Iowa wrestling heads to NCAA Championships

Favored to win the team title, Iowa has top seeds at four of the 10 weight classes.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s 125-pound Spencer Lee grapples with Nebraska’s Liam Cronin during a wrestling dual meet between No. 1 Iowa and No. 6 Nebraska at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. No. 1 Lee defeated No. 11 Cronin by tech fall in 1:21, and the Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers, 31-6.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

The celebration after the Iowa wrestling team dominated the Big Ten to win the team title at the conference tournament two weeks ago was short.

Following a performance that saw the Hawkeyes score 159.5 team points, 35.5 more than second-place Penn State, and crown individual champions at four of the 10 weight classes, the Hawkeyes were already thinking about what lay ahead.

“It’s great, but you know the mentality,” 174-pound Big Ten Champion Michael Kemerer said on BTN after the tournament had been decided. “We’ve got work to do. We’ve got a bigger thing coming up in two weeks.”

Those two weeks have come and gone and now the Hawkeyes are ready for what they’ve looked forward to since the start of the season back in January: The NCAA Championships.

After last year’s national finals were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa is in a prime position to crown multiple individual national champions and win a team crown this week in St. Louis.

Kemerer, 125-pounder Spencer Lee, 141-pounder Jaydin Eierman, and 165-pounder Alex Marinelli each won a Big Ten individual title this year and are the No. 1 seed at their weight class this week.

Lee is the frontrunner to win his second straight Dan Hodge Trophy — awarded annually to the nation’s best college wrestler. The two-time national champion is undefeated in seven matches this season and has five falls and two technical falls. He pinned his semifinal opponent at the Big Ten Championships in 24 seconds. None of Lee’s matches have reached the third period.

Lee forecasts his best performances of the year will come this week on college wrestling’s most important event.

“Big-time wrestlers show up in big-time matches,” Lee said on a March 11 Zoom conference with media. “The bigger the stage, the better I wrestle. I’ve always been like that.”

Eierman, who also took the individual title at his weight class two weeks ago, still has redemption on his mind after a sub-par championship match at Big Tens.

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“I’m regretting that match,” Eierman said of his 6-5 finals victory over Penn State’s Nick Lee. “It should have been way worse. But it’s a learning point and I’m going to be a different animal come March when I’m standing at those national finals ready for everybody.”

Eierman transferred to Iowa this year after wrestling for Missouri. The 141-pound All-American grew up in Columbia, Missouri, and he’s pumped to be heading to his home state for the year’s biggest event.

“I’m always excited for nationals, it’s the pinnacle of the sport for college,” Eierman said in a March 12 Zoom press conference. “I’m thrilled to go back to Missouri where I first started my career. My first national tournament was in St. Louis, and I had a great run my freshman year there. To go back there and do what I meant to do four years ago, win a national title, right now I’m in the perfect place to do that.”

Eierman has finished in the top five in each of his three NCAA championships as a member of Missouri’s team but has yet to capture the 141-pound individual title.

While on paper Iowa is a heavy favorite to capture the team title in St. Louis, head coach Tom Brands is preparing his team for a battle.

“Wherever you’re at in the bracket, whether it’s the No. 1 seed or anywhere else, go do your job,” Brands said in a March 11 press conference. “Do it at a high level and be ready, ready, ready to go. Triple ready.”