By James Geerdes
March Madness is officially in full spring — wrestling madness, that is.
The NCAA Championships are now under a week away, and with the seeds released Thursday, all eyes turn to Cleveland for the nation’s best college wrestlers to fight for the top of the podium.
Iowa wrestlers will need to outdo their Big Ten Championships performance to match their results in recent years.
Last year, Iowa finished fourth with 97.0 points, and Iowa’s 133-pounder Cory Clark took gold. With Clark gone to graduation, new faces will have to step up to put Iowa in title contention.
Iowa’s Spencer Lee took the third seed in the tournament at 125 pounds. The true freshman has had a promising season thus far but, in his path, could be Nick Piccinini of Oklahoma State, whom he topped in January with a 10-5 decision, in the quarterfinals and more importantly, Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello, who Lee could see in the semifinals.
Iowa’s next qualifier by weight, Vince Turk, comes into the 141-pound tournament unseeded and will see tough competition early. He has a pigtail match against Lock Haven’s Kyle Shoop to start his weekend, and then, if he wins, he will face Indiana’s Cole Weaver in round one. The winner of that gets top-seeded Bryce Meredith of Wyoming.
At 149 pounds, Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen has been on the national stage his entire college career. The senior finished third last year, second the year before that, and fourth during his freshman campaign. He is the No. 2 seed in Cleveland with Penn State’s Zain Retherford on the other end of the bracket.
Iowa’s Michael Kemerer, who had been the second-ranked wrestler at 157 pounds in the nation for most of the season, dropped to the sixth seed at the national tournament. Wrestling fans could see a Kemerer-Jason Nolf match in just the quarterfinals in Cleveland. The winner of that match could see Missouri’s Joseph Levallee or Ohio State’s Micah Jordan in the semifinals.
In the most contested weight class at the Big Tens, Iowa’s Alex Marinelli took a tumble. After his first three losses last weekend, Marinelli is the fifth-seed at the national tournament. He could have to get through Riders’ Chad Walsh and Illinois’ top-seeded Isaiah Martinez just to reach the finals. There, he could see Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph, Virginia Tech’s David McFadden, Rutgers’ Richie Lewis, or any of the weight’s top talents.
Iowa’s Joey Gunther and Mitch Bowman will have to crawl through the 174- and 184-pound brackets unseeded. Gunther starts with Oklahoma State’s Jacobe Smith, to whom he lost, 3-1, in January. Bowman will get Missouri’s 15th-seed Canten Marriott, and the winner could see Ohio State’s Myles Martin.
197-pounder Cash Wilcke took the No. 14 seed. If he wins his opening match with Nebraska’s unseeded Eric Schultz, he will likely face Virginia Tech’s third-seeded Jared Haught. Wilcke finished Big Tens seventh after defaulting out of the sixth-place match.
Heavyweight Sam Stoll earned the fifth-seed and will get Franklin & Marshall’s Antonio Pelusi. If he wins, he will likely see Maryland’s Youssif Hemida in round two. He then could see third-seeded Jacob Kasper of Duke and will most likely have to get through Ohio State’s top-seeded Kyle Snyder if he wants to see the finals match.
Overall, it will be one of Iowa’s tougher years in the NCAA Tournament. Seeds put top wrestlers like Kemerer and Marinelli in difficult situations to get to the finals matches. But, who knows during March Madness?