CEDAR RAPIDS — Alex Marinelli paused for a moment, waiting for one more question.
When it didn’t come, the University of Iowa sophomore All-American offered his unsolicited comment of the Hawkeyes after their 19-18 victory over Iowa State. He was direct, and even supportive, mentioning his team’s potential, the need for his teammates to wrestle the full match and that wins aren’t earned by simply wearing a black-and-gold singlet.
Marinelli hasn’t shied away from being a leader for fourth-ranked Iowa and it is a role he embraces.
“Growing up, I’ve always wanted to be a leader,” Marinelli said. “It’s important to me to fill that spot.”
Marinelli has been consistent on the mat as well for the Hawkeyes, posting a 5-0 record with five bonus-point victories at 165 pounds. He heads the charge into Iowa’s dual against No. 16 Lehigh (0-3) Saturday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The four-time St. Paris Graham state champion from Miamisburg, Ohio, is one of three Hawkeyes to wrestle in all five duals this season, joining 157-pounder Kaleb Young and Cash Wilcke at 184.
“Marinelli is a tough guy,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “Marinelli is an example. Marinelli is a team player.”
Motivational methods vary for each wrestler. Some need more encouragement. Others may not respond without a kick in the backside or having that backside chewed. Marinelli has tried to recognize what buttons to push to get the best from his teammates. He is willing to lead by example and speak up when the situation calls for it.
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“You have to approach them in a way that will help them and some people need brutally honest and some people need a pat on the back that keeps them going,” Marinelli said. “Some people need ‘Hey, you need to get your freaking head right.’
“Being in this program, Tom has taught me a lot of how to lead. Sometimes things can come off different. People can take things different. That’s just a rule that I developed being here.”
Marinelli may have figured out what buttons to push with heavyweight Sam Stoll, who made a surprising debut that helped in the win over the Cyclones. Instead of being content with his own contribution — a dominant second-period pin — he was invested in each match and the overall team’s success.
“There were some things behind the scenes with the Stoll decision that I wasn’t aware of and some conversations between him and Stoll in the locker room that were very healthy and positive where Marinelli was poking him the right way,” Brands said. “There must be a lot of respect there in that locker room among our guys, because I don’t think Stoll necessarily needed Marinelli’s nod of approval for that but that helps instead of being a bump on a log.
During Iowa’s annual media day, Brands said Marinelli leads on the mat as a ferocious competitor and in the locker room as a face-to-face cage rattler. Sometimes he has just as much impact as the coaches.
“He’s awesome to have on the team,” 197-pound redshirt freshman Jacob Warner said. “He’s called everybody and anybody out.
“If you need to get called out, he’s going to call you out. I think that’s great to have on the team.”
Marinelli ended last year with sixth-place finishes at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships, getting a late start due to a knee injury. He attributes his strong start to being smarter in practice and keeping his body feeling good. A more proactive approach has helped take care of his body.
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“I feel like my strength has gotten a lot better,” Marinelli said. “We’re just being smarter as a team, really. I try to lift smarter and not maybe harder. You can do hard things but if it’s not good for your body it’s not going to help you in the long run at all.”
Marinelli serves as a pillar for a 5-0 Iowa team that hasn’t had its full team out there and will now have to rely on a third option at 174 due to injuries. He has handled opponents with three pins and two major decisions, entering a match against a Lehigh wrestler yet to be determined.
“He’s great because he resembles the way we should think and wrestle, as far as pace, hand-fighting and how to score points,” Warner said. “He’s kind of a leader through example. I think that’s great for us.”
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