Iowa wrestling set to take on top-ranked Penn State

Young Guns ready for dual in home state

Iowa's Spencer Lee wrestles OSU's Nick Piccininni at 125 pounds during the Hawkeyes regular season meet against Oklahoma State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Sunday, January 14, 2018. Lee won the match 10-5. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)
Iowa's Spencer Lee wrestles OSU's Nick Piccininni at 125 pounds during the Hawkeyes regular season meet against Oklahoma State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Sunday, January 14, 2018. Lee won the match 10-5. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)

IOWA CITY — As odd as it sounds, Iowa’s Spencer Lee might cheer for a Penn State wrestler on occasion.

Lee, as well as Hawkeye teammates Michael Kemerer, Kaleb Young and Max Murin, grew up training with some of the current Nittany Lions in the Young Guns Wrestling Club coached by former Iowa NCAA finalist Jody Strittmatter in Pennsylvania.

Lee wants to see his former club mates do well, but this is not one of those times. His allegiance remains in black and gold.

Seventh-ranked Iowa will take on No. 1 Penn State in the Big Ten Conference regular-season finale at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pa. Iowa (11-2, 6-2) has won six of the last nine duals, but Penn State (12-0, 8-0) won decisively last season.

Young Guns members Jason Nolf (157) and Vincenzo Joseph at 165 and 197-pounder Matt McCutcheon are listed in Penn State’s probable lineup.

“You’ve known them since you were young,” Lee said. “You’ve trained with them. It’s cool seeing them compete in other places and be successful.

“Ultimately, you’re going to cheer for your teammate in a Hawkeye singlet because you want to win. That’s just how it’s going to go down.”

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Strittmatter has developed his club, which has expanded to various sites across the Midwest, into a wrestling juggernaut, churning out college wrestlers at all levels. Kemerer was the first major product from the club to find his way to Iowa from Pennsylvania, Young followed the next year and Lee and Murin took the same path.

Lee recalled what made the club appealing and why its alumni can be found competing all across the country.

“Pittsburgh was always a Mecca in PA,” Lee said. “I think he (Strittmatter) came at a great time. A lot of guys wanted to find opportunities to train with good partners and Young Guns had a lot of great partners. It just kept attracting more great partners.”

Lee said it will be cool to reconnect and talk to them after the meet. He’s focused more on wrestling than reunions. The Iowa wrestlers heading back to their home state aren’t concerned with the crowd reaction, especially Lee, whose commitment to Iowa was a major coup for Hawkeye head coach Tom Brands.

“It’s no different than any other competition,” said Lee, who was a three-time World campion and three-time state titlist at Franklin Regional High School. “It is going to be nice having friends that I haven’t seen since high school maybe be there.”

Iowa's Spencer Lee on wrestling at Penn State


Kemerer said the meet is a convenient opportunity for friends and family to see take the mat in person.

“They get a chance to see you wrestle and talking to them after the match,” Kemerer said. “I owe a lot of my success and being out here to the people I’ve been around growing up, so it’s good they can come to the match and see me wrestle.”

Even though Nolf is listed in the probable lineup, it is unlikely we will see the NCAA champion and top-ranked junior against the second-ranked Kemerer (18-0). Nolf injured his knee during a dual at Rutgers recently. He used crutches last week, sitting out Saturday’s win over No. 2 Ohio State. Penn State Coach Cael Sanderson has said Nolf probably won’t return until the conference tournament.

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“You want to go out and wrestle the best opponent every time,” Kemerer said about the disappointment of not wrestling Nolf. “As far as my preparation goes, I’m still preparing like I am going to wrestle him.

“It really doesn’t matter who I am going to wrestle. I’ve got to go out there and do what I do. Whoever is on the mat is an opponent out there to fight me and take what I want. Either way, I’ve got to be ready to go and getting to my stuff.”

The dual will have its share of highly-ranked matchups, including the 149-pound bout between top-ranked Zain Retherford (21-0) and Iowa’s No. 2 Brandon Sorensen (18-0). Retherford has won all four previous college matches, including a 9-8 decision in the second overtime tiebreaker in last year’s dual and by pin at the 2017 NCAA championships.

“(Sorensen has) got to stay on the attack,” Brands said. “He’s got to stay in there focused and intense and know who your opponent is and do what Sorensen does best.”

Alex Marinelli (12-0) will have another key matchup, facing the top-ranked and defending NCAA champ Joseph (16-0). Brands said Marinelli has to stay basic to be effective, keeping hips underneath him, drive through his opponent, lower his level, penetrate and finish shots.

“I think he knows that and he’s always been one to get up for a challenge,” Brands said. “I know he is excited about this weekend like he’s excited to compete every time out.”

Iowa also has top-10 battles at 197 and heavyweight. Iowa’s eighth-ranked Cash Wilcke has No. 5 Anthony Cassar at 197. The Hawkeyes’ third-ranked heavyweight Sam Stoll faces No. 5 Nick Nevills, who limited Ohio State’s Olympic gold medalist and two-time NCAA champ Kyle Snyder to a decision to close the 19-18 win Saturday.

Iowa had an opportunity to pierce the membrane, separating the top two teams from the rest of college wrestling. It fell short at Ohio State, but needs to take advantage of a second chance.

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“You’ve got to be up for it, but at the same time you have to stick to your routine,” Brands said. “Do the things that you do best, keep doing them and do it for as long as that match lasts. Seven minutes or 11 1/2 minutes. It doesn’t matter.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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