116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Many reasons to move on and more to stay.
Iowa’s Michael Kemerer could have chosen to wrestle internationally, start coaching or just enter into the real world with his finance degrees. No one would have blamed him at all.
When last season finished and the time came to decide on returning for one final year of eligibility, it came down to one basic motivation. The choice to return for a seventh season was hardly a choice at all.
“After I took some time away, I realized the No. 1 thing that I love to do the most is to go out and wrestle,” Kemerer said. “I feel like I’m a wrestler. I was born to wrestle. It’s a tough sport and has a lot of ups and downs, but for me, it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s what I love to do, so when I looked at myself it was a no-brainer.”
Kemerer will conclude his seven-year college wrestling career at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, beginning Thursday at 11 a.m. (CT). He is one of 10 Hawkeye qualifiers and will attempt to earn his fifth All-America honor as the fifth seed at 174 pounds.
Kemerer (9-2) will face Army’s No. 28 Benjamin Pasiuk (19-5) in the first round. The returning NCAA finalist and former Big Ten champion said he loves competing in the iconic black-and-gold singlet.
“In seven years of being here, it’s never gotten old,” Kemerer said. ”I love being out there, feeling that atmosphere, having those coaches in my corner, watching my teammates wrestle and then going out and competing. All those things. It’s just another opportunity to do that and on the big stage.
“A big part of coming back was being able to do that with my teammates and now with a full-capacity crowd. You throw all those factors in there and I’m feeling pretty blessed to get one more tournament.”
The 25-year-old from Murrysville, Pa., stepped on the Iowa campus in 2015. He redshirted the first year and then made a big impact at 157, placing third and fourth at the NCAA tournaments his freshman and sophomore seasons. The following season was eclipsed by injury, allowing him to apply for a medical hardship waiver to recover that year of eligibility.
Kemerer reached the Big Ten finals again in 2020, but the national tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He received National Wrestling Coaches Association first-team All-America accolades, then returned to win the conference title and was the national runner-up in 2021.
The Covid year provided the option of one more season. He has reached 95 career victories.
“Coming back for your seventh year, if you can, does that mean you’re loyal? That’s part of it, but he also has a true enjoyment of his teammates, for the program, for the sport,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “All those things together adds to something that’s really important to his life. It’s important to his family.
“I think there’s loyalty there to perform, maybe, but it’s more about an enjoyable experience. He wants to keep a good thing going.”
Kemerer is long in the tooth compared to many of his opponents and some of his teammates. He was already branded the nickname, “Grandpa Mike” before this year. To put it in perspective, freshman 125-pounder Drake Ayala, who is seeded 13th, wasn’t even a teenager when Kemerer arrived in Iowa City.
The longevity has taken its toll as well. Kemerer has been hampered by injury, medically forfeiting from the Big Ten Championships for the second time.
“I’m feeling really good,” Kemerer said. “I’m feeling as good as I’ve felt after that tournament, medically forfeiting out and doing what was the best decision with the coaching staff and the training staff and having 100-percent confidence in that. Going forward, we’re feeling good. We’re feeling ready to go. Ready to win some tough matches.”
The vast experience comes with some advantages, especially for the unpredictable and unforgiving three-day national tournament. Kemerer owns a combined 15-4 mark in his three NCAA appearances.
“It’s good having gone through the tournament, knowing what to expect (and) what it feels like to be out there. That helps,” Kemerer said. “I would also say just knowing that guys are going to give you their best effort at nationals so you’ve got to be ready to raise your level. You have to be at your best. I look forward to that. I like whenever guys give me their best match. I want guys’ best matches, so just being aware of that.”
Kemerer demonstrated his sense of humor with teammate and sixth-year senior Alex Marinelli. Both wore sunglasses to “block out the haters” during their pre-tournament news conference Monday via Zoom. Likely, a reference to criticism for Iowa’s medical forfeits during the conference tournament.
“We’ve got the good vibes,” Kemerer said. “We’ve got the spring vibes.”
Like Kemerer, Marinelli will also be looking for his first national title in his last opportunity. Marinelli placed sixth and seventh as a freshman and sophomore. He was injured and had to default out of the tournament before reaching the podium last year.
Marinelli is seeded third at 165 and opens against Drexel’s No. 30 Evan Barczak (21-9). The Hawkeyes have been business-like leading up to the most important event of the season.
“Just feeling good,” Marinelli said. “We’re there. I think Tom said it best. Enough talking and go do the work. I think that’s the vibe. We don’t have to get too amped up. We’ve been there before, taking it one match at a time, doing what we do best and that’s wrestling.”
Seven Hawkeyes are projected as All-Americans, according to their seeds. One more is seeded ninth.
“It’s time to go,” Brands said. “It’s time to perform and they know that. We’re fired up. We’re excited.”
Iowa in the NCAA Wrestling Championships
Coach: Tom Brands (16th season)
Qualifiers (includes seeds): No. 13 Drake Ayala (125); No. 5 Austin DeSanto (133), No. 2 Jaydin Eierman (141), No. 8 Max Murin (149), No. 9 Kaleb Young (157), No. 3 Alex Marinelli (165), No. 5 Michael Kemerer (174), No. 18 Abe Assad (184), No. 6 Jacob Warner (197), No. 3 Tony Cassioppi (Hwt.)
2021 finish: 1st with 129 points
NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships
Location: Little Caesars Arena in Detroit
Schedule (CT): Thursday – Session I (first round), 11 a.m.; Session II (second round and first-round consolation), 6 p.m.
Friday – Session III (quarterfinals and consolations), 10 a.m.; Session IV (semifinals and consolations), 7 p.m.
Saturday – Session V (consolation semifinals and placing matches), 10 a.m., Session VI (Championship matches and awards), 6 p.m.
TV: Sessions I, III and V on ESPNU; Sessions II, IV and VI on ESPN
Live stream: All sessions will be on WatchESPN