By James Geerdes
Iowa wrestling ended up on the wrong side of history on the night of Feb. 10 in University Park against Penn State. The Nittany Lions set the indoor dual-meet record with 15,998 fans in attendance to watch the Hawkeyes fall, 28-13, in the Bryce Jordan Arena.
Iowa gave the arena something of a show. Pennsylvania natives Spencer Lee and Michael Kemerer lit up their home state’s scoreboard.
Lee started the night with a fall over Carson Kuhn in the first period. But two decisions at 133 and 141 in favor of Penn State tied the team score at 6.
At 149-pounds, the always-anticipated matchup between No. 2 Brandon Sorensen and No. 1 Zain Retherford ended in the Nittany Lions’ favor. Retherford won, 6-2, racking up two takedowns and more than three minutes of riding time, while Sorensen was unable to string together any offense.
Kemerer gave Iowa another jolt of energy with a major decision over Bo Pipher, 14-4, behind six takedowns. The match gave Iowa a 10-9 lead.
Iowa’s best battle came from the hands of redshirt freshman Alex Marinelli. The 165-pounder toppled defending NCAA Champion Vincenzo Joseph, 9-6. Joseph led 5-3 with 1:30 in the third period but 6-point feet-to-back move from Marinelli gave him a 9-5 lead late in the match.
“I was dreaming of this last night. In the first period, he hit me with a blast double, and I kind of gave it up easy,” Marinelli said. “I just need to get my hips down and finish shots. In the second period, I was working on riding, then he got out and went to an inside trip. So the next time he went upper-body with me, I had a lock, and got ready for it, and took him to his back.”
A Joseph escape would be the last point of the match, and Marinelli walked off a victor over the top-ranked wrestler.
“We love Marinelli,” head coach Tom Brands said. “He’s what we need. He’s a workman-type mentality. The thing about him is he’s selfish about the team; it’s not just about himself. He’s bittersweet. He’s walking off that mat after shaking hands, and he’s chewing on his lip. It’s hard for him to swallow the team, and I love it. It’s not about his own performance. He’s trying to make everyone better.”
Any momentum Iowa had after that match didn’t last. Marinelli’s upset made the team score 13-9, Iowa, but then Penn State found its rhythm.
Defending NCAA Champion Mark Hall turned Penn State’s ship around with a first-period fall at 174-pounds over Joey Gunther. Teammate and fellow defending champion Bo Nickal followed with his own first-period fall over Mitch Bowman, and just like that, the team score was 21-13 in favor of Penn State.
“If you want some light humor, that crowd was relentless behind us,” Brands said. “Some guy looks at me after the first one at 174 and said to me, ‘It’s going to be a long night. Then after the second one at 184, I turned around, looked at him and said, ‘It’s not going to be a long night anymore.’ ”
It only got worse for Iowa. Cash Wilcke lost a major decision to Shakur Rasheed, putting the score at 25-13 and ending any hope of an Iowa comeback. And at heavyweight, No. 3 Sam Stoll was upended by No. 6 Nick Nevills in a 3-2 decision.
“It unraveled in a hurry,” Brands said. “We have to do a better job in those situations that are mismatches on paper that our guys don’t believe that. We can tell them that all day long, and they can tell themselves that all day long, but if they don’t have a presence when they walk out there, we are in trouble. We have to have a presence and battle in there.”