22 memorable Iowa wrestling stories from the 2022 season – Des Moines Register

The 2022 calendar year was a memorable one, for many reasons, but it was particularly memorable for the sport of wrestling, especially here in Iowa.
With 2023 arriving soon, we thought it’d be best to take a look back at the year that was in Iowa wrestling, running back through the most significant, extraordinary and notable developments from 2022.
We hit all corners, with high school, college and Olympic-level results, storylines and subplots that made the last year incredible. It is, mostly, in chronological order, starting with last January and going all the way up to this past December. All told, it was hard to pare down. We started north of 30.
Before the new year arrives, we invite you to remember 2022 through a wrestling lens, with the most memorable Iowa wrestling stories from 2022:
The Iowa wrestling program experienced all of the emotions in the first couple of days in January.
Literally, on Jan. 1, Gabe Arnold announced his commitment to the Hawkeyes, and then a few hours later, Spencer Lee announced he would miss the remainder of the 2021-22 season after wrestling just three matches.
While Arnold’s commitment incited excitement and Lee’s decision to get double-knee surgery was the first of what became an injury-riddled season for the Hawkeyes, Drake Ayala brought spirits back up when he, first, took third at the Southern Scuffle, and, second, was inserted into Iowa’s starting lineup as a true freshman.
Ayala was hampered by his own injury, but he went 17-8 and reached the NCAA Championships. When healthy, he is an All-American threat capable of scoring major points for the Hawkeyes. He’s redshirting this season now that Lee is healthy, but his appearance showcased a bright future for Iowa moving forward.
In one of the coolest wrestling storylines nationwide during the 2021-22 season, Josh and Justin Portillo, twin brothers from Clarion-Goldfield-Dows, wrestled each other during a dual meet between NAIA’s Grand View and Division II’s Nebraska-Kearney.
Josh, wrestling for the Lopers, prevailed 12-10 in sudden victory — Justin led 5-4 after the first, 7-6 after the second, Josh tied it with an escape in the third, then led 10-9 on a takedown, but Justin escaped to force overtime, where Josh scored a takedown to win — but Justin and the Vikings won the dual, 19-18.
February started with another big commitment — this time, for the Iowa women’s wrestling program.
Kylie Welker, the No. 1 pound-for-pound women’s high school wrestler in America, became the first commitment for head coach Clarissa Chun and the Hawkeye women’s team. Welker instantly became arguably the most credentialed Iowa recruit ever: a Junior world champ, a U23 world medalist, and Senior world team member.
Welker’s commitment sparked what became a star-studded inaugural recruiting class for the Iowa women’s program. Two days later, Bettendorf’s Ella Schmit became the first in-state women’s recruit to join the Hawkeyes. Felicity Taylor later transferred in and Charles City’s Lilly Luft kicked off Chun’s 2023 recruiting class.
February featured some major dual meets.
First, Iowa State rallied to beat Northern Iowa, 16-15, at a jam-packed McLeod Center. The Cyclones led 9-6 after five matches, then the Panthers went up 15-9 with two left, but back-to-back wins from Yonger Bastida and Sam Schuyler clinched it for Iowa State.
The next day, Iowa wrestled Oklahoma State at Globe Life Field, in an event dubbed the Bout at the Ballpark. The Hawkeyes won handily, 23-9. The event was not the home run that the Grapple on the Gridiron was back in 2015, but they connected well enough to run it back again in 2023 (Oklahoma State will wrestle Michigan in February).
February, of course, is state championship month, and while Southeast Polk, West Burlington-Notre Dame and Don Bosco all won the traditional titles, two individuals became four-time state champions: New London’s Marcel Lopez and Crestwood’s Carter Fousek. They are both the first from their respective schools to win four state wrestling titles, and are Nos. 30 and 31 in the 96-year history of the Iowa state wrestling tournament.
MORE:Introducing the top 50 boys wrestlers for the 2022-23 Iowa high school wrestling season
Perhaps equally as impressive, Indianola’s Ryder Downey stopped a potential third four-time state champ with a stunning 6-5 come-from-behind win over Iowa City West’s Robert Avila Jr. in the Class 3A finals at 145 pounds. Avila previously won three Class 1A state titles for Lisbon, and nearly pinned Downey in the first period of their finals match, but Downey fought off, turned Avila twice in the third period, then rode him out to win in overtime.
Kind of quietly, the Indian Hills women’s wrestling team ended February by winning the junior college national team title. In just the second year of the women’s Junior College National Championship, the Warriors finished with four individual champs and 13 total All-Americans to win the team crown. They also won the junior college women’s national duals that same weekend. Two national titles in one weekend is pretty good.
