IOWA CITY — Iowa’s Michael Kemerer compared this wrestling season to a sprint.
No time to get into the swing of things or gradually work into shape. Once competition begins it is full speed ahead for two months in hopes of a conclusion that was denied when the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 NCAA tournament in March.
“You have to be ready to go from the get-go,” Kemerer said. “You have to have your A-game from the start and keep building from there. It’s a shorter season, but we have Big Ten wrestling and everyone knows Big Ten wrestling is where it’s at. We’re ready to go.”
Top-ranked Iowa returns a loaded lineup from last year’s unblemished Big Ten title team, including nine All-Americans and adds three-time All-America transfer Jaydin Eierman. The Hawkeyes open a conference-only dual schedule Jan. 15 with a home dual against No. 5 Nebraska.
“I feel like we know, and the coaches know, that there is unfinished business,” Iowa two-time Big Ten champion and All-American Alex Marinelli said. “Stuff we need to take care of.”
Iowa was the heavy favorite when the NCAA wiped out all of its winter championships last spring. The decision was a blow to all competitors, especially the Hawkeyes, who were poised to win their first national crown since 2010.
Focus switched immediately after the disappointing news. The Hawkeyes began to train to be ready to return to action at a moment’s notice. Sights have been on this moment since March.
“I wouldn’t say it’s any different because we always have our eyes set on that goal to be NCAA champions,” Iowa heavyweight Tony Cassioppi said. “Obviously, last year, we didn’t get the chance to compete, but we moved pretty quickly on to we have to bring it next year. It was about next year already.”
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Appreciation for the opportunity to compete is balanced with the drive to reach the destination that was blocked from them.
“You have to be thankful every time you can step on the mat,” Kemerer said. “You just always think that it’s a guarantee you’re going to be able to go out and just keep wrestling. It put it in perspective that, ‘wow, we got that taken away from us.’ So, now it’s all the more reason to prepare (and) take in every aspect because you don’t know when opportunities will be there and when they’re not.
“It makes you that much more excited now for the next opportunity because you just never know what can happen.”
The training has remained fairly constant. Marinelli noted that coaches have emphasized controlling what they can control, maintaining proper nutrition, rest and conditioning. Despite no college duals or tournaments in November and December, they’ve emulated those situations to this point.
“We’re doing what we need to do,” Marinelli said. “We don’t need to change a whole lot. We’re expecting to do great things because we’ve been training the way Iowa has been training for many, many years.”
This season is going to look much different than previous campaigns. College wrestling will be condensed into an 11-week season. Iowa will wrestle nine conference duals on seven regular-season dates before the conference tournament and NCAA Championships.
Of course, the Big Ten consists of five of the top-seven teams in the National Wrestling Coaches Association dual rankings. The Hawkeyes will face four of them in a four-week stretch.
“It’s a worthy opponent every single match,” Marinelli said. “I’m excited.”
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Iowa has a ton of firepower back. Two-time NCAA champion and reigning Hodge Trophy winner Spencer Lee is at 125 with dynamo Austin DeSanto at 133. All-American Kaleb Young is back at 157, while Marinelli and Kemerer will be at 165 and 174 again.
Abe Assad and Nelson Brands are expected to compete at 184 with Jacob Warner and Cassioppi closing out the lineup.
Eierman is expected to step in at 141 with All-American Max Murin moving up to 149, replacing Big Ten champ Pat Lugo. Eierman was a three-time All-American for Missouri and transferred to Iowa for his final season after an Olympic redshirt last season.
Eierman had the benefit of competing in the U.S. Senior Nationals in October and the Hawkeye Wrestling Club Showdown in November, which included a win over the defending Olympic champion from Georgia.
“It was just crazy to get those matches in,” Eierman said. “I was blessed to be able to compete. I’m excited to get the season rolling.”
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