Iowa men’s wrestler Real Woods earns first career NCAA Championship finals berth

The 141-pounder defeated Nebraska’s No. 4 seed Brock Hardy, 11-1, to advance to the title match on Saturday night.


Ayrton Breckenridge

No. 1 seeded 141-pound Iowa’s Real Woods celebrates with friends and family after wrestling No. 4 seeded 141-pound Nebraska’s Brock Hardy during session four of the NCAA Wrestling Championships at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. on Friday, March 17, 2023. Woods defeated Hardy by major decision, 11-1.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

TULSA — Iowa men’s wrestler and 141-pound Big Ten Champion Real Woods will compete for his first-ever NCAA title on Saturday night at the BOK Center.

Woods earned a 9-0 victory over Missouri’s No. 8 seed Allan Hart on Friday in Session III to earn his second consecutive national semifinals appearance. Then, in Session IV, he dominated Nebraska’s third-seeded Brock Hardy in the pair’s third matchup of the season, 11-1, to advance to Saturday night’s championship finals.

The victory moved the Stanford transfer to 20-0 on the season and earned him his third-career All-American honor — his first as a Hawkeye.

“It’s just another step in accomplishing a dream that I’ve set out since I was a little kid,” Woods said after his semifinals victory.

Woods won a tight 7-5 match on Thursday night against Ohio State’s No. 17 seed Dylan D’Emilio that ended in an extensive review after the Buckeyes challenged a takedown in the final seconds. Woods wasn’t happy with his performance, but he said he felt more like himself on Saturday and made adjustments in both his nutrition and warm-ups to better prepare for his upcoming matches.

“Real is a fabulous competitor,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said after the conclusion of Session IV. “He’s honest with himself and sometimes too honest when he’s not feeling good. But when you don’t feel good, you make adjustments and that honesty helps you make the right adjustments and quickly. That’s what he did.”

Iowa trails first-place Penn State in the team race, 116.5-77, through Session IV.  Out of Iowa’s three grapplers competing in the semifinals on Friday night, Woods was the only Hawkeye to advance to the championship round.

Iowa’s three-time national champion Spencer Lee suffered his first-ever loss in the NCAA Tournament as he was pinned with one second remaining in the match by Purdue’s Matt Ramos in the 125-pound semifinals. The loss snapped Lee’s 58-match win streak and his hopes of becoming Iowa’s first four-time national champion. Hawkeye heavyweight Tony Cassioppi fell to Michigan’s top-seeded Mason Parris, 16-1, via technical fall in the second period of his semifinals bout for his fifth-career loss to the Wolverine.

RELATED: WATCH: Iowa men’s wrestling’s three-time national champion Spencer Lee upset in 2023 NCAA semifinals

Woods was warming up and watching Lee’s semifinal match from the tunnel and said his loss impacted him at the moment, but he knew he needed to stay focused and do his job.

Brands added that Woods went out and won his semifinal match for Lee, along with 149-pound Max Murin, 174-pound Nelson Brands, and 197-pound Jacob Warner, who combined for six victories in the consolation bracket on Friday to stay in contention for third place.

“The coaches reiterate throughout the tournament to focus on your own match,” Woods said. “[Lee’s loss] really made an impact in that moment because it’s a huge deal and a great disappointment to me, personally, because of the friendship we’ve developed. I was just telling myself in my head to focus on my match. That’s where I try to keep my head.”

Woods will face Northern Colorado’s No. 2 seed Andrew Alirez, who became the first Colorado wrestler since the 1960s to earn a spot in the NCAA finals, in the championship match. Alirez is 27-0 on the season and is coming off a 6-2 semifinal victory over Penn State’s sixth-seeded Beau Bartlett.

No matter what the final score ends up on Saturday, Woods will earn the highest national tournament finish of his career, as he placed sixth in last year’s NCAA Championships. Woods attributed Iowa’s team culture as a big part of his success this season and said the “it’s all business” mindset inside Iowa’s practice room has helped him become a better wrestler.

“You really notice the difference in culture when you step into [Iowa’s] room compared to anything you’ve been around before,” Woods said. “Tom and Terry Brands and the rest of the coaching staff do an incredible job of setting that culture in stone and not letting it waver. That culture simply is a group of good, well-rounded young men, and that’s on and off the mat.”