116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Five storylines to follow for the 2022 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships this Thursday through Saturday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
1. Healthy or hurting Hawkeyes?
Iowa was banged up and battered at the end of the Big Ten Championships. Only 11 days separates the conference tournament qualifiers and the national tournament. Not a lot of time when you’re trying to get on the mend for the three-day NCAA grind.
The most concerns surround Michael Kemerer at 174 pounds and Jaydin Eierman at 141. Both have had extended careers and seemed the worst for wear coming out of the Big Ten meet. Their points will be pivotal for Iowa’s team standing. Drake Ayala has missed time since removing his redshirt in January, but he insisted he was fine after his eighth-place conference finish due to a medical forfeit. Heavyweight Tony Cassioppi wasn’t unscathed either, but might be the less affected given his performance.
Just about every competitor and team are dealing with aches, pains and bruises this time of year. Iowa’s chances at a team title could rest on how they have recovered or how they handle the adversity caused by injury.
2. Iowa’s balance and bonus points
More key components to Iowa’s chances to repeat as team champs are production and dominance. Seems like a no-brainer, but they will be crucial to leapfrog Penn State and Michigan.
Iowa has all 10 wrestlers in the field. All are capable of wins and advancing in the tournament. Seven Hawkeyes are projected to earn All-America status, according to seeds. Two more could reach the round of 12. Abe Assad is seeded 18th, but he was a National Wrestling Coaches Association All-American in 2020. Ten All-Americans is a possibility, but it is going to take some to be at their best of this season.
Bonus points always are important. Just look at the Division III Championships decided by one point. Iowa hasn’t been prolific in the area this season without dynamo Spencer Lee to lead the way. Iowa managed just nine wins for 13 bonus points in the Big Ten tournament. Six points came from medical forfeits. As a whole, Iowa has just 20 total pins all season. No one has more than three. Austin DeSanto has been solid with 10 technical falls, but they will need to capitalize on opportunities for bonus points and put opponents away with they can.
3. How will Iowa seniors cap their legacy?
The senior class will be remembered fondly for returning Iowa to the top of college wrestling. They won two consecutive Big Ten titles and the first NCAA team championship in more than a decade, which could have been two if not for the 2020 event canceled by pandemic.
This season shouldn’t be the defining factor, but fans can be a “What have you done for me lately?” sort. The seniors like Kemerer, Alex Marinelli, DeSanto, Kaleb Young, Eierman, Max Murin and Jacob Warner (although Murin and Warner could be back) would love nothing more than to close out with a title. Another championship, this time considered more of an underdog, would be a way to cement their impact.
Individually, Marinelli and Kemerer are two who could put an exclamation point on their careers with titles. Marinelli is the No. 3 seed and has a reasonable path to the finals. Kemerer is the No. 5 seed and a tougher road. Both are very capable, if healthy, of winning it all. Add DeSanto and Eierman to that list as well.
4. David Carr going for No. 2
Iowa State has made strides to be a top-10 contender this season. A driving force of its success stems from NCAA champion David Carr, who is 21-0 and top-seeded again at 157.
He thrilled fans last season winning at the same weight, scoring 22 of the Cyclones’ 37 1/2 points. Carr, the son of Iowa State three-time NCAA champion Nate Carr, is in just his second varsity season, so he hasn’t been mentioned in the same breath as Lee and Minnesota’s Gable Steveson, but he’s proving as reliable as them when it comes to wins. Carr is energetic and athletic. He can break open a match at almost any time. He also is on pace to be an actual five-time champion, but the second one has to be won before that comes into the picture.
A title and he will be ISU’s first two-time champion since Jake Varner in 2009-10. Carr is head-and-shoulders above the top side of the bracket, but a possible final against Northwestern’s No. 2 Ryan Deakin or Arizona State’s No. 3 Jacori Teemer is exciting to imagine.
5. High-pace Parker Keckeisen
Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen’s postseason really turned some heads last year. His tenacity and relentless offense allowed him to pull out a couple decisions and reach the semifinals, placing third and higher than any Panthers freshman since 1952.
He was just the 11th UNI freshman All-American. Keckeisen picked up where he left off last season. He is 24-1 with 17 bonus-point victories, including 11 major decisions and four technical falls. He earned the fourth seed for the second straight year after winning his second 184-pound Big 12 title. Keckeisen’s only loss is to Penn State’s Aaron Brooks, who beat Keckeisen in the 2021 NCAA semifinals. Michigan’s top-seeded Myles Amine beat Brooks in the Big Ten final and could be a semifinal foe, if the seeds play out to form.
UNI’s Drew Foster shocked many when he won the 2019 NCAA title at 184. If Keckeisen remains true to his style of wrestling that amps up as the match progresses, it could power him to Saturday night.