Four Iowa men’s wrestlers advance to Big Ten Championship Finals

Austin DeSanto, Jaydin Eierman, Alex Marinelli, and Tony Cassioppi will all compete for individual conference titles Sunday afternoon.


Grace Smith

Iowa’s No. 2 Tony Cassioppi celebrates after defeating Penn State’s No. 3 Greg Kerkvliet, 6-4, during session three of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday, March 5, 2022.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

LINCOLN, Neb. — As reporters waited for a press conference with Iowa men’s wrestling head coach Tom Brands to begin on Saturday evening, Tony Cassioppi lumbered past Pinnacle Bank Arena’s media room, gasping for air. In between breaths, the Hawkeye heavyweight high-fived his coaches and teammates, muttering “let’s go.”

Moments before his march through the venue’s tunnels, Cassioppi completed an improbable comeback to beat Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet and qualify for the Big Ten Championship Finals.

With just 38 seconds left in his semifinal match, Cassioppi surrendered a takedown to Kerkvliet. Down 4-2 and smothered onto the mat by Kerkvliet, Cassioppi struggled to get to his feet.

Then, with just four seconds left on the clock, Cassioppi instigated a scramble that ultimately led to an Iowa reversal. After Cassioppi scored the reversal, the match clock expired and the score was tied, 4-4.

In the ensuing sudden victory period, Cassioppi didn’t waste any time punching his ticket to the finals, securing a match-ending takedown 20 seconds into overtime.

“I think he got taken down with 38 seconds to go,” Brands said of Cassioppi’s semifinal match. “He did a 38-second score to win. It was actually a 38-second score to go to overtime. [He kept his] composure and then hit a shot [in overtime] and he converted.”

“[Cassioppi] didn’t get to those positions that really favor us,” Brands added. “The position in the end that favored us to score on, we gotta get to that earlier. Then, that forces that pace to go up.”

Cassioppi is one of four Hawkeyes to qualify for the Big Ten Championship Finals. Seniors Austin DeSanto, Jaydin Eierman, and Alex Marinelli also made the tournament finals.

Marinelli defeated Wisconsin’s Dean Hamiti via 3-2 decision in the championship semifinals. “The Bull” is now 2-0 all-time against Hamiti.

With a win over Michigan’s Cameron Amine in Sunday’s final round, Marinelli can become the eighth Hawkeye to win four career Big Ten individual titles.

“I think he has work to do,” Brands said of Marinelli. “… He’s gotta be ready. You know, let’s put another championship in his belt.”

DeSanto had to beat No. 3 seed and former NCAA All-American Lucas Byrd to qualify for the Big Ten Championship Finals. The Pennsylvanian snuck past Byrd via 4-3 decision. DeSanto scored the deciding takedown with 15 seconds left in the bout. He is now 3-0 against Byrd on his career.

“I think he gutted out a win,” Brands said of DeSanto. “He never has a plan. He just wrestles hard. He did his job. The thing about DeSanto is his awareness is so good that when he gets an opportunity, he puts it in the bin or on the scoreboard.”

Five other Hawkeyes will compete in the consolation bracket on Sunday: 125-pound Drake Ayala, 149-pound Max Murin, 157-pound Kaleb Young, 184-pound Abe Assad, and 197-pound Jacob Warner.

Ayala and Assad will both wrestle for seventh place and a spot on the podium while Murin, Young, and Warner pursue third-place finishes.

Senior 174-pounder Michael Kemerer also would’ve competed on Sunday had he not medically forfeited his semifinal match against Penn State’s Carter Starocci.

Kemerer suffered an undisclosed injury against Ohio State’s Ethan Smith during the tournament quarterfinals. Kemerer’s ailment even required a brief stoppage during his bout with Smith.

The nature of Kemerer’s injury is still unknown. Brands, however, seemed optimistic about Kemerer’s ability to wrestle in the NCAA Tournament in just under two weeks.

“I mean, it’s not [the NCAA Championships],” Brands said. “You know, if this is [NCAAs], he’s wrestling … Not [an easy decision] for him, but smart.”

Session IV of the Big Ten Championships will begin at 11 a.m. with Session V to follow at 3:30 p.m.

The Hawkeyes are currently in third place as a team with 109 points. They trail the Penn State Nittany Lions, who have 111.5 points, and the Michigan Wolverines, who have 116 points.

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