The mighty Vikings reclaimed the throne at the 2022 NAIA men’s wrestling national championships in early March, scoring 206.5 team points behind 11 total All-Americans, including six finalists and three individual champs. Grand View has now won 10 traditional team titles in 11 years.
The only blip came in 2021, when Life University — led by Omi Acosta, a national champ for Grand View — took advantage of a sloppy Viking performance and beat Grand View by five points, 158-153. Led by head coach Nick Mitchell, Grand View quickly returned to form, beating Life U by 57.5 points for the 2022 team title.
After a two-year hiatus, Wartburg won the Division III national team title. The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled both the 2020 and 2021 national tournaments (at least officially; the National Wrestling Coaches Association held a Division III national tournament at Xtream Arena in 2021 — which Wartburg, unofficially, won).
But this past year, the Knights scored 79 points, edging second-place Wabash by a single point, to win their 15th all-time Division III team title. Seven Wartburg wrestlers earned All-American honors, led by Zayren Terukina’s runner-up finish at 141 pounds.
In the same weekend that Wartburg triumphed at the Division III national tournament, Adaugo Nwachukwu made history at the NAIA women’s national championships, becoming Iowa Wesleyan’s first-ever women’s national wrestling champ. Nwachukwu went 5-0 to win at 136 pounds.
Additionally, Mia Palumbo gave the Tigers a second national finalist with her runner-up finish at 109 pounds. In all, Iowa Wesleyan finished 13th in the team race. Grand View was the highest-finishing Iowa school, at sixth overall thanks to six total All-Americans.
Even better still, a month later, the NAIA announced that women’s wrestling would be an official championship sport, doing so well ahead of the NCAA, which tabbed women’s wrestling as an emerging sport in 2020. It was a major development for the continual growth of girls and women’s wrestling around the country.
RELATED:Adaugo Nwachukwu wins major women’s matchup at NWCA All-Star Classic
March ended with wrestling’s crown jewel, the NCAA Division I Championships, held at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Mich. The Hawkeyes hoped to repeat after winning the 2021 title, but limped their way to a third-place team finish. Penn State ran away with the team title behind five individual national champions.
Still, Iowa finished with five All-Americans, led by Jacob Warner’s finals appearance at 197 pounds. They have finished fifth or better at every national tournament since 2008. No other team has done that in that span.
Additionally, Iowa State rallied from a horrendous first day to finish with three All-Americans, in David Carr (157), Marcus Coleman (184) and Yonger Bastida (197), while Northern Iowa finished with just one All-American — Parker Keckeisen at 184 — after a red-hot start in Thursday’s opening rounds.
All three Iowa schools finished in the Top-20 at the NCAA Championships. Pretty good.
Recruiting class rankings were released in April — and Iowa State’s 2022 haul was considered No. 2 in the nation, both by MatScouts and InterMat. It was the Cyclones’ best recruiting class under head coach Kevin Dresser, one that he believes will send the program skyward (the early returns suggest he is correct).
Additionally, both Iowa and Northern Iowa also landed in the Top-25 (MatScouts had Iowa at No. 15 and Northern Iowa at No. 25; InterMat had the Hawkeyes at No. 11 and the Panthers at No. 25). All three in-state programs are very much among the top rung of the NCAA’s Division I power dynamics.
MORE:Iowa State wrestling adds two-time national champ Sawyer Bartelt to 2024 recruiting class
Iowa’s top high-schoolers returned to action in June and bulldozed the rest of the country at the Junior National Duals in Tulsa. Team Iowa won the Greco-Roman competition for the first time ever, then won the freestyle tournament for the second year in a row. It was a resounding performance, with both lineups featuring wrestlers from all over the state coming together to put Iowa on top at one of USA Wrestling’s marquee high school events.
In July, Iowa’s top high-schoolers continued their dominance at the 16U and Junior national championships in Fargo, North Dakota — and the Iowa girls opened the seven-day, six-tournament competition by winning the 16U women’s freestyle national team title for the first time in state history.
Fueled by eight All-Americans, Team Iowa scored 90 points to win a heated team race over Missouri (87) and California (86). Molly Allen won a national title at 112 pounds, becoming the third 16U/Cadet women’s freestyle national champ in state history. Skylar Slade, now a freshman at Southeast Polk, reached the finals at 144.
RELATED:The 25 best girls wrestlers for the 2022-23 inaugural Iowa high school girls wrestling season
Two days after Iowa’s 16U women’s team won a team title, Iowa’s Junior men’s freestyle team added their own, throttling the field thanks to four individual champs — Nate Jesuroga (120), Ryder Block (138), Aiden Riggins (160), Bradley Hill (220) — and 13 total All-Americans. Iowa’s Junior freestyle squad scored 214 team points. Pennsylvania finished second … with 116.
