Champions again: Hawkeyes win first outright Big Ten title since 2010

Three individual champions and nine total wrestlers in the top five of their weight class pushed Iowa to its 36th conference title.


Nichole Harris

Iowa’s 125-pound Spencer Lee grapples with Purdue’s Devin Schroder during the final session of the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament in Piscataway, NJ, on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Lee won by major decision 16-2, securing the 125-pound championship, and Iowa won the team title with 157.5 points.

Robert Read, Sports Editor

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Iowa wrestling is back on top of the Big Ten. For the first time since 2010, the Hawkeyes won an outright team title at the Big Ten Championships. Iowa won a share of the title in 2015.

This is the 36th Big Ten team title in Iowa history.

At the end of competition, Iowa put nine wrestlers up on the podium. All of those nine finished in the top five in their weight class. The Hawkeyes had three individual champions — Spencer Lee (125 pounds), Pat Lugo (149), and Alex Marinelli (165).

“It’s a job well done,” said Iowa head coach Tom Brands, who was named Big Ten Wrestling Coach of the Year after the final round. “We’re not downplaying this.”

This is Iowa’s fifth Big Ten Championship under Brands, who has been at Iowa since 2007. He has also won the Big Ten Coach of the Year award four times in that span, more than any other coach in school history.

Michael Kemerer (174) also competed in the finals but lost to Penn State’s Mark Hall. Jacob Warner finished in third place at 197 after winning four consecutive matches in the wrestlebacks bracket. Tony Cassioppi also placed third at heavyweight.

Austin DeSanto (133) and Abe Assad (184) finished in fourth, while Max Murin (141) finished in fifth.

Iowa’s known for its dominant wrestling program, but Penn State has had a hold of the Big Ten for the greater part of the last decade. The Nittany Lions have six conference titles since 2010 and have scored the most total points in the Big Ten Tournament since then.

This season, Iowa was the favorite heading into the event. At least, the Hawkeyes were the outside favorite. Inside the Iowa locker room, they always expect to win.

“We approach it the same way every year,” Lee said. “We think we’re the team to beat. That’s what we’re going to continue do every single year from here on out. This year it happens to be that we are on top. But we believe in each and every one of us, no matter what. Every year is our year. This year is our year.”

Lee, who along with Brands received recognition from the Big Ten after the final match as the 2020 Big Ten Wrestler of the year, means that about Big Tens as well as the upcoming NCAA Championships.

The consensus among the Hawkeyes after the tournament was that winning a Big Ten title is a special accomplishment, but the season is not over yet.

“The reason that it does get downplayed is because there is another important event,” Brands said. “And it’s cliche but we have to get ready and there is work to do. We definitely give ourselves credit too. You don’t see what happens behind the scenes. We appreciate [the conference title] and it was a job well done. It was a battle.”

Iowa heads to Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 19 to compete in the NCAA Wrestling Championships. Nine Hawkeyes automatically qualified for the event with their performances at Big Tens.

With NCAAs coming up, that cuts down the celebration time for this conference championship.

“[The Big Ten title] is good, but we want the next one,” Lugo said. “We want the one going on in Minnesota, in the Vikings stadium. This is a stepping stone but we want the big prize.”

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