By James Geerdes
A new opportunity waits for the Hawkeyes in the form of the Midlands Championships on the weekend of Dec. 29 at the Sears Center Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
The tournament-style format allows Iowa to send a team, as well as individual wrestlers, to compete. But nothing else changes, said sophomore Michael Kemerer.
“We’re in that tournament format now, a little different from dual meets,” he said. “But the goal doesn’t change, and that’s going out there and scoring points.”
Head coach Tom Brands is yet to release an official lineup, but he has promised that highly touted true freshman Spencer Lee will compete, as well as Iowa’s consistent lineup.
“Last year, I got myself in some trouble, some names were released before I could talk to our team, and that’s not a good way to proceed,” Brands said. “We’ll have 15 guys there, and maybe one, or two, or three more. We’re looking forward to Midlands, and that’s a big tournament for us. We’ll have some young firepower in there that won’t be scoring points, and we’ll have 10 guys that are in there scoring points for this team.”
Last year, the Iowa wrestling team scored 150.5 points to win the tournament.
On its way to a team title, Thomas Gilman, Brandon Sorensen, and Kemerer won individual titles. Heavyweight Sam Stoll took home third, and 165-pounders Alex Marinelli and Kaleb Young finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Last week, Young was replaced in the lineup by Marinelli. Both will likely attend the tournament, and Marinelli is the favorite to compete in the team section.
In his Iowa début against Rutgers on Dec. 8, Marinelli upset ninth-ranked Richie Lewis to help lead a come-from-behind victory. Two days later, the 165-pounder earned a fall against Maryland’s Brendan Burnham.
Iowa is taking that momentum into the Midlands Championships, but it still has work to do.
“The biggest thing we need to work on is wrestle hard every single second of every match,” Kemerer said. “We have to make our opponents work hard because we train for it. If we’re out there working hard and making our opponents work, they don’t like that.”
Wrestlers are given a break for holidays before competition resumes, but it is just another chance to get better, Kemerer said.
“You make it the best thing for you,” he said. “We talk about taking that break, and using it for what it’s worth, and getting the most out of it. Ultimately, if what they said was we didn’t have a break, then you’d make it the best thing for you.”
Midlands offers another opportunity to stick out in a competitive Iowa lineup.
Every weight class is contested, especially at 125, 133, and 141. And the wrestlers need to stand out to win the spots.
“To do that you have to stick out in wide margins, big bonus,” Sorensen said. “For the freshmen, [Midlands] is an opportunity to make a name for themselves. Show something in the coaches’ eyes.”
Brands sees Midlands as another step toward higher competition for Iowa.
“Every day, you’re satisfying your fix,” Brands said. “You know what Gable would say? Gable would say, ‘I’m addicted to wrestling, and I’ve got to satisfy my fix.’ And those guys help me satisfy my fix, because it’s high-level wrestling, high-level minds, and we’re excited. We’re excited about the next level: Midlands.”