IOWA CITY — The wait is over for Alex Marinelli.
This weekend will bring an end to the recurring question of when he will take the mat in the University of Iowa singlet.
The redshirt freshman and Hawkeyes Coach Tom Brands assured that Marinelli will be in the lineup when seventh-ranked Iowa takes an Eastern road trip. The Hawkeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) face No. 16 Rutgers (3-1, 1-0) on Friday and Maryland (3-2, 0-1) on Sunday.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Marinelli said. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.
“Wrestling both duals and I’ve been focused and ready to go.”
The last year has been riddled with queries as to when the four-time Ohio state champion and highly-ranked prep would step on the mat to officially represent Iowa. At first, shedding his redshirt was the subject last season. This season, things revolved around when he would step in at 165 pounds for the first time.
Brands promised a few new faces in the lineup at some point during the East Coast swing. Marinelli was the first specific name he mentioned, as well as classmate Kaleb Young, who has stepped in during his early absence.
“Marinelli has got the nod,” Brands said. “It’s his weight class.
Marinelli is poised to make an impact in his first year of eligibility. He is ranked 14th nationally by trackwrestling.com. Marinelli has weighed in at at each meet, but hasn’t competed due to an injury to his left knee that is protected by a knee brace.
Brands informed Marinelli when he would make his debut in the team meeting following the Illinois dual.
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“It’s what I’ve been dreaming of,” Marinelli said during the annual preseason media day. “I dream about it all the time.”
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. Marinelli credited the coaching staff for helping him stay positive mentally.
“You can improve and mentally improve any aspect of your life,” Marinelli said last month. “I think the coaching staff has prepared me for what I’m about to accomplish here.”
Iowa’s 157-pound All-American Michael Kemerer has rolled around with Marinelli in practice. He has witnessed Marinelli’s eagerness to follow him on the mat.
“He’s always tough,” Kemerer said of Marinelli. “He’s always working hard every day. It (will) be cool to see him out there actually. He’s been waiting for it.”
Marinelli and the Hawkeyes expect to face a hostile environment. They expect the Louis Brown Athletic Center to be at capacity Friday night and filled with raucous Rutgers fans.
“The last time we were at their facility it was a very spirited, rabid crowd,” Brands said. “We’re excited about that atmosphere. It’s a fun atmosphere.”
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Marinelli experienced the New Jersey crowds in high school, wrestling at national power Blair Academy. He is used to unfriendly venues.
“Now, being at Iowa, everyone wants to beat us, and I think that’s the best thing for us because we thrive off that and we don’t break under pressure,” Marinelli said. “So, I think having a hostile environment is awesome.”
Iowa has struggled in the lower weights, losing three straight in an early deficit against Illinois. Brands said they have to shake things up and the Hawkeyes are taking two wrestlers at 133 and 141. He said the future looks bright, but the skills shown in practice need to transfer to competition.
“It’s really about the opportunity you have and showing that it’s my weight class, because I went out and performed at a high level,” Brands said. “I had a blast doing it and I was entertaining to watch.”
Phil Laux and Paul Glynn will go at 133. Former Lisbon four-time state champion Carter Happel will get his chance to start, getting at least one chance to spell previous starter Vince Turk.
“It’s going to be fun,” Happel said. “I’m looking forward to it. He said I’m going to be wrestling one of them. I’ve got to stay ready no matter what.”
Happel is 4-1 this season with his only setback being to Iowa true freshman Max Murin. Happel has demonstrated an ability to rise to the challenge, setting numerous records at Lisbon and finishing as one of Iowa’s top all-time preps.
“I try to wrestle my hardest, no matter what,” Happel said. “I like that when the lights and all the attention are on you.”
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