Iowa men’s wrestling experiments with composition in season opener against Cal Baptist



Spencer Lee, Real Woods and Nelson Brands will not compete for the No. 2 Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday.

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s 174-pound Patrick Kennedy grapples with Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola in a wrestling doubleheader between the Iowa No. 1 and Nebraska No. 6 at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Friday, January 15, 2021. 4 Labriola beat Kennedy by decision, 7-4, and the Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers, 31-6.

Iowa’s No. 2 men’s wrestling team will open its 2022-23 season against unranked Cal Baptist at 1 p.m. Sunday inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Lancers are in their first season with the Big 12, formerly part of the Western Athletic Conference.

Cal Baptist is 1-1 this season with a 38-9 loss to No. 28 Cal Poly and a 32-6 win over Vanguard.

Spencer Lee, a three-time Hawkeye 125-pound national champion, will not wrestle on Sunday. Lee is recovering from two torn ACLs but is expected to return to the mat at some point this season.

“Spencer looks great, feels great,” head coach Tom Brands said Tuesday. “…The future is solid for Spencer Lee.”

Junior Aidan Harris – one of three transfers made by Brands this season – will replace Lee. Harris was an All-American at 125 pounds at Iowa Central Community College in 2021.

Harris will face Elijah Griffin, a four-time high school freshman champion from Oklahoma. Griffin went 1-1 in the Lancers’ first two meetings with a pin on Vanguard’s Zack Stone.

The 133-pound weight class starter is still up in the air heading into Sunday. Junior Brody Teske, a Big 12 champion transferred from northern Iowa, and sophomore Cullan Schriever, who went 15-5 at 133 pounds in 2021-22, are battling for the spot.

“I don’t think it’s really important to have your set lineup right now,” Brands said. “At the start of the season you can experiment in situations where you have two very good options, and that’s what we have. We’re in no rush, but the eyeball test is worth something.

The 141-pound senior and two-time All-American Real Woods – a transfer from Stanford – will also miss Iowa’s season opener. Senior Drew Bennett, who posted a 3-5 overall record at 141 pounds in 2021-22, will replace Woods in the starting lineup on Sunday.

The 157-pound race is in full swing, as redshirt rookie Caleb Rathjen and junior Cobe Siebrecht battle for the starting spot.

Rathjen went 4-1 at 149 pounds while competing on his own last season. Siebrecht is 7-3 overall with the Hawkeyes, winning a title at the Luther Open in 2021.

One of the most anticipated matchups against Cal Baptist comes in the 165-pound weight class. Hawkeye sophomore Patrick Kennedy, who won an U23 Men’s Freestyle National Championship at the 2022 World Team Trials in Ohio, will face Lancer rookie Mitchell Mesenbrink. Kennedy is FloWrestling’s 16th 165-pounder in the nation.

RELATED: Patrick Kennedy to Play Bigger Role in Iowa Men’s Wrestling

“I think about [walking out to a full Carver-Hawkeye Arena] all the time,” Kennedy said. “I’ll come here any time of the night and go out with my walkout song in my headphones just to calm down.”

Mesenbrink won silver at the U20 Freestyle World Championships last August and won a U20 70kg title at the 2022 US Open. Mesenbrink was one of two Lancers to go undefeated in their first two encounters , pinning both Daniel Vizcarra of Cal Poly and Omar Rosas of Vanguard.

Senior 174-pounders Brennan Swafford and Nelson Brands will also not compete for their place in the starting lineup on Sunday. Instead, Drake Rhodes — the only freshman on Iowa’s likely starting roster — will make his college debut in front of a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Rhodes is a three-time Montana high school state champion, winning titles at 113, 152 and 160 pounds.

“We’re going to do what we always do and put the best team out there,” Brands said. “We will also make the best decision for each individual, and right now the best thing for Nelson and Swafford is not to go there on Sunday. They are really close.

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