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On the mat, Friday night was a chance for Iowa to dominate another Big Ten opponent. But behind the scenes, Tom Brands was changing things up at 184 pounds.
Senior Cash Wilcke and freshman Nelson Brands have been the two options for Iowa at the weight until recently, but Abe Assad came to Indiana with a redshirt and left without one.
There was talk of it happening all week, with all three of the options listed on the probable lineup following Assad’s runner-up finish at the Midlands Championships.
Then, on the bus ride to making his debut in an Iowa singlet, Assad’s dad got a call from Tom Brands.
“I think, personally, I’m the best wrestler for the weight,” Assad said. “I go out there, score points, I’m diverse in my wrestling. I just know [Brands] wanted me to wrestle and I wanted to wrestle, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s do it.’ ”
Wilcke and Assad both weighed in and were introduced, but right after the formalities were over, Brands told Assad he was going. From then on, it was his opportunity to lose.
Assad took the match against Jake Hinz 6-2. He scored an early takedown and dominated his advantage for riding time.
“I think I wrestled good. I think the nerves did play a part,” Assad said. “I think I kind of tensed up sometimes.”
“Tense” isn’t a word that is used to describe Assad very often. He cuts his checks on wrestling loose, something that he kept in mind during his match and that Brands has been aware of all along.
“Assad [is] very fundamental but very explosive, very aware of his positions,” Brands said. “Very calm, he’s out there just calm. We need that.”
Brands isn’t known to pull redshirts often, so the fact that he did means something for the weight. He has talked all season about doing what’s best for the team, the individual, and the future of the individual.
Brands and Assad comment following Hawkeye Wrestling's win at Indiana Friday. pic.twitter.com/6mLpj60mDg— Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling (@Hawks_Wrestling) January 11, 2020
If there wasn’t a good reason for Assad to be in the running for the starting position at 184 pounds, he wouldn’t be.
Through the first four duals of the season, there hasn’t been a clear answer at the weight for the Hawkeyes. That isn’t something that Brands is comfortable sitting with.
“We need maybe something to shake, rattle, and roll this thing a little bit, where it’s not just we’re going to go with the ordinary or what everyone’s predicting,” Brands said. “I’m not, we’re not saying that’s why we did it, I’m saying shake, rattle, and roll.”
Now, with the team on its way to Purdue, Brands has another decision to make. Nelson Brands, Cash Wilcke, and Abe Assad are all capable options for the weight to round out the weekend.
Purdue has two options listed on its probable lineup with a combined record of 15-9. For Tom Brands, it’s a chance to see more from Assad and what he can do in Big Ten competition — or give another look at one of the other wrestlers.
No matter who wrestles on Sunday, the race for the starting spot is far from over.
“I trust Tom,” Assad said. “He’s the best coach in the country, so whatever he thinks is best is best. I’m going to go out and do what he tells me to do and do it to the best of my ability.”
Anna attended the University of Iowa, where she covered multiple sports from volleyball to football to wrestling. She went to Pittsburgh in March 2019 for the NCAA DI Wrestling Championships and did live coverage of the entire event and Spencer Lee’s second-straight NCAA title. Follow her on Twitter.