By James Geerdes
Luckily for the Iowa wrestling team, this past weekend’s Big Ten Championships are not the biggest stage in college wrestling. That comes in two weeks, and the Hawkeyes showed they are not quite ready.
Iowa’s lackluster weekend started early. Six of the 10 Hawkeye wrestlers dropped to the consolation bracket after their first matches in East Lansing, Michigan.
“We need to make some adjustments in individual minds,” head coach Tom Brands said. “We have to have our guys fresh in their minds. If something goes bad, we have to be able to handle that a little better over a two-day, three-day period.”
Iowa’s efforts landed it in fourth place with 90.5 team points, the worst performance in Brands’ 12-year Hawkeye coaching career. Ohio State won for the second year in a row with 164.5 points, followed by Penn State with 148, and Michigan with 118.
Iowa’s Michael Kemerer finished far below what anyone expected the 157-pound first-seeded sophomore to end up. After his loss in the semifinals, compliments of a Micah Jordan pin, Kemerer opted out of his consolation matches for precautionary reasons, Brands said, and defaulted to sixth place.
Iowa’s weekend can be described with Alex Marinelli. The second-seeded 165-pounder, who had been undefeated all season, dropped three matches in the two days of wrestling to finish fifth.
Overall, Iowa’s efforts this past weekend were subpar. In their 43 matches, Iowa wrestlers had 55 takedowns. This will have to change before Brands and Company set foot in Quicken Loans Arena.
Even if the path to gold at nationals is muddy for the Hawkeyes, there were some bright spots throughout the Big Ten weekend.
Spencer Lee led the Hawkeye lineup in bonus points. The true freshman 125-pounder garnered up three bonus-point victories on his way to third place. He had a pin in 2:43 against Michigan State’s Rayvon Foley. After dropping to the consolation bracket after losing a 2-1 decision to the now four-time Big Ten champion Nathan Tomasello in the semifinals, Lee scored a major decision on Northwestern’s Sebastian Rivera. He capped his weekend with a tech fall over Purdue’s Luke Welch to secure third.
“Coaches always talk about getting the next best thing,” Lee said. “That was the job, and that’s what I set out to do.”
Iowa fans regard Lee as a legitimate national-title contender and rightfully so. The freshman previously topped Tomasello, 3-2, in the Ohio State-Iowa dual meet on Jan. 21.
Lee’s efforts thus far were honored following the tournament; he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Vince Turk contended during the Big Tens, showing he can compete with some of the nation’s best. Coming in unseeded, Turk topped the eighth-seeded Eli Stickley of Wisconsin in his weekend opener, 6-0, then dropped a 4-0 decision to Ohio State’s top-seeded Joey McKenna.
Turk worked through the consolation bracket and ended up with a fifth-place trophy and an invitation to Cleveland.
Brandon Sorensen was the lone Hawkeye in the finals, where he fell to Penn State’s Zain Retherford.
On the surface, the Hawkeyes did what they seemingly needed to. They qualified nine for the national tournament, but they are not where they need to be.
“It’s a qualifier, and we have work to do regardless of where we ended up at each individual weight class,” Brands said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”