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Iowa wrestlers Patrick Kennedy and Tony Cassioppi win U23 men's freestyle national titles


Iowa coach Tom Brands was excited to watch his wrestlers compete at the U23 national championships over the weekend, and Patrick Kennedy showed why.

Kennedy, the Hawkeyes' talented third-year wrestler, won the U23 men’s freestyle national title on Sunday in Ohio. He went 7-0 to win at 74 kilograms (163 pounds), registering three wins over All-Americans and two more over NCAA qualifiers.

The performance reinforced Brands’ excitement. Kennedy joined the program as a ballyhooed recruit from Minnesota’s Kasson-Mantorville, but he has had to wait two years before cracking the Hawkeye lineup. He wrestled some but not often during the shortened 2021 season, then went 17-3 while redshirting during the ’21-22 season.

Brands anticipates Kennedy will step right into the Hawkeye lineup next season and be Iowa’s starting 165-pounder for the foreseeable future, and if this weekend is any indication of what to expect, Kennedy could very well be a national force right away.

The 21-year-old outscored his seven opponents by a combined 66-12. He beat a pair of NCAA qualifiers, in Appalachian State’s William Formato (10-0) and Columbia’s Josh Ogunsanya (15-5). He also beat two guys who both won 20-plus matches last season, in Wyoming’s Cooper Voorhees and Lock Haven’s Avery Bassett.

Kennedy’s final three matches on Sunday were perhaps his best. In the semifinals, he pinned Nebraska’s Peyton Robb, an All-American this past season at 157 pounds. Robb opened with a 4-point takedown, but Kennedy rallied to lead 6-4 after scoring an exposure in the second period, during which he re-adjusted and recorded the fall.

In the best-of-three finals, Kennedy swept West Virginia’s Peyton Hall, another 2022 All-American. Kennedy scored four takedowns to win the first match, 8-3, then scored five step-out points to win the second, 5-0. This result was especially impressive since Hall beat Kennedy, 6-4 in sudden victory, at the Southern Scuffle last January.

► MORE: Iowa City High's Ben Kueter makes U20 men's freestyle world team

The unfortunate news for Kennedy is that this weekend’s competition partially doubled as the world team trials event for the U23 world championships, set for October in Spain. Here’s why it’s only partially:

USA Wrestling changed its U23 world team qualifying process this year. If any of the Senior national team members are U23 eligible, they get first dibs on the U23 world team spot.

At 74 kilos, Kyle Dake and Jason Nolf, who will wrestle for the Senior world team spot on Wednesday at Final X in New York, aren’t eligible, but Iowa State’s David Carr, who beat Joey Lavallee in a wrestle-off for the third spot on the national team last Friday at Final X in Stillwater, is U23 eligible. He has indicated he plans to take the spot, too.

That stinks for Kennedy, who no-doubt earned his national title this weekend. But his performance should have Hawkeye wrestling fans buzzing as they await the arrival of the 2022-23 season.

Iowa wrestler Tony Cassioppi makes U23 men's freestyle world team

Tony Cassioppi will get the opportunity to win another world title this fall.

Cassioppi, Iowa's lean-and-mean All-American heavyweight, joined Kennedy as a champion at the U23 men's freestyle national tournament on Sunday. But unlike Kennedy's unfortunate circumstance, Cassioppi will be on the U23 world team.

The 22-year-old stormed to first at 125 kilos (275), going 7-0 and outscoring his opponents 72-8. He notched wins over Oklahoma State's Luke Surber, Wisconsin All-American Trent Hillger, then swept Missouri's Zach Elam, a past Junior world silver medalist, in the best-of-three finals, winning by scores of 11-4 and 13-2.

By virtue of USA Wrestling's national team members at 125 kilos all ineligible for the U23 world championships, Cassioppi earned the world team spot with his championship run this weekend. The U23 world championships are set for October 17-23 in Spain.

Cassioppi, of course, won gold at last year's U23 world championships. Expectations, both internally and externally, are plenty high that he'll do it again this fall.

► RELATED: Thomas Gilman makes another Senior men's freestyle world team

Alburnett's Tanner Sloan makes U23 men's freestyle world team

Tanner Sloan, the Alburnett grad who is now wrestling at South Dakota State, joined Cassioppi on the U23 world team by winning the title at 97 kilos (202) on Sunday. Sloan went 5-0 and swept Stanford’s Nick Stemmet in the best-of-three finals, 10-0 and 10-3.

Sloan, a three-time NCAA qualifier for the Jackrabbits, is now a two-time age-level world team member for USA Wrestling. He previously made the Junior men's freestyle world team in 2019 that competed in Estonia.

That year, David Carr won a Junior world title. Additionally, Yonger Bastida, now an All-American at Iowa State, repped Cuba and took second at Sloan's weight. Sloan went 0-1 and was eliminated on the first day of competition.

Three more Hawkeye wrestlers earn All-American honors at U23 national championships

Kennedy and Cassioppi produced the highlight performances, but the Hawkeyes had a good weekend overall at the U23 national championships, finishing with five total All-Americans — and the other three all finished in the top-four.

Abe Assad went 6-1 and finished third at 86 kilos (189). He won his first four matches by a combined 40-0 to reach the semifinals, where he lost to Oregon State's Trey Munoz, 6-2. But he rallied with two wrestleback wins for third — 8-5 over Cornell's Chris Foca, and 3-1 over Cornell's Jonathan Loew, an All-American at 184 this past season.

Brennan Swafford went 7-1 and took third at 79 kilos (174). He also made the semifinals then took third. He registered come-from-behind wins over Little Rock's Tyler Brennan (down 4-0, won 5-4) and Michigan's Max Maylor (down 5-2, won 7-5) and technical fall wins over Illinois' Dan Braunagel, Air Force's Sam Wolf, and Edinboro's Aaron McDaniel.

Cobe Siebrecht put together an impressive performance, going 8-2 for fourth at 70 kilos (154). He won seven straight matches in the wrestlebacks. He recorded an 18-8 win over Willie McDougald, a Big 12 runner-up and NCAA qualifier; 10-0 win over South Dakota State's Daniel Kimball; and pinned Northern Iowa's Evan Yant while trailing 6-4.

Northern Iowa's Julian Farber becomes U23 freestyle All-American

The Panther Train brought a big contingent of wrestlers to the U23 national tournament, but only Julian Farber, a third-year wrestler originally from Georgia, was the only medal-winner, finishing seventh at 61 kilos (134).

Farber went 6-2 overall, which included five straight wins in the wrestlebacks after a third-round loss. He beat Purdue's Dustin Norris 12-1 and Arizona State's Julian Chlebove 9-3 to reach the top-eight. His only losses came to Minnesota's Jake Gliva and Cal-State Bakersfield's Chance Rich, both of whom were NCAA qualifiers in 2022.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.