Injuries mar Iowa men’s wrestling team’s run at 2022 NCAA Championships

The Hawkeyes finished third in the national tournament’s team race with 74 points. Penn State won the event with 131.5.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa’s No. 2 Jaydin Eierman yells in pain after getting taken down by Michigan’s No. 24 Stevan Micic grapple during session three at the NCAA Wrestling Championships at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Mich., on Friday, March 18, 2022. Micic defeated Eierman in a 141-pound match by injury forfeit.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

DETROIT — Tom Brands didn’t mince words at Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 9. The 16-year head coach of the Iowa men’s wrestling team issued a challenge to those his Hawkeyes might face during the upcoming 2021-22 season.

“Anybody, anytime, anywhere,” Brands said during the third quarter of the Iowa-Penn State football game. “State College; Detroit; Lincoln, Nebraska, we don’t care.”

At the time, Brands and the Hawkeyes were reigning national champions, having won the 2021 NCAA Championships by a 15.5-point margin.

Brands had no reason to believe his team wouldn’t contend for an NCAA title again in 2022 either. All 10 of his wrestlers that started in 2021 were returning for the 2022 season.

Six months after his appearance at Kinnick, Brands’ once-confident tone changed.

His Hawkeyes finished the 2022 NCAA Championships in third place with 74 team points. Penn State won the tournament with 131.5 points, crowning five individual champions in the process.

“I’m jealous of five titles by the championship team,” Brands told reporters near a loading dock at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday. “I’m jealous. So, that’s where my mind is.”

Brands’ team didn’t crown any individual champions. Senior 197-pounder Jacob Warner was the lone Hawkeye to make the national finals. He lost to Penn State’s Max Dean via 3-2 decision.

Warner is now 0-2 all-time against Dean, having lost to him, 8-3, during the 2022 Iowa-Penn State dual at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 28.

Counting Warner, Iowa finished the 2022 NCAA Championship with five All-Americans. Senior 133-pounder Austin DeSanto, 165-pounder Alex Marinelli, 174-pounder Michael Kemerer, and heavyweight Tony Cassioppi finished third, fifth, fourth, and seventh, respectively.

“It’s not what we want,” Cassioppi said of Iowa’s third-place finish. “… You just gotta get it done.”

Saturday’s NCAA Championship action is the last DeSanto, Marinelli, and Kemerer will see. The trio of seniors have wrestled at Iowa for a combined 17 years.

“That was it,” Marinelli said with a quiver Saturday. “I’m thankful. I got the best team. My wife is the best. I have the best coaches. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I’m sorry, Hawkeye fans. I didn’t get it done. You guys are the best.”

Jaydin Eierman, who transferred to Iowa from Missouri in 2020, wrestled his last collegiate match on Friday. He lost to Michigan’s Stevan Micic via medical default.

“The Riddler” was the tournament’s No. 2 seed at 141 pounds. Eierman was not healthy from the moment he got to Detroit.

The six-year college wrestler suffered a knee injury during the 2022 Big Ten Tournament. Eierman medically forfeited a championship match on account of the ailment.

Multiple reports about Eierman’s knee have surfaced since the Big Ten Championships. All of them allege that his right ACL is torn.

The large brace Eierman sported on his right knee throughout the NCAA Tournament seemed to confirm the reports. “The Riddler” even reached for the outside part of his knee when he withdrew from his match against Micic. Before Eierman dropped out of the bout, Micic directed several attacks toward his knee.

Eierman wasn’t the only Hawkeye dealing with an injury at the NCAA Championships. Kemerer, Cassioppi, and true freshman Drake Ayala were all battling with maladies of their own.

Cassioppi, like Eierman, suffered a knee injury during the 2022 Big Ten Championships. The nick forced Cassioppi to medically forfeit his league title bout with Minnesota’s Gable Steveson.

Kemerer fought through a shoulder injury for the entirety of his 2021-22 campaign. After his last NCAA Tournament match, “KemDawg” admitted that he initially hurt his shoulder during the Fall 2021 semester.

Kemerer missed Iowa’s first six duals of the 2022 season. “Grandpa Mike” hit the mat for the first time during Iowa’s Jan. 7 dual against Minnesota at Carver.

“Obviously, there’s a physical struggle, but the mental struggle dealing with something like that, you know, it’s been a roller coaster,” Kemerer said of his injury on Saturday. “I just had to come to terms with that, you know, I don’t do this sport for anyone but me and my teammates and my family and my God. That’s really what it’s about.

“Being afraid to go out there and not wrestle how I want to wrestle, that was something I dealt with,” Kemerer added. “At the end of the day, you don’t really owe anybody anything but yourself. I love competing and I love wrestling. So, who cares what somebody’s gonna say?”

Kemerer never officially disclosed the medical diagnosis he received for his shoulder — though he did hint that the injury will likely require surgery. Kemerer missed the entire 2018-19 season with an injury to his left shoulder.

Much like Kemerer, Ayala never provided any specifics about his left shoulder injury. Some reports seem to suggest Ayala wrestled through a torn shoulder labrum for the last two months of the 2022 season.

Ayala wrestled in place of the injured Spencer Lee this season. Lee announced that he’d miss the entire 2022 season to undergo surgery to repair torn ACLs in his left and right knees on Jan. 1.

Lee did participate in three matches in December at the Rokfin Duals in Niceville, Florida. He went 3-0 at the event.

Lee watched his teammates compete from the sidelines in Detroit. On Saturday, he took to Twitter to voice how disappointed he was to not be wrestling.

Lee is expected to return to the mat in 2022-23. Though, without DeSanto, Eierman, Marinelli, and Kemerer, Iowa’s lineup around Lee is going to look a lot different.

“I think we have a lot of mending to do, as you always do,” Brands said. “Lots of different types of mending.

“We have a crop of recruits coming in that we’re excited about,” Brands added. “We have some guys that have been in redshirt for two years that we’re excited about. We have some guys that glimpsed the lineup one or two times this year that we’re excited about. We got Spencer Lee coming back that we’re excited about.”

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