IOWA CITY — Alex Marinelli and Vince Turk watched as spectators a year ago.
Spencer Lee wasn’t on campus, yet, nevertheless a sparkplug at the front of the Iowa lineup.
Paul Glynn and Mitch Bowman were waiting in the wings.
Now, they comprise 50 percent of the third-ranked Hawkeyes lineup and will make their college wrestling postseason debuts at the Big Ten Championships this weekend at Michigan State’s Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.
Everything has a first time and it doesn’t matter whether some is as a freshman or just a first-time starter.
“The one thing you can hang your hat on, if you’re one of those guys is you’ve been getting ready for big events in this sport for a long time, whether it’s state, regional and national levels,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “We just have to be ready to go one match at a time.”
Wrestlers compete in many matches and on large stages throughout their careers. A national qualifier, even in the nation’s best conference, isn’t overwhelming. Lee, for one, wrestled in the year’s premiere tournament, winning three World titles at the Cadet and Junior levels.
“You’ve got to treat it the same way,” Lee said. “You treat it like a World Championship.
“We approach every match the same way. Every match is the biggest because it’s the next match. That’s how you have to think.”
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Marinelli isn’t your prototypical freshman either. He is one of just two current freshmen in the country with unbeaten records. Marinelli, a four-time Ohio state champion, hasn’t lost in past postseasons. He is well aware of what it takes, despite getting his first shot in the conference tournament.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, since I was 4 pretty much,” Marinelli said. “You just have to realize if you win eight or seven straight you’re a national and Big Ten champion, and that’s kind of my mindset.
“Buckle down, take it one match at a time and if you win three or four you’re a Big Ten champion and seven straight you’re a national champion.”
The preparation is more mental this time of the season. They have had the entire regular season to build to this point and many know what it takes to be successful.
“They’ve been through the big tournaments,” Iowa senior Brandon Sorensen said. “They know what to do. They’ve been getting ready all year. They just have to go out and get it done the way they have been doing all year.”
Marinelli and Turk were in Bloomington, Ind., watching last year's conference meet. They certainly have a feel for the atmosphere and the intensity that surrounds national berths being on the line. Marinelli used it as an opportunity to see his future foes in action.
“I remember very vividly the guys that I’ll have in the quarters, semis and the finals,” Marinelli said. “I’ve watched them all very focused.”
Lee and Marinelli are in two of the more stacked weight classes in all of the national qualifiers. Both are the No. 2 pre-seed in a bracket allotted 10 automatic berths.
Marinelli (14-0) is ranked behind Illinois’ two-time NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez, but has beaten Penn State’s defending national titlist Vincenzo Joseph earlier this season. He could face last year’s NCAA semifinalist Logan Massa, of Michigan, in the quarterfinals. Nothing will come easy in a field with nine of the top 14 wrestlers ranked nationally.
“It doesn’t matter who you have first round, second round or third round,” Marinelli said. “They’re all going to be coming for the same thing.
“If you’re worried about your seed too much then you’re not going to be worried about wrestling. All that matters is wrestling, taking the guy down first and going to war.”
Lee is in a similar situation, sitting behind Rutgers’ Nick Suriano in the rankings. Lee could face NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello, who is third in the pre-seeds, in the semifinals. The weight includes Minnesota’s returning national finalist Ethan Lizak, who is seeded fifth.
“I haven’t really looked at it,” Lee said. “Terry always says when it’s your time. Obviously, it’s not the time to worry about the match. I’m focused on practice and improving for this weekend.”
Unlike some of the other mainstays in the lineup, Turk recently secured his spot in the starting lineup, splitting time with redshirt freshman Carter Happel. Turk won a wrestle-off last week. The battle in the room has helped him when he has gotten the call and could be key for this weekend.
“I believe competition is good,” Turk said. “It raises the bar for both guys. Either way, whether I was wrestling that week or not, I was getting ready to go and getting ready to compete.”
Brands said the wrestle-offs, which included Joey Gunther getting the nod at 174 over Kaleb Young, were caused due to neither wrestler at those spots making a clear claim to be the starter.
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Turk realizes it doesn’t take satisfaction in just getting an opportunity. He has to take advantage of it.
“It’s always good to put on that black and gold singlet, but now I have to focus on Big Tens,” said Turk, unseeded but vying for one of eight NCAA berths. “I have to focus on nationals. It’s not the just about wearing the singlet. It’s about performing with it.”
Michael Kemerer came in as Iowa’s top wrestler in the pre-seeds that are voted on by coaches. He was tied with Penn State national champion Jason Nolf for No. 1 at 157. Nolf has not wrestled for weeks due to a knee injury that resulted in his only loss of the season. Kemerer is 20-0 this season, finishing second to Nolf last year in the conference finals.
Coaches will meet Friday to determine which seeds those two will officially receive.
“That was even and then when you do the revote because they were tied,” Brands said. “It looked like they stuck to party lines and where I’m at it doesn’t matter.
“I’m sure where Kemerer is at it doesn’t matter, but it will be hashed out in a town hall meeting format. We’ll revote and figure it out.”
Sorensen is the most experienced by far. The three-time All-American is a two-time Big Ten runner-up, finishing third last season. He hasn’t placed lower than fourth, reaching the 2016 finals at the national tournament.
Sorensen (19-1) is seeded second behind NCAA champion Zain Retherford at 149. This is his last go-around.
“I’m approaching it very similar (to the last three years),” Sorensen said. “This is the last time. You have to go out and put everything on the line and let it fly.
“Do what I know I can do and have fun with it.”
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