By James Geerdes
College wrestling fans everywhere are shaking in anticipation for the month of March. The Big Ten Tournament on March 3 is followed two weeks later with the NCAA Championships, where the best of the best will fight to climb the podium.
Iowa wrestlers will join the fight. Led by head coach Tom Brands, the Hawkeyes have climbed as high as third in the rankings and have five wrestlers sitting in the top five of their respective weight classes.
True freshman Spencer Lee at 125 pounds has made statement after statement this season and is ranked No. 3 by Intermat. Senior Brandon Sorensen has climbed the national podium three times in his career, but he has never emerged on top. Redshirt freshman 165-pounder Alex Marinelli boasts the No. 2 ranking, as well as an undefeated record, and he has upset the then-top-ranked Vincenzo Joseph. Iowa’s 157-pounder Michael Kemerer has torn through college wrestling and is contending for the Hodge Trophy with a 20-0 record. And heavyweight Sam Stoll is ranked fifth and has topped the then-No. 4 Tanner Hall, and he has a 16-2 record.
“We want to put our entire 10 weight class lineup into the category of Lee, Marinelli, Kemerer, Sorensen, Stoll — that’s what we want to do,” Brands said. “We want to keep bringing them along and put them into that category.”
While wrestling the Cyclones, many Hawks showed they are ready for the Big Ten Championships.
Unranked Vince Turk earned a major decision over No. 18 Ian Parker. Turk has been battling teammate Carter Happel for Iowa’s 141-pound spot in the postseason. Happel upset Minnesota’s 10th-ranked Tommy Thorn, but Brands seems to be coming to a decision.
“We don’t know if the lineup will change,” Brands said. “Happel had a good win against Minnesota, and I know he wants to be the guy … Turk’s been wrestling well, he’s been scoring more points. He didn’t get ridden. Those are things that — where he gets a lead and he shuts down, but he didn’t shut down. Saw good things out in that match — as soon as that guy got on top, we saw him grinding. He didn’t get ridden, and I think that’s our best guy.”
Iowa’s best guys — Lee, Sorensen, Kemerer, Marinelli, and Stoll — will lead the Hawkeye charge, even if three of the five are underclassmen.
True freshman Lee, redshirt sophomore Kemerer, and redshirt freshman Marinelli have all wrestled this season with veteran-like mentalities. The trio has a combined record of 48-1, but the only thing that matters for them is the challenge that lies ahead.
“We just had to get past [Iowa State], and it’s in the past now,” Marinelli said. “And we’re looking forward to Big Tens and our family — we’re very close, and we’re getting ready to go.”
With under two weeks until March’s festivities start, and as Iowa fans are making travel plans for East Lansing and Cleveland, Brands and Company are gearing up.
“It’s Big Ten and Nationals — I mean, I’ve watched it for years, and I’m actually going to be in it this time,” Lee said.