Iowa wrestling primed for Big Ten Championship chase

This weekend, the Hawkeyes will be pursuing their second-straight Big Ten Championship.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s 165-pound Alex Marinelli grapples with Nebraska’s Peyton Robb during a wrestling dual meet between No. 1 Iowa and No. 6 Nebraska at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. No. 2 Marinelli defeated No. 18 Robb by decision, 9-3, and the Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers, 31-6.

Isaac Goffin, Assistant Sports Editor

Before the 2020-21 season even began, Iowa wrestling already had its goal for the year in mind — reach the 2021 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships March 18-20 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Now, just one event stands between the Hawkeyes and their ultimate goal — the 2021 Big Ten Wrestling Championships in State College, Pennsylvania.

Iowa’s performance in Penn State Nittany Lion territory March 6 and 7 will go a long way in determining where each Hawkeye wrestler is seeded for the NCAA Championships.

Built into the Big Ten Championships are 76 automatic qualifying bids for the NCAA Championships — giving the Hawkeyes ample opportunity to ensure that all ten of their starting wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Championships by the end of the weekend.

Last season, Iowa won the Big Ten Championships 25.5 points clear of second-place-finishing Nebraska.

Though the Hawkeyes haven’t wrestled competitively since Feb. 7 because of a COVID-19-forced pause of Iowa wrestling’s in-person activities, head coach Tom Brands doesn’t believe his team will be rusty this weekend.

“Our guys are ready to go,” Brands said. “They love to compete.  They love being around their teammates and their buddies, and it’s a joy when they’re around each other. So again, we’re ready as would be. The results will show how me saying they’re ready are, and we got to be ready to hit the mat when that first whistle blows.”

The Hawkeyes have four wrestlers that are seeded atop their respective weight classes for this weekend’s conference championships — 125-pound Spencer Lee, 141-pound Jaydin Eierman, 165-pound Alex Marinelli, and 174-pound Michael Kemerer.

Three other Hawkeyes are seeded second in their weight class — 133-pound Austin DeSanto, 149-pound Max Murin, and 157-pound Kaleb Young.

Lee won his first Big Ten Championship last season, and Marinelli has won the last two Big Ten Championships at 165 pounds.

“People remember national champs,” Marinelli said. “I mean people don’t remember really how many times Spencer Lee has won the Big Ten, they will remember his national championship, honestly. I mean, he won his first one last year, first Big Ten title, and it’s just like there’s just not as much weight, but honestly it is important because it’s the next thing on the calendar and you get your name up on the wall and the Big Ten title and what not, but that Big Ten Championship is that qualifier technically for nationals.”

Marinelli hasn’t competed since Jan. 22 because of COVID-19 and has only wrestled in two matches in 2021. But Brands said he told “the Bull” that Marinelli could take three months off and still wrestle at a high level.

Ever since the 2020 NCAA Championships were cancelled last March because of COVID-19, the Hawkeyes have focused on March 2021, and now their time to shine has arrived.

“We’ve been talking about getting through anything no matter what the circumstances since I was a freshman,” Lee said. “And that’s what the coaches, they’ve talked to us. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world, you can only control what you can control, and you have to go out there and control what you control, right, which is your mindset, how hard you train, how ready you get, how better you can diet, whatever, right?

“So, we’re ready to go and it doesn’t matter what’s coming after us but we’re going to do our best to win titles.”

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