116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa Coach Tom Brands opened this shortened college wrestling season by stressing the importance of reaching the end.
The Hawkeyes - and all programs - were prevented from crossing the finish line a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic caused cancellations to NCAA winter sports championships.
Avoiding that disappointment and heartache for a second straight season was a must.
After following different protocols, procedures and schedules, Iowa will get the closure that eluded it in 2020.
'I'm just glad the NCAA is doing everything they can to allow us to have an NCAA Championship,” Iowa two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee said. 'Last year was very hard on every sport that didn't get to compete. Not just us, in general.
'We're ready to go and we're excited. We're looking forward to finally getting it done. Getting ready to win a national title as a team and individuals.”
The top-ranked Hawkeyes return as heavy favorites and will finally get their shot for the team's first title since 2010 at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Action begins Thursday at 10 a.m.
'You have to credit the NCAA,” Brands said. 'You have to credit the Big Ten, the individual conferences that made this season happen. They did it under criticism.
'There are a lot of people in this world that don't look at sports as vital and sports is vital. It teaches a lot. Young people need that, especially young athletes. These athletes needed an outlet. Good leadership got it done. That's what I'm excited about.”
Iowa has 10 qualifiers just like last year when it had All-America selections by the National Wrestling Coaches Association, which replaced the awards from the national tournament. The event is the all-important climax to the college season and wrestling appreciates the chance to take advantage of it.
'It's awesome,” Iowa senior Michael Kemerer said. 'Thinking about the circumstances a year ago. Obviously, a lot has changed. We're really happy that we can compete.
'We're thankful that we get this opportunity and now we get this opportunity we have to go make the most of it. We can't squander it. We have to be ready to go.”
Jaydin Eierman was in his first year at Iowa, taking an Olympic redshirt last season. He didn't experience the dissatisfaction directly, but witnessed the impact on his teammates. Eierman has been part of this season that has been affected by COVID-19 conditions, including a pause to Iowa in-person activities that reduced the regular season by about a month.
'This season has been very emotional because of the fear of are they still going to have NCAAs, are they going to pull us or stop it like last year?” said Eierman, who was a three-time All-American for Missouri. 'My heart broke last year for all those guys who weren't able to compete.
'Now, that we're here, we're getting excited to finally go out there and do what we planned to do all year. We had that goal since it was canceled last year. We have unfinished business.”
Iowa leads the country with four top-ranked wrestlers. Alex Marinelli is the top seed at 165, joining Lee (125), Eierman (141) and Kemerer (174). Austin DeSanto is fourth at 133, while Kaleb Young (157), Jacob Warner (197) and heavyweight Tony Cassioppi are seeded fifth. Max Murin and Nelson Brands are 12th at 149 and 184, respectively.
If those seeds prove true, the product is eight All-Americans with two more within a victory of the podium.
'We want to be our strongest at the end of the year,” Tom Brands said. 'Wherever you're at in the bracket, whether it's the No. 1 seed or anywhere else you're placed. Go do your job and do it at a high level.
'Be ready, ready, ready to go. Triple ready.”
Lee (7-0) will attempt to earn his third NCAA title. He has thrived at the national tournament, posting a 10-0 mark with seven bonus-point wins in the last two. Lee also has outscored finals opponents 10-1. The performances are indicative of his dominance that earned him the Hodge Trophy and Sullivan Award after last season.
'Big-time wrestlers show up for big-time matches, so the bigger the stage the better I wrestle,” Lee said. 'I've always been like that. I believe I've been like that since I was a little kid.”
Kemerer (7-0) is making his third NCAA appearance and first since 2018. He was sidelined with injuries as a junior and then there was last year. He said he is more excited than anxious.
'It's been three years now since I've gotten to compete in it,” Kemerer said. 'I had to have that year where I sat and watched. Obviously, didn't get the opportunity at all. Just to be able to finally be out there and wrestling in that arena and that atmosphere you dream about when you're a kid. It's huge. It's awesome. I want to savor every moment of it. Live in the moment because it's such a unique tournament. It's pretty special to be able to experience.”
Eierman (8-0) returns to the site of his first NCAA tournament, where he placed fifth. Eierman will attempt to win his first national title in his home state.
The camaraderie is a big reason Eierman chose to continue his career at Iowa and an important factor for the program's reclaimed success. It will be key this weekend as well.
'This team is really close so we're always talking with each other,” Eierman said. 'I think that's what makes this group really special, how close we truly are.
'We're willing to go out there and fight for each other. We always talk about how we want to win an individual national title, but we're doing this also for our team. As long as everybody goes out there and does their job that we know everybody can do, we're really going to do something special.”