • Assad will battle for seventh place against Michigan State’s No. 6 Layne Malczewski on Sunday afternoon

Championship round preview:

125 POUNDS: No. 1 Spencer Lee (IA) vs. No. 2 Liam Cronin (NEB)

  • Lee is 2-0 all-time against Cronin, pinning him in 1:21 in 2020 and 38 seconds in this season’s dual meet

141 POUNDS: No. 1 Real Woods (IA) vs. No. 3 Brock Hardy (NEB)

  • Woods beat Hardy, 6-4, in the Hawkeyes’ dual meet against the Huskers this season

165 POUNDS: No. 3 Patrick Kennedy vs. No. 1 Dean Hamiti (WIS)

  • Hamiti narrowly defeated Kennedy, 4-3, on Jan. 22 in Madison. Kennedy hasn’t lost since, winning the final four matches of the regular season

Team scores through semifinals:

1. Penn State, 120

2. Iowa, 105.5

3. Nebraska, 98.5

4. Ohio State, 77

5. Minnesota, 73

T6. Northwestern, 64

8. Wisconsin, 46.5

9. Illinois, 36.5

T9. Purdue, 36.5

11. Rutgers, 30

12. Indiana, 27

T12. Michigan State, 27

14. Maryland, 19.5