Iowa Hawkeyes

Michael Kemerer helped Iowa wrestling establish Pennsylvania pipeline after surprise visit from Tom Brands

No. 1 Hawkeyes expected to start 4 former Pennsylvania preps against No. 2 Penn State

Iowa's Michael Kemerer looks to fans after winning his 174-weight bout against Nebraska's Mikey Labriola during their du
Iowa’s Michael Kemerer looks to fans after winning his 174-weight bout against Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola during their dual at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Michael Kemerer always wanted to wrestle at the University of Iowa.

The admiration was mutual.

The Pennsylvania state champion and four-time finalist was a coveted recruit for the Hawkeyes and Coach Tom Brands. It seemed like the perfect marriage, too.

That was until he made an official visit his senior year. Kemerer’s excitement shifted to uncertainty when he returned home from the trip. Brands sprang into action, driving to Murrysville, Penn., to accept responsibility and put all his questions to rest.

“He talked to me and basically left it open to me and was like, ‘what concerns do you have?’” Kemerer said. “I asked. He was like ‘What else?’ (and) ‘What else?’

“He stayed on them and made sure he got everything answered. After that, we were like, ‘Do you want something to eat? Do you want to stick around?’ He was like, ‘No. I have to get back.’ He went back to Iowa City to be with his guys. It meant a lot.”

Kemerer is one of six former Pennsylvania preps on the Iowa roster. That roster — and the Hawkeyes’ current success — could look much different without Brands’ quick actions.

“That recruiting trip with Kemerer is legend and lore, now,” Brands said during his weekly news conference. “Who knows if I would have just tried to talk him into it on the phone what would have happened there?

“I got a doggone call by myself and owned it. We screwed up, and that’s what you do when you screw up. You own it.”

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Kemerer signed and will be part of a quartet of former Pennsylvania preps wrestling Friday night when the top-ranked Hawkeyes (8-0, 5-0) host No. 2 Penn State (7-1, 4-0) in a Big Ten Conference showdown at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, beginning at 8 p.m. (BTN).

Kemerer feels no added pressure against his home state program that has unseated Iowa from its throne atop college wrestling by winning eight of the last nine NCAA team titles.

“I’m just excited to be out there,” Kemerer said. “I’m always happy when I can get out there and wrestle. If anything, it makes me look forward to it more because it’s an awesome test.”

Second-ranked Kemerer will face No. 1 Mark Hall at 174 pounds in one of two matchups between top-two ranked opponents in front of a sellout crowd. The other is between Penn State’s top-ranked Vicenzo Joseph and Iowa’s No. 2 Alex Marinelli, a rematch of last year’s Big Ten final won by Marinelli.

High-powered freshmen are expected to tangle at 184 with Iowa’s Abe Assad meeting PSU’s Aaron Brooks, and at heavyweight between the Hawkeyes’ Tony Cassioppi and Lions’ Seth Nevills. Second-ranked Austin DeSanto has No. 4 Roman Bravo-Young at 133.

“Our fans are looking at two matches where you have Hall and Kemerer and you have Marinelli and Joseph,” Brands said, “and that would be doing a disservice to any other weight class.

“We have to be ready to go. We always say that but it’s true and we love it when our guys are ready to go because when they’re ready to go good things happen.”

Good things happened immediately when Kemerer joined the program. He produced an impressive redshirt season, going 24-2. He was a Big Ten runner-up as a freshman at 157 and placed third and sixth at the NCAA Championships his first two seasons. Injury wiped out his junior campaign, but he has rebounded with an 8-0 mark this year and is 68-6 in his Iowa career.

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“He cares a lot about his performance and he’s conscientious,” Brands said. “He wants to do a good job. He wants to be reliable. He wants to be loyal. He works hard to do those things.”

Kemerer was one of the nation’s top recruits as a senior at Franklin Regional High School, the same school Iowa’s two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee attended. He had other offers and almost opted for one when some “off the mat things” troubled him.

“I just felt like the culture wasn’t what I was used to, what I was expecting,” Kemerer said.

“Not the coaching staff and there were still a lot of wrestlers on the team I really got along with well on my visit. Just some things here and there where I didn’t expect that just in the social part of things.”

Brands recalled competing with Lehigh Coach Pat Santoro to secure Kemerer’s services. He accepted the responsibility and faced the music in front of Kemerer’s parents, Ray and Beth, in their living room.

“Pretty kind people, even though they want the best for their son,” Brands said. “It just meant something the way that we owned things. We always talk about how we’re different. That’s why we’re different.”

Kemerer’s signing came after fellow Pennsylvania champion and Young Guns Wrestling club member Kaleb Young verbally committed. Lee was another big score from the state, which helped Iowa land Max Murin, DeSanto and Gavin Teasdale. Five Pennsylvania natives are starters for Iowa, although Murin will miss the Penn State meet due to injury.

“He’s crucial,” Brands said of Kemerer’s impact. “He was the one that signed the (National) Letter of Intent, was in Iowa City, Iowa, first. ... Well, maybe he started a pipeline to a certain degree.

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“He’s very crucial and you can’t (overstate) Kaleb Young. You can’t (overstate) those two things that happened in history. And we had to work hard at both of them.”

Coaches, fans and teammates are thrilled Kemerer ended up a Hawkeye. No one appreciated Brands’ effort more than him.

“No regrets here,” Kemerer said. “I’m glad I’m here wrestling in the biggest dual of the year right now. I wouldn’t have been, so it’s awesome.”

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

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