By CHRIS BREWER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa’s new big man is bringing big goals to the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex.
Tony Cassioppi, a redshirt freshman from Roscoe, Illinois, is expected to be the Hawkeye heavyweight when Iowa hosts Tennessee-Chattanooga in the season opener Nov. 17.
It marks the collegiate debut of Cassioppi, and the first opportunity to put a dent into the number 73.
“I want the fall. That is the goal every match,” Cassioppi said. “I know Ed Banach holds the (school) record and that is what I am looking at. I think I can do it.”
Cassioppi has the pedigree to do it. He has a combined 49 falls over the last two seasons, first recording a school-record 35 pins as a senior at Hononegah High School, and then winning 14 matches by fall during last year’s redshirt season at Iowa.
That two-year total would rank fourth in program history, but, of course, you don’t get to include high school and redshirt numbers toward your career total. And over the course of the next four years, the competition will be noticeably different.
Cassioppi knows that, and counters by saying his wrestling is also noticeably different.
“I would destroy my past selves,” he said. “One year ago, two years ago, I would pin myself. It probably would not take too long, either. I’m sure I would put up quite a fight, but not too long.
“I feel more confident in myself every time I practice, because I know that I’m putting in work, and when the match comes, I’ll be confident in the work I have put in.”
Cassioppi measures progress one day at a time. He is a man with long-term goals, but his immediate target is getting better “today,” so he marches to the message of head coach Tom Brands: the most important match is the next one.
“I am focused on day-in, day-out, and taking it one day at a time,” Cassioppi said. “Pushing myself to my limit every day. Wrestling guys like (Nathan) Burak and (Bobby) Telford, pushing myself past that breaking point every practice.”
Cassioppi calls it high-level preparation with high-level training partners. He said last year’s redshirt season allowed him to train at a level he had never before seen. Instead of training for a match today, tomorrow, or the next day, the focus was on the long-term.
“(A year ago) I was preparing myself for competition down the line,” Cassioppi said. “I was able to focus on technique and pushing myself for four or five days in a row; where if I was competing that weekend, I would need to get my body more of a rest so I was feeling fresh the day of the tournament.”
His approach the last few weeks has been similar to last year, but that will change as the season nears.
“Once we get into the season, I will make sure I am getting ready for those matches; pedal to the metal,” he said.
As for his collegiate debut on Nov. 17? He has a walk-out song in mind, and the rest is business as usual.
“I’m not nervous for the Carver experience, I am excited for it,” Cassioppi said. “I know there is going to be a wrestling mat out there on the floor and I train on a wrestling mat every day. It’s no different.
“Iowa fans are awesome. The Hawkeyes have great tradition and I am excited to be a part of it.”