116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa Coach Tom Brands could conjure up plenty of adjectives to describe this year’s seniors.
One stands out for the group that has persevered a pandemic and its added protocols that canceled the 2020 NCAA Championships, prevented them from training on campus and stalled a stretch of the next season, returned the Hawkeyes to the top of the college wrestling hill and delighted droves of Iowa fans that set records for season-ticket sales.
“The first thing that comes to mind is resilient through the COVID stuff,” Brands said of the fallout from the pandemic that included a relief year for some and competitions with limited attendance. “The other thing that goes through my mind is overused words that are very cliché nowadays — culture, character, charisma.
“We’ve had some good recruiting classes that were really good in every way. This group is one of those. They are a group of guys that had all those qualities about them. Not just being tough on the mat (and) delivering in their performance, but all the things that I mentioned.”
Eight wrestlers will be honored Saturday after second-ranked Iowa faces No. 9 Wisconsin on Senior Day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The home finale is slated to start at 2:30 p.m.
Alex Marinelli, Michael Kemerer, Kaleb Young, Austin DeSanto, Jaydin Eierman, Vince Turk, Aaron Costello and Myles Wilson will be recognized. Six seniors in the probable lineup — Marinelli (165), Kemerer (174), Young (157), DeSanto (133), Eierman (141) and Turk (149) — are a combined 97-16 at CHA.
Each played a role in helping the Hawkeyes reclaim their perch atop college wrestling, including two straight Big Ten Conference tournament team titles and the program’s 24th national championship.
They produced an exciting and successful style on and off the mat. Brands commended their approach and mettle, describing them as a room full of Brandon Sorensens, referring to Iowa’s four-time All-American known for his hard work and undramatic demeanor.
“They are honest people,” Brands said. “They’re accountable.
“You add all those together and there’s a lot of good qualities about a lot of people. When you have a lot of good qualities and those good qualities are showing up in a pretty big group of people, good things are happening.”
For Kemerer, the last seven years have encompassed a roller-coaster ride full of ups and downs. The three-time All-American, NCAA finalist and Big Ten champion redshirted his first year in the program. He missed a season due to injury and had a national tournament ripped away.
Kemerer remained devoted to the program and returned for one last season, despite the adversity.
“It’s matched my expectations in that I knew the demands of the program and being at that high standard every day and the high goals,” Kemerer said. “That’s what I wanted when I came here and it’s been just like that. There’s been a lot of things different, too. Just things that I’ve learned, or relationships that I’ve built, that you just can’t really predict.
“Things happen. Here I am in my seventh year. I had a medical redshirt in there, had a national tournament canceled (and) have had so many different events really happen throughout my career. People come and go and honestly that has made my whole experience. It has been awesome and really enjoyable.”
When Kemerer steps on the mat against the Badgers, it will be 1,905 days after his debut. He pinned Iowa Central’s Carlos Champaign in 2:01 at 157 pounds on Nov. 18, 2016. He added a 16-1 technical fall over Cornell College’s Aaron Engle that same day, starting a 25-2 record at CHA.
No wonder he was given the nickname, “Grandpa Mike.”
“In Kemerer’s case, there’s a hardship waiver that’s also legit,” Brands said. “It’s not something that’s a committee or a vote. It’s a pretty straightforward process and he definitely fell into those parameters to get the hardship.
“With COVID in 2021 and now 2022, anything can happen and so we have a grandpa on our team. That’s awesome.”
Kemerer has ignited the fans with many performances and nothing matches emerging from the tunnel in front of frenzied fans as his walkout song (“Who Let The Dogs Out?”) plays.
“That’s one of the best feelings that I tell people that you can see it from the stands, you can see it from the bench but when you’re the one coming out of that tunnel it’s just a unique experience,” Kemerer said. “I close my eyes and picture it clearly.”
Business still needs to be handled. Second-ranked Kemerer is expected to wrestle No. 23 Andrew McNally in one of seven possible battles between two ranked opponents Saturday.
“Last time, it’s a bittersweet feeling, but at the same time, I’ve got an opponent out there that’s going to be wanting to spoil my senior night and still a wrestling match to take care of,” Kemerer said. “You don’t have too much time to get into the sentimental side of things. Man, it’s a special feeling. It’s going to feel good.”
Marinelli owns a 24-1 mark at home. He has been a pillar in the Iowa lineup. The three-time All-American and Big Ten champion recalled his first match at CHA, trouncing Michigan State’s Austin Hiles, 24-5, on Jan. 5, 2018. Marinelli would like to post bookend triumphs to his home career.
“I kind of throttled the guy but I kind of want to do that,” said Marinelli, who will wrestle sixth-ranked and unbeaten Dean Hamiti. “I want to end on a good note.”