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IOWA CITY — Iowa heavyweight Sam Stoll doesn’t sound like he’s ready to trade in his place at center mat for center stage any time soon.
Stoll showed he could be leading man material, starring in a few “Morning Stroll with Sam Stoll” video shorts distributed via the Hawkeyes’ Twitter account.
“I wasn’t a big fan of it, but fans seemed to like it,” Stoll said Wednesday during Iowa’s annual media day. “Fans liked it so it turned out to be a good thing.”
At the heart of each video was a very brief update of his rehab and recovery from knee surgery to repair a second ligament tear that shortened last season in January. In each, Stoll quickly said that everything was going well and he was ready to go.
Stoll said he has dropped between 260 and 265, allowing him to be more mobile.
“I feel really good,” Stoll said. “This is the range I’ve had the most success. I’ve felt really good around there.”
Stoll battled through a ligament tear his freshman season, managing to still qualify for the NCAA Championships in New York. He had surgery to repair it and returned nine months later to wrestle at the 2016 Midlands Championships. Stoll reinjured it less than three weeks later in the Oklahoma State dual.
The approach this time around has been more effective. According to Stoll, he is lighter to alleviate stress on the knee, head coach Tom Brands and athletic trainer Jesse Donnenwerth have been more hands-on in the process and the procedure was altered.
“They did a couple things different in the surgery,” Stoll said. “I think we just did a lot of things really well early, in the middle and now toward the end of the rehab.”
Stoll participated in last week’s wrestle-offs, beating freshman and former Western Dubuque state champion Aaron Costello, 2-0.
“My shape was fine,” Stoll said. “I didn’t really get tired. My timing was a little off on stuff. He gave me a good feel.
“The score wasn’t what I wanted it to be, obviously, but it was a good feel and it was good to get out there.”
Brands said Stoll is important to Iowa’s success, serving as an anchor to the Hawkeyes’ lineup.
“And it’s absolutely essential that he is healthy and he’s done a lot of things in his life to give him every edge to make sure he stays healthy,” Brands said. “He’s a different guy. He’s got a little bit more athleticism because he’s lighter. He’s got a little bit more scramble-ability because he’s lighter, and when you have those things and there’s a little bit more pizazz and a little bit of giddy-yup in your step, it’s positive for him.”
Stoll said he plans to wrestle at the Iowa City Duals next week. The only question left is what music he might play during his walk to home mat. In the videos, Stoll rated jokes from newcomers on the team. Pat Lugo, a transfer from Edinboro, won the contest.
So, what will Lugo have in store for Stoll?
“No idea,” Stoll said, “but he better be careful.”
One of the recurring questions last season was whether Alex Marinelli would share his redshirt and step into the lineup. The moment never came, but now Marinelli is poised to make an impact in his first year of eligibility.
“I’m very excited,” Marinelli said. “It’s what I’ve been dreaming of. I dream about it all the time.
We have a lot of home dual meets and that’s very exciting for us.”
Last year proved to be a good learning experience. He was able to improve his technique. Little things came to light like staying in his stance, attacking the leg with two hands, footwork, defending shots and how crucial it is to stay in good position.
He also learned how to develop while recovering from injuries.
“You can improve and mentally improve any aspect of your life,” Marinelli said. “I think the coaching staff has prepared me for what I’m about to accomplish here.”
Iowa Coach Tom Brands that Marinelli learned to bide his time and trust his coaches, even if it may not be the answer he wanted to hear.
“He’s learning a whole different set of patience, but it’s good,” Brands said. “He’s become a better wrestler because of it.”
Sitting out an entire year after carving out a niche as one of the best prep wrestlers in the country wasn’t easy. He watched as other freshmen earned spots on the national podium and wrestled on national television. Marinelli went 13-2 and placed fourth at Midlands last year.
“I was antsy but I think that Tom, (Iowa assistant) Terry (Brands) and (Iowa assistant Ryan) Morningstar really helped me have a positive mind on things because you can let those things get to you mentally,” said Marinelli, a four-time Ohio state champ. “Having a positive mind and knowing that my time will come and I’ll improve.
“I got to improve and that worked.”
Marinelli is ranked 10th at 165 pounds. He did not compete in wrestle-offs, saying he took extra time to let his body recuperate.
“Everything is good,” Marinelli said. “I’m 100 percent healthy.”
Apparently, Spencer Lee is the next incoming freshman to receiving questions about shedding his redshirt, following the likes of Derek St. John, Brandon Sorensen, Michael Kemerer and Alex Marinelli.
“I want to wrestle because I don’t like sitting out,” Lee said. “I don’t like going to open (tournaments) and stuff. I want to be part of the team instead of being unattached. I’d rather be wearing that Iowa Hawkeye singlet. If it’s not the best thing for me, and the coaching staff and I don’t come to an agreement that it’s what is best for me then I’m going to redshirt.”
Lee boasts an impressive resume. He is a two-time Junior World freestyle champion and a Cadet World freestyle champion. Lee was a four-time Pennsylvania state finalist, winning three titles and placing second his senior season.
But, Lee is returning from surgery to repair a torn knee ligament suffered during his senior year in high school.
“He’s fun to watch,” Brands said. “He’s entertaining. He brings a lot of scoring energy, a lot of boom, boom, boom, and that’s very refreshing for our fans when they know that; when they can get excited about something that they maybe haven’t seen a lot of because he wasn’t in the wrestle-off and a lot of his workouts are controlled right now.
“But use your imagination there and look at how I talk about our individuals, and I’m usually very, very conservative and reserved, and I just described Spencer Lee as boom, boom, boom. I tell you what, when he goes in there, he’s smiling. He’s having fun. He’ll tell you, in his words, it’s an awesome experience; “this is awesome,” and he’s growing every day.”
Lee said that his immediate focus is to make sure his knee heals. He has rebounded from surgery in the past, repairing a shoulder injury while in high school. Lee said visualization and dissecting film helps him get better while on the shelf.
“I think it’s funny. I think I always come back a little stronger,” Lee said. “Some things will be rusty. That’s natural but I feel pretty good right now.”
He serves as one of those question marks in the Hawkeyes lineup. He could possibly join later in the year and strengthen the Iowa lineup. He doesn’t mind being considered a wild card.
“Sure,” Lee said. “I feel like I’ll act like I’m always ready to go. No matter what. You have to train like you’re competing in March every day, every week.”
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