IOWA CITY — Roughing it as he redshirts this season for the Iowa wrestling team, Tony Cassioppi is at least getting some bang for his buck.
The Hawkeye freshman has an 11-0 record in open tournament competition so far this season, winning 10 of his matches by pin and the 11th by a major decision.
“It’s been a whole lot of fun. The last tournament (the UNI Open) I wrestled like for like three minutes and I paid like 70 bucks for the hotel and 30 bucks for the entry fee,’’ Cassioppi said, reflecting on his quick work in Cedar Falls earlier this month that included pins over three opponents from Division I programs.
Quick success has been the norm for Cassioppi so far this season. Only one of his 10 pins has come in a match which has taken longer than one period to decide.
That came in the finals of the Lindenwood Open, where it took Cassioppi 4 minutes, 20 seconds to pin Iowa State varsity starter Gannon Gremmel.
One of only two wrestlers to win a pair of USA Wrestling Triple Crowns as a junior national folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman national champion, the two-time Illinois state high school champion from Rockton Hononegah competes at 285 pounds, the lineup spot currently filled by top-ranked senior Sam Stoll.
The chance to train in the Iowa wrestling room with Stoll and redshirt freshman Aaron Costello and work with Hawkeye volunteer assistant Bobby Telford, a three-time Hawkeye all-American, is giving Cassioppi the type of experience he wanted at the collegiate level.
“It’s been great getting in the room and wrestling all these tough guys every day,’’ Cassioppi said. “I’ve learned that I’ve got a lot to improve on, areas where I can be better than I am.’’
That starts with basics.
“There’s a lot of areas I can be better than I am,’’ he said. “My hand fighting, my conditioning, everything, I can get better and need to.’’
That need begins later this week when Cassioppi will get a chance to compete as an open entry at the Midlands Championships.
“He’s going to see a different level of competition, out there with the big dogs,’’ Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “He’ll be alright. Tony Cassioppi lives the lifestyle. He’s enthusiastic about wrestling and competing.’’
Cassioppi is among a handful of Hawkeyes who will compete on an open basis at the two-day Midlands Championships, which begins Saturday at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
It’s a tournament Cassioppi tried to enter during his high school career, but his inquiry was quickly turned down by organizers.
“They said they weren’t taking high school wrestlers that year,’’ Cassioppi said. “That was fine. I moved on, but it was worth a shot. They had let high schools guy previously but they weren’t then.’’
As was the case then, Cassioppi expects the tournament to be a good experience for him as he moves deeper into his college career.
“It’s the biggest tournament I’ve had so far and I’m anxious to see what I can do with it,’’ Cassioppi said. “It will be a good challenge.’’
He compares it to the tests he finds himself dealing with on a daily basis in the Hawkeye wrestling room.
“Each of the guys in there has a little different style and that’s been good for me,’’ Cassioppi said. “A guy like Costello, it’s hard to score on him. It’s good for me to try to get in on shots against him and see what I can do to open up my attack against him.’’
That’s all part of the process, a journey much longer than the matches Cassioppi has been wrestling so far this season.
“I’m learning every day and to me, that’s the great thing about being here,’’ Cassioppi said. “I’ve gained a lot in a short period of time that is going to help me over the long haul.’’