Iowa men’s wrestling still hungry after 2020-21 national championship

At Iowa Wrestling Media Day Wednesday, the Hawkeyes made it clear that last year’s team national championship didn’t diminish their appetite for success this season.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa heavyweight Tony Cassioppi talks to reporters during Iowa wrestling media day in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. Cassioppi accredited his recent change in body structure to eating 300 grams of protein everyday. “I ate a lot,” Cassioppi said.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands began his press conference at Iowa Wrestling Media Day Wednesday with one of his trademark rambling tangents. Within the word dump of Brands’ opening preamble were two sentences that could define the Hawkeyes’ season.

“We have work to do,” Brands said. “. . . There is no automatic.”

The 2020-21 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling team title wasn’t enough for Iowa last season, and it won’t be this year either.

Only one Hawkeye won an individual NCAA championship: 125-pound Spencer Lee.

“Like we talked about last year, and [associate head coach] Terry Brands said it best, we left nine [NCAA individual] titles in St. Louis,” Tom said. “We took one home, and we left nine in St. Louis.”

One of the wrestlers that left an NCAA championship at the Enterprise Center is St. Louis was Michael Kemerer, a now-seventh-year senior. Kemerer lost to Penn State’s 174-pound Carter Starocci in the NCAA Championship Finals.

Even with an NCAA team championship victory on his résumé, Kemerer doesn’t intend to be complacent this season.

“I think we always have that mindset of going to get the best thing we can,” Kemerer said. “Going to be national champions, world champions. We always have those high goals and we’re always looking forward. Yeah, we might have a target on our back, but if you’re running a race, you’re not looking back, you’re looking forward . . .  We’re looking at being the best in the world.”

One of Kemerer’s teammates, junior heavyweight Tony Cassioppi, made big changes to his diet and fitness plan during the offseason in hopes of competing at a higher level in 2021-22.

Gone is the doughy, pudgy Cassioppi that placed third at the 2020-21 NCAA Championships. The 6-foot Illinoisan looked slimmer, leaner, and stronger when he spoke with reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve leaned out a little bit,” Cassioppi said. “You know, I want to be maybe a little more athletic. Just to improve my wrestling in any way I can.”

Sixth year senior 165-pounder Alex Marinelli, who bowed out in the NCAA Championship Quarterfinals last year, said that, while Cassioppi’s transformation may be the most noticeable, many of his teammates focused on improving their bodies ahead of the 2021-22 season.

“I think Tony Cassioppi is an example of just putting your mind to something that you want to do,” Marinelli said. “But I think all of my teammates have worked on their bodies. I worked on recovering from an injury. I think Spencer Lee recovered his knees. I think there’s a lot of things going on that are in the back scene of things that are impressive.”

Marinelli said the Hawkeyes’ rigorous offseason workouts are fueled by a team-wide hunger for more points, wins, and championship hardware.

“If you’re not  hungry for more, then you probably should hang up the shoes,” Marinelli said. “Just because we won a national title doesn’t mean we don’t have to do it again. We have a job to do. We made a decision to come back and we’re not going to just throw it away just because we won a national title. The job’s not done. We gotta repeat. We gotta exceed. I said repeat, but I think all of us would agree that we don’t want to repeat with just one [individual] national title. We want to repeat and have 10 national champs.”

Iowa’s NCAA Championship chase begins Nov. 19 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes will take on Princeton in a season-opening dual at 7 p.m.

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