MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Full tank, fresh mind and a finals appearance. Iowa’s Spencer Lee used the first two to dominate his way to the last.
Lee and Alex Marinelli earned semifinal victories at the Big Ten Wrestling Championships on Saturday night at Williams Arena. The second-seeded duo will wrestle for conference titles Sunday, beginning at 3 p.m.
Lee tallied two takedowns and a point from 2:42 riding time for an 8-0 major decision over Minnesota’s third-seeded Sean Russell to propel the NCAA champion into the final. He hasn’t surrendered a point to Russell in three college matches.
“I wrestled a full match and I wrestled hard,” said Lee, who opened with a first-period pin over Indiana’s Elijah Oliver. “My mindset was just scoring points. Maybe I could have scored a couple more. Maybe I was a little tentative. I’m not sure. Overall, I’m pretty happy with my performance.
“I feel like I had a lot more in the tank. I was ready to keep going.”
Lee said the semifinal win was a boost after losing in this round a year ago. Self-confidence and the coaches’ faith in him helped fuel him for the postseason start.
“I believe in everyone around me and they believe in me,” Lee said. “I love the sport and that’s the ultimate thing about it. You’ve got to love what you do and I love the sport.”
“He’s one of these guys that wants to prove something to somebody,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “I think he’s starting to prove some things to himself. Very positive.”
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The victory sets up a rematch with Northwestern’s top-ranked Sebastian Rivera, who beat Lee 7-3 in the Midlands Championships in December. Lee beat Rivera twice last season, including a major in last year’s conference quarterfinals.
“Just have to go out and wrestle,” Lee said. “He’s a great opponent. We’ve wrestled each other a couple times in college and have a lot of respect for each other. We’re going to go out there and hopefully put on a good show.
“The biggest thing for me is just focusing on my wrestling, getting to what I’m good at, and focusing on what I’m good at and everything that I believe in, which is how I wrestle and approach every match.”
For the third time this season, Marinelli defeated Wisconsin’s third-seeded Evan Wick. Marinelli (22-0) remained unbeaten, using a first-period takedown for a 2-1 decision in the 165 semifinals.
“I think I need to get my attacks more,” Marinelli said. “Even if I score in the first period, it doesn’t mean I can’t score in the second or third.”
He will wrestle Penn State two-time national champion and top-ranked Vincenzo Joseph in the final.
“Don’t let him wrestle his match,” Marinelli said of the keys against Joesph. “It’s very easy to say. It’s cliché, but it’s true. Don’t let him get distance and do his thing. I’ve got to stay stalking him and don’t chase the guy.”
“Big day for Marinelli,” said Brands, noting Marinelli’s draw changed in Friday’s coaches meeting. “Now, let’s put the exclamation mark on this tournament, knowing that there is another weekend ahead of us not too long from now.”
The Hawkeyes won half of their semifinals. Second-seeded Austin DeSanto (133) and freshman 197-pounder Jacob Warner lost decisions.
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Rutgers national finalist Nick Suriano exacted some revenge from a dual loss with a 6-3 victory over DeSanto in another heated contest between them. Warner surrendered two takedowns in the third in a 5-2 loss to Ohio State No. 2 seed Kollin Moore.
Iowa still has eight remaining in the field and is fourth after the first day with 83 1/2 points, just a half-point from third-place Nebraska. Penn State leads the team race with 131 and Ohio State is second with 111 1/2,
The Hawkeyes have secured seven automatic NCAA berths. Warner would increase the total with one win Sunday.
“We’ve got two in the finals,” Brands said. “That’s important. We have five going for third, so that’s seven going to the national tournament.”
Former Western Dubuque two-time state champ Max Lyon forged his way to the NCAA tournament. Lyon opened the tournament with a 3-1 decision over Rutgers’ Nicholas Gravina. He used a second-period rideout to amass 2:11 of riding time for the decisive point in a 6-5 victory over Michigan’s Jelani Embree to claim an automatic berth.
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