EAST LANSING, Mich. — The opening day of the conference tournament was tough on the Iowa wrestlers.
The Hawkeyes suffered some upsets and surprising results on the front side. For the most part, however, they rebounded from their setbacks with good showings in consolations.
Iowa senior Brandon Sorensen was the only one to remain unscathed, reaching the 149-pound finals of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships on Saturday night at Michigan State’s Breslin Center. He was one of nine Hawkeyes to earn automatic berths to the NCAA Championships March 15-17 in Cleveland, but their lone finalist.
Sorensen handled Northwestern’s third-seeded Ryan Deakin, 7-2, for his third trip to the conference finals. It was a big difference from their first meeting that Sorensen won with a penalty point in sudden-victory overtime.
“I felt a little better that time,” Sorensen said. “I had some good fuel in me. I kind of pulled my head out of my ass from that first match. I was slow. I wasn’t really getting where I wanted, and I got a good warmup in (this time).”
Sorensen (21-1) scored three takedowns, including two in the final period that helped distance himself from Deakin.
“A little more intensity, controlling the tie,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “Much better, for sure. That’s important.”
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Sorensen trailed 1-0 in the waning seconds of the second period and scored his first takedown for a 2-1 edge. The short time score and brief rideout was crucial and propelled Sorensen to the victory.
“It’s big,” Sorensen said. “Finishing the periods on top, and that’s getting the takedowns at the end and riding them out … It’s big for me going forward and against him going forward.”
Sorensen advanced to the Big Ten title match for the third time in his career, placing second as a freshman and sophomore. He faces Penn State’s top-ranked and top-seeded Zain Retherford in the finals. Retherford (25-0) beat him in the 2016 conference championship am dos 5-0 against Sorensen.
“You know what’s ahead of us,” Sorensen said. “You know what you’ve got to do. You've got to let it all out there. You’ve got to let it fly and hold nothing back.”
Spencer Lee opened the 1-3 semifinal round for the Hawkeyes, facing Ohio State NCAA and Big Ten champion Nathan Tomasello. Second-seeded Lee beat Tomasello 3-2 earlier this season. Tomasello exacted a little revenge, scoring a takedown with about 30 seconds left for a 2-1 victory.
The match was scoreless after two periods with Tomasello choosing neutral in the second. Lee escaped to take a 1-0 lead, but a stalemate prevented a takedown by Lee to ice it with a little more than a minute to go. Tomasello was able to score his own and hold Lee down the rest of the way.
“Just knowing when you’re in that situation, go get one (score),” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “I think that he knows that. You don’t have to tell him that.”
Brands also made mention of Tomasello’s tactics, adding leaders of officials have been notified but refuse to call the infractions.
“It’s time to bring it out,” Brands said. “The guy grabs singlets. The guy grabs headgear. The guy grabs anything he can grab and it’s not legal. No one will say anything about it and the referees don’t call it. We’ve talked to the national leadership of referees and they just won’t call it. He’s done it to (Thomas) Gilman. He’s done it to (Cory) Clark. He’s done it to Lee.
“But, hey, we have to be better.”
Michael Kemerer earned the top seed and suffered his first loss in the semifinals. He held a 1-0 lead in the third when Ohio State’s Micah Jordan hit a whipover and recorded a fall in 5:48.
Brands said Kemerer was hung in a position and tried to force it too much.
“That guy, he just likes to stay in there tough,” Brands said. “He’s a tough competitor but he’s not Michael Kemerer. If Michael Kemerer is patient, he’ll get to his best stuff. He always does.”
Heavyweight Sam Stoll also lost by pin, falling to Michigan’s top-seeded Adam Coon in 2:13.
The Hawkeyes started the second session by winning their first five consolation matches. Vince Turk (141), 165-pounder Alex Marinelli and Mitch Bowman at 184 each won by decision to earn automatic NCAA berths. Iowa moved eight wrestlers into the top six and was fourth with 78 points. Ohio State was first with 137 1/2, 13 1/2 more than second-place Penn State.
Brands said Marinelli, Turk and Joey Gunther (174) posted “gutsy wins” on the back side.
“Marinelli didn’t lose a step,” Brands said. “The natural reaction maybe is to wonder if a guy is going to be able to come back but not with the way he trains and competes.
“Then, Wilcke and Gunther winning four matches, tough matches,” Brands said. “You feel like you’re fighting for scraps but you’re not. You’re fighting for future positioning, fighting for tomorrow.”
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Marinelli rebounded from a disappointing quarterfinal bout in a stacked 165-pound bracket. The second-seeded freshman suffered his first loss, falling to Michigan’s seventh-seeded and returning conference finalist Logan Massa, 8-6, in sudden victory. He handled Ohio State’s Te’Shan Campbell, 9-3, to move into the top eight of a weight that was allocated 10 automatic bids.
“When you face a loss it’s tough,” Marinelli said. “It’s tough to progress without success, but Tom said this is (how) I find out what you’re made of, right now.
“You either get up and move on or he pulls you out of the tournament. My decision was to get up, move on and really take it to these guys because the team needs me.”
Work still remains. Brands said he will wait to evaluate until the end of the tournament, although some of the Hawkeyes could have performed better. Nine will head to nationals and will focus on a strong finish Sunday.
“We’ve got another day,” Brands said. “When this is all said and done, we’ll have nine going to Cleveland, but bottom line is we need to get ready for tomorrow. It’s that simple.”
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