Iowa Hawkeyes

'This is our year:' Iowa wrestling begins anticipated postseason at Big Ten Championships

Hawkeyes look to add tournament title after winning conference dual crown

Iowa's Alex Marinelli wrestles Bucknell's Zachary Hartman in a 165-pound semifinal match during the Midlands Wrestling T
Iowa’s Alex Marinelli wrestles Bucknell’s Zachary Hartman in a 165-pound semifinal match during the Midlands Wrestling Tournament in Hoffman Estates, Ill., on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. (David Harmantas/Freelance)

Iowa wrestling has been all about walking the walk this season.

The Hawkeyes have relied on actions speaking louder than any annual talk of their championship potential. Now, they look to deliver in the postseason after dominating the regular season.

“This year we have another chance to do it,” junior 165-pounder Alex Marinelli said. “Let’s not let it slip out of our hands. Going into this tournament we have a lot of opportunities. I heard some things about the seeds. I don’t really care about the seeds. The seeds don’t matter as long as we’re on top of the podium at the end. We can be last seed it doesn’t really matter.

“This is our year. This is it.”

Top-ranked Iowa begins the postseason at the Big Ten Conference Wrestling Championships this weekend at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J. The two-day event begins Saturday at 9 a.m. CT.

Iowa will attempt to claim its first postseason team title since sharing the 2015 Big Ten crown. All 10 Hawkeyes are seeded third or better, including Nos. 1 Spencer Lee and Michael Kemerer at 125 and 174 pounds, respectively.

“Each individual doing their job is the key,” Lee said. “If I do my job and the other nine guys do their job, we should win because we did our jobs.”

The Hawkeyes rolled to a Big Ten dual title, going 9-0 in the conference and finishing 13-0 overall. Many have looked at the Hawkeyes’ talent and depth as its best chance for success in the final two meets.

“A lot of it is doing what we’ve been doing and being aware this is the postseason now, so other guys might be stepping up,” Kemerer said. “We’re fine. Our level is always high. Our mindset is always high.

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“Just enjoying, embracing it and knowing we have the talent (and) the ability. We’ve done it all year and let’s just keep it rolling. Keep a good thing going.”

Iowa teams of the past decade have possessed the potential to win in the postseason. It was never a question of could the Hawkeyes win, but if they could come through in the end.

The lineup has all the pieces in place and is stocked with skilled, energetic and tight-knit competitors. They have approached each competition the same, but know the expectations during this time of year.

“It’s important to put on a show for those fans,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “Our guys understand that and they do that. Some other opponents are going to be ready now, so you can see your opponent’s better game, so to speak, maybe.

“It really doesn’t matter. It matters what’s next, what’s in front of you, how you get ready (and) how you prepare.”

In addition to Lee and Kemerer, Marinelli, Kaleb Young (157) and 149-pounder Pat Lugo are seeded second. The rest are seeded third, including postseason newcomers Abe Assad (184) and heavyweight Tony Cassioppi.

If the polarizing black-and-gold singlet didn’t fix a big enough target on the Hawkeyes’ backs, their dominance this season and top-ranking makes it even larger.

“We have good guys who know how to get ready for matches,” Brands said. “I’ve been saying it for many years about our team and how our program operates. You look at the tradition of the program, going back to (former coaches Gary) Kurdelmeier, (Dave) McCuskey, (Mike) Howard, E.G. Schroder and if guys got ready to wrestle, I think, good things happened.

“If our guys get ready to wrestle, good things happen.”

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Iowa has thrived on a tough schedule this season, including three of the Big Ten’s top teams coming to Carver-Hawkeye Arena in consecutive weeks. Kemerer said the team is battle-tested and familiar with the upcoming challenge.

“We always like wrestling tough matches,” Kemerer said. “This home schedule this year was so fun. We love wrestling the best guys. Now, we get another opportunity to do it again this weekend and then down the road at nationals. That’s why we do it.”

Unity and camaraderie has been a signature of this squad. The excitement has been visible during multiple meets, cheering and mentoring each other. The trait can only be beneficial in the postseason with everything on the line.

“If all your brothers are going in the same direction it’s easier to get to one place,” Marinelli said. “If you’re all wanting to be at the top podium, top stand, it’s easier in numbers.

“This camaraderie is what you want. People are jealous of the friendship or whatever we got, but it’s something that’s rare and it helps the team.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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