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 leaves NCAA Championships empty-handed

Iowa finished in fifth with 67 points, marking the first time the Hawkeyes have finished without a team trophy and an NCAA champion since 2016.
Cody Blissett
Associate Head Coach Terry Brands observes a match during the third session of the NCAA men’s wrestling championships at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday, March 22, 2024.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Iowa men’s wrestler Drake Ayala kept the Hawkeyes’ national finalist streak intact, but a few other streaks were broken at the NCAA Championships. 

Ayala lost to Arizona State’s Richard Figueroa 7-2 during the 125-pound finals match. Iowa finished in fifth with 67 points, marking the first time the Hawkeyes have finished without a team trophy and an NCAA champion since 2016, per the Des Moines Register. Only the top three squads earned spots on the podium this year. Iowa, who lost four potential starters that were involved in the state’s sports gambling investigation, was projected to finish ninth based on seeding. 

Rival Iowa State finished in fourth with 68.5 points. This is the first time the Cyclones have finished above the Hawkeyes in the team race since 2007 – Iowa head coach Tom Brands’ first season at the helm. The Hawkeyes entered the finals in fourth. An Ayala win would’ve given Iowa 71 points and tied Michigan for third place. 

Ayala was one of four Hawkeyes to claim All-American status, joining Real Woods, Jared Franek, and Michael Caliendo. While four All-Americans is a notable feat – and the 53rd straight tournament Iowa has had at least one wrestler earn the honor – it broke the Hawkeyes’ 10-year streak of having at least five All-Americans. 

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Ayala’s loss in the final typifies the chaotic nature of this year’s 125-pound weight class. It is also a fitting end to an underwhelming 2023-24 Iowa men’s wrestling season.

Still, Ayala has been a bright spot for Iowa. The redshirt second-year improved as the season went on, growing closer and learning from Iowa’s three-time national champion Spencer Lee.

“It’s too early to talk about next year,” Brands said. “Drake Ayala’s got two years of eligibility left. He’s in the national finals. We want to find a way to win that match. He wants to find a way to win that match. It didn’t happen, got to go forward.”

Iowa’s three graduating seniors who competed at nationals  – Brody Teske, Woods, and Franek — also ended their seasons with losses. 

Franek placed eighth nationally at 157 pounds, and Real Woods finished fourth at 141, both securing All-American status for the second and fourth time, respectively.

This was Franek’s first year in a Hawkeye singlet. He transferred from North Dakota State after a fourth-place finish at nationals in 2023.

Franek started his Iowa campaign 15-0 with seven bonus point victories. He finished the regular season 20-3 and ended up placing fourth at the Big Ten Tournament after medically forfeiting from the third-place bout.

“What I ultimately came here for is what I got out of it, so I’m super happy,” Franek said after placing seventh. “It’s a few losses that were tough in the middle of the year, and, you know, we wrestled eight weeks in a row of super tough competition, and you saw anything can happen here. So I’m proud of how I handled the season and was able to bounce back.”

The 157-pounder said it’s been “super cool” to “pick the brains” of those in the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, including Lee and four-time Big Ten champion Alex Marinelli.

He transferred to Iowa with 165-pounder Caliendo, who placed fourth at the national tournament. They both said having each other made the transition to Iowa City easier. Caliendo added that his and Franek’s parents hang out a lot.

“He’s a brother for life, and I’m excited to watch him the next few years here,” Franek said of Caliendo.

As for Franek’s future, he is going to take some time to reflect before making any decisions.

“There’s a lot of different paths I can go, but I don’t know if it’ll be competing anymore,” Franek said.

Woods, who fell to Nebraska’s Brock Hardy in Saturday’s third-place match, will remember all the life lessons he’s learned throughout his collegiate career and is thankful for the ups and downs that have “helped [him] develop as a man.” Woods started his career at Stanford and transferred to Iowa last season where he finished as the NCAA runner-up.

Woods said he loves performing on the mat and plans to compete “for a lot longer” but also thinks he would be a good coach one day.

“Throughout my journey, I’ve been exposed to so many different diverse people and places,” Woods said. “It’s taught me a lot about people, and it’s taught me and helped me connect with people from all walks of life. And I think that that’s one of the main keys in coaching young men because you have to be personable and be able to know a young athlete well enough to help them develop in their own way. This is an individual sport. Everyone’s different.”

Teske and Zach Glazier’s seasons came to an end on Friday. Teske fell to No. 4 Rutgers’ Dylan Shawver in the consolation bracket to end his collegiate career. Teske, a four-time NCAA qualifier, transferred to Iowa from Northern Iowa ahead of the 2022-23 season. 

“I mean, that definitely hurts. There’s not anything you can say in those situations,” Brands said of Teske. “Tell him you love him and support him. This won’t define him. The biggest thing is at the end of the road, he will be a better man. Doesn’t seem like it right now, but at the end of the road, he is going to be a good man for the rest of his life. So it won’t define him, it can’t define him. Gotta move on.”

Glazier told Flowrestling’s Andy Hamilton on Wednesday he will return to the Hawkeyes for a fifth season. The 197-pounder placed second in the Big Ten Tournament in his postseason debut but had a rough stretch at nationals. He lost in the first round and again in the consolations. Brands said after Glazier’s season ended, he was at the T-Mobile Center supporting his teammates and even warmed up 174-pounder Patrick Kennedy before one of his consolation bouts. 

“I think as you see guys go through situations like this, you learn more and more about them. This is his first year in the lineup, and I learned a lot about him after the after Big Tens,” Brands said of Glazier. “You know, here’s the thing. It’s not like one of these things where ‘Oh, it’s time to learn from this.’ It’s not that time. This is a kick in the gut. So he’s wrestled well all year, and that’s where the pain starts … It’s time to reflect, take a deep breath, and support him.”

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About the Contributors
Kenna Roering
Kenna Roering, Sports Editor
Kenna Roering is The Daily Iowan's sports editor. She is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism with a minor in sports and recreation management. Kenna previously worked as a sports reporter for men's wrestling and volleyball and was the summer sports editor in 2023. This is her second year with the DI.
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.
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.