Banged up Iowa men’s wrestling team plays it safe at Big Tens, eyes NCAA Tournament

Drake Ayala, Jaydin Eierman, Michael Kemerer, and Tony Cassioppi all exited the conference championships via medical forfeit.


Jerod Ringwald

Michael Kemerer fights an injury during a match against Ohio State’s No. 5 Ethan Smith in session one of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Kemerer defeated Smith in a 174-pound match, 5-4.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

The Iowa men’s wrestling team finished the 2022 Big Ten Championships with one individual champion: 165-pounder Alex Marinelli. The Hawkeyes placed third in the team standings with 129.5 points.

Four of Iowa’s wrestlers couldn’t finish the event because of injuries. True freshman 125-pounder Drake Ayala, 141-pounder Jaydin Eierman, 174-pounder Michael Kemerer, and heavyweight Tony Cassioppi all medically forfeited.

Kemerer was the first to retire, medically forfeiting his championship semifinal match against Penn State’s Carter Starocci, who went on to win the event’s 174-pound bracket.

Ayala sat out his seventh-place bout after a consolation quarterfinal loss to Minnesota’s Patrick McKee. Eierman and Cassioppi both missed championship bouts against Nick Lee of Penn State and Gable Steveson of Minnesota, respectively.

After Kemerer was eliminated Saturday, Iowa head coach Tom Brands hinted that the senior’s injury default had something to do with the NCAA Championships in Detroit on March 17-19. 

Brands’ tone was similar Sunday.

“We made the best decision for individuals going forward.” Brands said after the conclusion of the event. “…There’s tough decisions to be made every day. This is a very important event. Our record demonstrates that we are serious about competing for championships. But we will also make tough decisions when we have to.” 

“We were third in the team race,” Brands added. “That’s not where we want to be. That’s not where we like to sit. And we have an opportunity to do something about it moving forward.” 

Ayala was out of commission with an injury from Jan. 28-Feb. 20, and Kemerer’s season didn’t start until the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten Conference opener on Jan. 7. 

When they returned to the mat, both Ayala and Kemerer were sporting large braces on their left shoulders. The pair has worn the protective supports ever since.

Eierman and Cassioppi each had not missed a match due to injury this season. 

“There is knowledge that we have that you don’t have or the public doesn’t have,” Brands said in response to a reporter’s question. “We’re serious about winning championships. We’re serious about putting our guys in positions to win championships. Eierman and Cassioppi, certainly Kemerer, didn’t want [to medically forfeit].”

If there was any doubt that Iowa’s medical forfeits were directly related to the Hawkeyes’ chances of repeating as team national champions, Marinelli made it crystal clear immediately after collecting his fourth Big Ten individual championship.  

“We’re gonna be ready for the nationals,” Marinelli said. “We had a lot of guys, you know, maybe dinged up, not a lot of guys, but a few of them here and there. And we’re doing what needs to be done. We’re at that point where it’s like, you know, ‘let’s win the nationals, right?’ Let’s just win it.’”

Iowa wasn’t the only team to medically forfeit some of its matches late in the Big Ten Championships. 

In the final session of the event — which consisted of the fifth-place, third-place, and championship matches at 10 weight classes — 10 of the 30 bouts were decided via medical forfeit.