By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The way Tom Brands sees it, wrestling is a lot more than just beating your opponent.
It’s about putting on a show and entertaining the fans, and the show starts for real on Sunday when the second-ranked Iowa wrestling team hosts Chattanooga at 2 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa is considered a heavy favorite to win the match, but Brands wants more than just a victory.
He wants his wrestlers to seize their moment on the mat and to push themselves to the limit, all in the pursuit of dominance and fun.
And if that happens, the fans will have fun, too.
“Our athletes want to dominate and win by wide margins and have fun and put themselves on display and be an entertainer and have the fans buzzing and talking about how exciting it was to watch and how they can’t wait to see me on the mat again,” Brands said at a press conference on Thursday. “And it we have ten guys, ten weight classes doing that, then our fans will be talking about ten weight classes.
“So it’s not about making a circus environment where you have a three-ring circus. It’s about taking on a little bit of responsibility and putting it on yourself, hey, you are a performer, and when the lights are on, it’s time to perform. And that’s a lot of fun.”
Redshirt freshman heavyweight Tony Cassioppi is ready to have some fun in what will be his Hawkeye debut on Sunday.
The Roscoe, Ill., native wrestled unattached as a true freshman last season, compiling an impressive 20-2 record.
He also won two state titles in high school.
“I’m incredibly excited,” Cassioppi said. “My first Carver experience in a black and gold singlet. So that’s exciting.”
Asked if he considers himself a performer on the mat, Cassioppi said:
“I just go out there and get the job done. If that’s exciting, good.”
Junior Alex Marninelli has provided plenty of excitement at the 165-pound weight class, including winning a Big Ten title last season.
But he only finished seventh at the NCAA Championships, so Marinelli has extra incentive to put on a show on Sunday, and throughout the season.
“If you’re an entertainer, you want to do the most you can do to make the fans happy,” Marinelli said. “It’s kind of like settling for a decision and a major rather than a tech (fall) and a pin. I mean, if you know you can pin the guy, freaking pin him, because the fans want it.
“Tom’s putting his best lineup out there, so let’s go do what we’re supposed to be doing and not just hold on to a two-point lead. Let’s go get that major.”
Junior Spencer Lee, who is the two-time defending champion at 125 pounds, is expected to wrestler on Sunday.
Lee has a unique schedule this winter as he juggles his responsibilities as a Hawkeye with his goal of making the Olympic trials.
“We’ve got a pretty good plan,” Brands said, “Our home schedule is loaded. And it makes sense to wrestle our best lineup. So he’s going to be in those big dual meets when we wrestler at home.”
Iowa will host seven home meets during the season, highlighted by a showdown with top-ranked and defending national champion Penn State on Jan. 31, and by a Feb. 23rd matchup against traditional power Oklahoma State.
Junior Austin DeSanto, who usually competes at 133 pounds, doesn’t necessarily consider himself as an entertainer, but his aggressive style and non-stop motor makes him entertaining.
DeSanto has a 23-6 record at Iowa after having transferred from Drexel in 2018. He placed fifth at the 2019 NCAA Championships at 133 pounds.
“I’m concerned about winning and scoring points and having fun out there and being calm, cool and collected wrestling my style,” DeSanto said.
Iowa and Chattanooga will meet for the fourth time, and for the first time at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa is 3-0 all-time against the Mocs.
“Always the first match is important, you’ve got to start off strong,” DeSanto said. “These guys are no joke. You can’t take anybody lightly.”