Ben Kueter, Iowa City High’s superstar athlete, added some serious international hardware to his trophy case in August when he blitzed the field and won gold at the Junior men’s freestyle world championships in Bulgaria. Kueter, who signed to play football and wrestle at Iowa, won at 97 kilograms (213 pounds). He recorded a pin in the finals to become the first Iowa high-schooler to win a Junior world title in more than two decades.
Kueter’s gold-medal performance helped the U.S. Junior men’s freestyle world team finish second in the team race. Additionally, Nwachukwu, the national champ from Iowa Wesleyan, won bronze for the U.S. Junior women’s freestyle world team, which finished third in the team race.
MORE HS WRESTLING:23 things we learned after Osage, Cedar Falls win the 2022 Battle of Waterloo
Thomas Gilman, a native of Carter Lake and a three-time All-American at Iowa, added another Senior-level world medal to his résumé in September. The 28-year-old Gilman won silver at the 2022 world championships in Serbia, making him a four-time world and Olympic medalist, the most-ever by a former Hawkeye wrestler.
In addition to a world silver this year, Gilman won a 2021 world title, 2020 Olympic bronze, and 2017 world silver. His efforts also helped lead the United States to the men’s freestyle world team title. Team USA scored 198 points to beat Iran (150) and Japan (70).
Another month, another age-level world championship event. In October, Iowa heavyweight Tony Cassioppi became USA Wrestling’s first-ever two-time U23 world medalist. He followed his gold-medal performance in 2021 with a bronze-medal showing in 2022, helping the U.S. men’s freestyle team to a third-place finish in Spain.
Cassioppi wasn’t the only Iowa wrestler on USA Wrestling’s U23 world team this year, either. Tanner Sloan, an Alburnett grad who wrestles at South Dakota State, won a U23 world silver medal at 97 kilos. Felicity Taylor, a South Winneshiek grad who transferred to join the Hawkeye women’s program, took fifth in women’s freestyle.
This could’ve been one of the first on this list, and it probably should’ve been, but the first-ever high school girls wrestling season began in late October and has been an immaculate success from virtually every angle.
The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union announced it was officially offering girls wrestling as its 11th sport in January, during the fourth Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association state tournament at Xtream Arena. By then, the state’s overall participation numbers became too large to ignore, from 188 girl wrestlers statewide during the 2018-19 season to 1,023 during the 2021-22 season.
Now, during the first IGHSAU-recognized girls wrestling season, participation has boomed even further, to 2,384 as of this week, according to Trackwrestling. The state-qualifying regional tournaments are set for Jan. 27, and those that advance to the first-ever IGHSAU state wrestling tournament will compete again Feb. 2-3.
RELATED:During Iowa’s first girls wrestling season, why one Iowa girl continues to wrestle boys
Speaking of the Hawkeye women’s wrestling program, they made their unofficial debut in November. We say unofficial because the program’s first official season is in 2023-24, so everybody on the roster is redshirting this year and competing unattached.
Seven Iowa women’s wrestlers went to the prestigious Missouri Valley Open and lit up the competition:
Pretty good!
MORE:Iowa women’s wrestling program adds two more commitments as second recruiting class takes shape
December opened with a bang, as Iowa topped Iowa State, 18-15, in a thrilling Cy-Hawk matchup in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have now won 18 in a row in this season, but this was just the third time since 2004 that it ended 5-5 in matches won. The other two times: 2018, which Iowa won 19-18, and 2004, the last time Iowa State won.
Iowa prevailed this time thanks to major decisions from Spencer Lee (125), Cobe Siebrecht (157), and Nelson Brands (174). When fully healthy, these Hawkeyes look every bit like the second-best team in the country and may very well give Penn State a serious run for the NCAA team title this season. The Cyclones, despite another Cy-Hawk loss, still have the look of a Top-10 squad, and may very well contend for a trophy come March.
RELATED:Meet Ben Durbin, Iowa State wrestling’s strength coach who’s been key to the Cyclones’ rise
A week later, Coralville’s Xtream Arena, America’s wrestling hotspot, hosted United World Wrestling’s World Cup competitions. It marked the first time ever that both the men’s and women’s freestyle World Cups were held alongside each other, bringing the world’s best freestyle wrestlers to the same building.
Team USA didn’t send the entire A-Team to the World Cup, but still managed to win the men’s freestyle title, toppling Iran in an epic final dual. The women’s freestyle team finished fourth and watched an inspired Ukraine squad storm to first over six-time defending champs Japan and over a stout China team in the championship.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at@codygoodwin.


Leave a Comment