IOWA CITY, Iowa — If Carter Happel takes a monkey see, monkey do approach to his wresting career, University of Iowa wrestling fans are going to have something to get excited about.
Royce Alger, Brent Metcalf, Mark Ironside, and Tom and Terry Brands — those are the names Happel watched growing up, either in person or through old videos, and those are the wrestlers that inspire his effort on the mat.
“Those are the guys that are in your face,” said Happel, whose father Dean was a wrestling letterwinner at Iowa from 1988-89. “I love the way they just get after you.”
Happel won four Iowa high school state titles competing for Lisbon, a school with an alumni base that includes Ryan Morningstar and Royce Alger. Morningstar was a two-time All-American at Iowa from 2009-10, and Alger won national titles for the Hawkeyes in 1987 and 1988. On top of that, Happel’s high school coach was Brad Smith, a 1976 NCAA champion for the Hawkeyes.
To say he has grown up with a Hawkeye influence would be an understatement.
“I’ve always known about Iowa wrestling and its mindset,” Happel said. “Growing up watching the Hawks, I’ve always liked them. My dad, (high school) coach, and a lot of guys from Lisbon all went to Iowa. I’ve heard stories about what it’s like here and I’ve always loved it.”
Happel looked at Iowa, Northern Iowa, and Iowa State as a prep, but there was never a doubt he would continue his wrestling career with the Hawkeyes. He was the No. 1 recruit in the state of Iowa entering his senior season, and he committed to the Hawkeyes in October 2015. His recruiting class includes out of state blue-chippers Alex Marinelli (Ohio) and Kaleb Young (Pennsylvania), and some familiar Iowa faces, including Jack Wagner (Bettendorf), Brock Rathbun (Central City), and Matt Malcom (Glenwood).
“It has been an exciting transition,” Happel said. “We’ve been working since we got here and school started. It has been good to get in the swing of things and it has been fun to wrestle with some of the guys I’ve grown up with.”
The familiarity has been a benefit academically, socially, and personally, while the hard work in the room has paid early dividends on the mat.
Happel has wrestled in two tournaments since the season started. He won the 141-pound bracket at the Grand View Open on Nov. 5, and one week later he won the Luther Open Silver Division. He is 7-0 overall with four pins and three technical falls.
“The goal is to always score bonus points,” he said. “So when you go out there and get the job done it feels really good. Now I need to continue to go out and put everything into a match. Wear your opponent down and work for the fall.”
The Hawkeyes have a need at 141 pounds in the varsity lineup. A year ago it was the only weight Iowa didn’t qualify for the NCAA Championships, but Happel said he doesn’t see himself filling the role this year.
“In my mind I want to redshirt and from what Tom (Brands) has been saying, he won’t pull my redshirt unless he absolutely has to,” Happel said.
Until then, Happel says he will continue working in the room and learning from those that come before him.
“I like watching and cheering for everyone in this room,” he said, “but to me, the most exciting guy to watch is Gilman because he throws up so many points and is always on the attack.”
Monkey see, monkey do, and maybe someday, monkey win national title.
The Hawkeyes open the home schedule Friday hosting the Iowa City Duals. Iowa wrestles Iowa Central at 9 a.m. (CT) and Cornell College at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for youth 18-years-old and younger. UI students and youth 5-years-old and younger are admitted free.