The redshirt freshman explains how head coach Tom Brands decided it was time. Cody Goodwin
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tom Brands leaned to his left and peered through the throng of media on Wednesday afternoon. The Iowa wrestling coach spotted redshirt freshman Alex Marinelli, who sat smiling on the bleachers inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex.
Brands then leaned back and explained why.
“I know one guy that’s going to go that’s really, really excited, and you guys have asked a lot about,” Brands said, “and that’s at 165. Alex Marinelli. He’ll be going.”
Marinelli will, at long last, wrestle for the Hawkeyes this weekend during the team’s east-coast road trip. Iowa, ranked 10th in the latest Trackwrestling rankings, will take on No. 9 Rutgers and No. 30 Maryland this weekend.
“Finally,” Marinelli said on Wednesday. “Tom decided to give me the nod, and I’m very excited and excited for the opportunity. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.
“We had a gameplan, but the night of the Illinois dual (Dec. 1), afterwards, he said, ‘Marinelli, you’re wrestling at Rutgers and Maryland’ when we had our team meeting. I’ve just been focused from then on.”
A native of Miamisburg, Ohio, Marinelli said he will wrestle in both duals this weekend, making his debut. He came to the Hawkeyes from St. Paris Graham, a nationally renowned high school program where he won 200 career matches along with four state titles. He figures to be the guy at 165 for the next four years.
Marinelli offered a glimpse at his potential last year. He went 13-2 while wrestling unattached with five pins. His two losses came during a fourth-place finish at the Midlands, against Illinois’s Isaiah Martinez, a two-time NCAA champion, and Arizona State’s Anthony Valencia, an NCAA qualifier last season.
Now, he’ll finally get to don the black singlet with the block letters “IOWA” on the left leg. Marinelli had been nursing a torn meniscus in his left knee, but said earlier this season he was cleared to wrestle. Brands bided his time before plugging Marinelli, who had been wearing a knee brace prior to practice in recent weeks, into the lineup.
“It was extremely hard,” Marinelli said of waiting. “But you have to stay in good spirits because that stuff can affect you negatively. Bad practices, you could get hurt, things could happen. Tom’s been helping me a lot with positive affirmations and staying positive.”
Marinelli’s entrance into Iowa’s starting lineup will push fellow redshirt freshman Kaleb Young out for the time being. Young put together a promising redshirt campaign as well last season, going 21-6 at 165. He had been serving as a fill-in at 165 after losing to Joey Gunther in the wrestle-offs at 174.
Tom Brands talks about how much Kaleb Young has helped the Hawkeyes this season. Cody Goodwin
Young, a product of Punxsutawney High School in Pennsylvania — which is roughly five hours from Rutgers, where Iowa will wrestle on Friday — will still travel with the team this weekend. He said Wednesday he’s looking toward the Midlands Championships at the end of the month as a chance to perhaps squeeze back into the lineup at either 165 or 174.
“Definitely looking forward to Midlands,” Young said. “I’ve been wrestling, but I don’t think I’ve been wrestling up to my potential lately. So the Midlands is definitely the time to make a mark. Just go out there and wrestle like how I know I can.
“I probably feel stronger at 165, but we’ll see where Tom wants me. He’s the man in charge.”
Marinelli, currently ranked 14th at 165 by Trackwrestling, is expected to contend for All-American honors this season. His probable opponents this weekend aren’t currently ranked at 165, but the Midlands, set for Dec. 29-30, will feature a bevy of talented wrestlers, as will the second-half of Iowa’s schedule.
Barring something unforeseen, Marinelli will finally get his chance at every stop.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.