Iowa men’s wrestling notebook | Session V recap, Session VI preview

The Hawkeyes locked up a second-place team finish and sit at 82.5 points heading into the finals.


Ayrton Breckenridge

No. 14 seeded 197-pound Iowa’s Jacob Warner hugs Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands and Iowa assistant coach Ryan Morningstar after wrestling No. 4 seeded 197-pound Rider’s Ethan Laird during session five of the NCAA Wrestling Championships at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. on Saturday, March 18, 2023. Warner defeated Laird by decision, 7-3, placing fifth in the tournament achieving all-American status.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

TULSA— Five Iowa men’s wrestlers secured their spot on the podium in their respective weight classes during Session V of the 2023 NCAA Championships on Saturday morning. The Hawkeyes locked up a second-place team finish and sit at 82.5 points heading into the championship round. Penn State clinched its second-consecutive national title on Saturday morning and heads into the finals with 127.5 points — five Nittany Lions will be competing for individual titles.

The Hawkeye’s 125-pound three-time national champion Spencer Lee automatically placed sixth after medically forfeiting from the medal round. Lee was pinned in the semifinals yesterday with one second left in the match by Purdue’s Matt Ramos.

When the fall was called, the BOK Center erupted, hitting 106 decibels of cheers filled with both misery and elation. Despite the upset, Lee became Iowa’s third-ever five-time All-American, joining former Iowa wrestler Michael Kemerer and 197-pound Jacob Warner. Iowa head coach Tom Brands said after the conclusion of Session V that Lee still came to the venue to watch and support his other teammates competing.

“[Spencer] needs to know that we love him,” Warner said. “I don’t care if he wins four national titles for myself. I only cared because he cared, and I want what’s best for him and what he wants. Whatever he needs moving forward is what I can give him. He has to know he’s loved, not by teammates but by friends.”

Iowa’s Max Murin placed sixth at 149 pounds after falling to Arizona State’s No. 3 seed Kyle Parco, 4-3, and Virginia Tech’s No. 4 seed Caleb Henson, 12-3. The sixth-year senior earned his second All-American honor and finished his Hawkeye career at 78-30.

After not placing on the podium in last year’s NCAA Championships, Murin said he was struggling mentally and wasn’t sure about returning for his sixth year. But, he’s glad he came back and wouldn’t trade anything for his career in the Black and Gold. Murin said he is going to take a couple of months to reflect before he decides on the future of his wrestling career.

“Obviously not the way I wanted it to end, but I feel like I really gave it my all and left it all out there,” Murin said. “I’m just feeling extremely grateful right now. My coaches, my teammates, they’ve been by my side the whole time. I was totally burnt out last year and mentally exhausted. I wasn’t going to come back for my last year, but my coaches and teammates showed a lot of love and had my back when I didn’t have my own.”

Warner bounced back from his 3-1 loss in his first match of the morning against Missouri’s Rocky Elam to finish fifth on the podium. He defeated Rider’s Ethan Laird, 7-3, in his final match as a Hawkeye to become a five-time All-American. Warner finished his collegiate career 97-28.

Warner said that his loss last year in the 197-pound national championship match to Penn State’s Max Dean caused a lot of self-doubts. On top of that, Warner missed Iowa’s dual meets this season against Northwestern and Wisconsin because of an injury. Warner said he is proud of how he’s overcome adversity throughout his career.

“He’s a guy that wears his emotions on his sleeve, and he was high. That’s a good thing to leave here feeling like that,” Brands said of Warner. “He has a lot of pride, whether it’s fifth or whatever, he has a lot of pride. Winning that match was huge for him and to him, so good for him.”

Warner said he wants the Hawkeye faithful to remember him for his toughness and grit, despite the negativity he’s received from some fans throughout his six years. Warner is unsure of what his wrestling future holds, but said he has “a lot left in him.”

“I know I’m not a fan favorite,” Warner said. “I’ve known that for a long time, and I don’t really give a shit. Out there, I have a very close-knit group, and that’s what I care about. Everything else is just background noise.”

Iowa senior Nelson Brands placed fifth at 174 pounds. He fell to Cornell’s No. 4 seed Chris Foca, 7-2, in the first medal round and then bounced back with a 4-2 win in sudden victory over Oklahoma State’s No. 5 seed Dustin Plott. Nelson Brands said while his tournament could’ve been better, he’s happy with the way he’s responded to hardships this season and learned in the tournament that he “can score on anyone.”

Nelson Brands was recovering from Tommy John surgery and then suffered a broken collarbone in October 2022 to prevent him from competing in Iowa’s first three matchups of the season against Cal Baptist, Army, and Sacred Heart. Nelson Brands said he received two plates and nine screws in his right collarbone. He returned to the mat on Nov. 26 during the Hawkeyes’ 26-11 dual meet victory over the Penn Quakers and defeated then-No. 19 Nick Incontrera, 5-1. Brands has one year of eligibility remaining.

“The coaches, Tom, my uncle, and Terry, my dad, and Morningstar and Telford — they’re just so good at keeping you positive,” Nelson Brands said. “Positivity is huge for coming back from hardships or shoving it up the doubter’s butt. You need that positivity from the coaches, and we’ve got that. And I love it. I love it so much.”

Iowa’s heavyweight senior Tony Cassioppi placed fourth. He prevailed in his first medal match on Saturday with a 4-0 victory over Missouri’s No. 10 seed Zach Elam. Then, he was pinned by Air Force’s No. 2 seed Wyatt Hendrickson in 4:16 in the third-place bout. Cassioppi has one year of eligibility remaining.

Iowa will have one grappler competing in the NCAA finals on Saturday night in Session VI — 141-pound Real Woods. In his first-ever national title match, Woods will face Northern Colorado’s No. 2 seed Andrew Alirez, who is 27-0 on the season. Session VI of the NCAA Championships will begin at 157 pounds at 6 p.m. and will be televised live on ESPN.

“That’s the best thing, the match to come,” Tom Brands said of Woods’ upcoming finals bout. “We got one more. And it’s for all the marbles, so let’s go.”


157 POUNDS: No. 1 Austin O’Connor (North Carolina) vs. No. 2 Levi Haines (Penn State)

165 POUNDS: No. 1 David Carr (Iowa State) vs. No. 2 Keegan O’Toole (Missouri)

174 POUNDS: No. 1 Carter Starocci (Penn State) vs. No. 2 Mikey Labriola (Nebraska)

184 POUNDS: No. 1 Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa) vs. No. 3 Aaron Brooks (Penn State)

197 POUNDS: No. 1 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh) vs. No. 7 Tanner Sloan (South Dakota State)

285 POUNDS: No. 1 Mason Parris (Michigan) vs. No. 3 Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State)

125 POUNDS: No. 4 Matt Ramos (Purdue) vs. No. 2 Pat Glory (Princeton)

133 POUNDS: No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) vs. No. 3 Vito Arujau (Cornell)

141 POUNDS: No. 1 Real Woods (Iowa) vs. No. 2 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado)

149 POUNDS: No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) vs. No. 2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State)