The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa men’s wrestling prepares for Big Ten Championships

Drake Ayala and Real Woods are the Hawkeyes’ top contenders in this year’s tournament.
Ayrton Breckenridge
The Iowa wrestling team walks down the tunnel before a wrestling dual between No. 3 Iowa and No. 1 Penn State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes, 29-6. Before the dual, Iowa’s record sat at 10-1. (Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Iowan)

After finishing the dual season, the Iowa men’s wrestling team is turning its attention to the Big Ten Championships.

The Big Ten continues to be one of the deepest wrestling conferences in the country, with five of the top 10 teams in the latest NWCA Coaches Poll hailing from the conference.

Top-ranked Penn State has wrestlers who can contend for titles in every weight class. Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio State, and Michigan all have highly-ranked wrestlers scattered throughout their lineups, creating a deep field.

The most unpredictable weight class in the conference seems to be 125, with no clear favorite heading into March.

Six of InterMat’s top eight wrestlers at 125 are in the Big Ten, with Iowa’s No. 4 Drake Ayala among them. Purdue’s No. 1 Matt Ramos headlines the weight class for the Big Ten, while Minnesota’s No. 5 Patrick McKee, Wisconsin’s No. 6 Eric Barnett, Nebraska’s No. 7 Caleb Smith, and Penn State’s No. 8 Braeden Davis are all in contention for the title.

Ayala wrestled Ramos and McKee earlier this season. Ayala lost to Ramos, 4-1, on Jan. 19 and beat McKee twice — 5-4 on Dec. 30 in the Soldier Salute semifinals and 8-5 during Iowa’s dual against Minnesota on Jan. 15.

Iowa’s No. 2 Real Woods looks to repeat as Big Ten champ at 141 pounds. Woods may have the opportunity to avenge his two losses this year with Penn State’s No. 1 Beau Bartlett and Michigan’s No. 10 Sergio Lemley among the top contenders at the weight class. Woods lost to Lemley, 14-2, on Feb. 2 and 7-2 to Bartlett on Feb 9.

Ohio State’s No. 3 Jesse Mendez is another contender for the 141-pound title in the conference.

Woods said he is ready for the postseason following Iowa’s win against Wisconsin on Feb 18. He said shifting into a “postseason mindset” has helped him on the mat the last couple dual meets.

Iowa’s No. 5 Jared Franek won the Big 12 157-pound title with North Dakota State last year.

Franek will have some tough rematches this year in the Big Ten’s 157-pound bracket. He lost three matches during the conference schedule: 5-4 to Minnesota’s No. 4 Michael Blockhus on Jan. 16, 2-1 to Michigan’s No. 16 Will Lewan, and 12-0 to Penn State’s No. 1 Levi Haines.

“I think there’s a lot left in my wrestling game to piece together here before March,” Franek said. “I’m looking to keep improving on that and peak when it’s time.”

Fellow North Dakota State transfer and seventh-ranked Michael Caliendo hopes to be a factor at 165 for Iowa. Caliendo lost to the top two wrestlers in the conference earlier in the year – Penn State’s No. 6 Mitchell Mesenbrink, 12-6, and Wisconsin’s No. 5 Dean Hamiti, 14-11.

Top-ranked Aaron Brooks plans to add another title to Penn State’s total, but Iowa’s No. 11 Zach Glazier looks to avenge his lone loss of the season at 197 pounds. Glazier lost to Brooks, 5-1, but immediately responded with a 13-4 win against Josh Otto the following week.

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About the Contributors
Isaac Elzinga
Isaac Elzinga, Sports Reporter
Isaac Elzinga is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass communication. This is his first year working at The Daily Iowan; he also works as a producer for 1600 ESPN a sports radio station in Cedar Rapids.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.