The redshirt freshman is 8-0 so far this season at 165 pounds.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Alex Marinelli grew up in Miamisburg, Ohio, a town of 20,000 people that sits right off of Interstate 75, about 81 miles from the Ohio State campus.
But Marinelli had a picture of Carver-Hawkeye Arena hanging in his childhood bedroom.
It created a conflict of sorts for Marinelli and the people around him, all rabid Buckeye fans, when he was being recruited by both the Scarlet and Gray and the Black and Gold.
“(Ohio State was) on my radar because they were recruiting me early, and so was Iowa,” Marinelli said Wednesday. “I felt that Iowa fit me a lot better. I had some people in my life that thought different. I had some pressure there.
“There’s a lot of pressure when you’re a people-pleaser like me, but I’m also the type of person that needs to do what he needs to do. So I came to Iowa. I love it, and it’s the best decision I ever made.”
Many Iowa fans feel the same. Marinelli, a redshirt freshman, is off to an 8-0 start in his Hawkeye wrestling career and is ranked ninth nationally at 165 pounds by Trackwrestling. Half of his wins have been over wrestlers also currently ranked.
When No. 6 Iowa (9-0 overall, 4-0 in Big Ten) travels to wrestle No. 1 Ohio State (9-0, 4-0) this weekend, Marinelli will be back close to home. He won four state titles at national power St. Paris Graham High School, located just 58 miles from the Schottenstein Center, site of Sunday’s dual.
“That’s a country town,” Marinelli said. “They know how to work hard, and that’s just like Iowa. They’re not flashy. They just put their noses down and get down to work.”
Marinelli will likely see Te’Shan Campbell, ranked 13th at 165. It will be one of seven matchups between ranked wrestlers, and one the Hawkeyes will need to win if they are to topple the mighty Buckeyes.
“That’s our goal,” Marinelli said. “I remind my teammates all the time, the last time we won it was 2010 … when we beat these top-tier teams, it really shows the fans that we belong there.”
Sunday’s top matchups
Marinelli-Campbell is one of seven matchups between ranked wrestlers (using Trackwrestling’s poll). The others are at 125 (Spencer Lee-Nathan Tomasello), 149 (Brandon Sorensen-Ke-Shawn Hayes), 157 (Michael Kemerer-Micah Jordan), 174 (Joey Gunther-Bo Jordan), 197 (Cash Wilcke-Kollin Moore) and 285 (Sam Stoll-Kyle Snyder).
“They’re a real solid team,” junior 184-pounder Mitch Bowman said. “That’s why they’re ranked (No. 1 by Trackwrestling) and they’re competing with Penn State. They’re a good team. They’re as good as they come, so we have to bring our A-game.”
The big ones are the first and last. Lee is 2-0 in the varsity lineup after beating Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni last Sunday. Piccininni, ranked 10th, is the third ranked wrestler Lee has beaten this season — Illinois’ Travis Piotrowski (17th) and Edinboro’s Sean Russell (11th) were the others (both at the Midlands while competing unattached, when he went 6-1).
Lee, ranked ninth, will get a crack at top-ranked Nathan Tomasello on Sunday. Tomasello, a three-time All-American and a one-time NCAA champion, is 2-0 this season.
“We have to be ready,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “We have to figure some things out. The thing about Spencer Lee is he’s moving forward in his head and he’s always thinking. So it’s not like, ‘Man, I made it through that.’ It’s like, ‘Man, I’ve got work to do.’
“That’s how you want to move forward. This is another opportunity. We know how capable our guy is, and we just focus on doing the things that we do best. (We) feel good about that matchup.”
At heavyweight, Stoll will get Snyder, an otherworldly talent who has more world and Olympic golds (three combined) than NCAA titles (two). It will be Stoll’s toughest test to date; he is currently 12-0.
“He’s going to have to wrestle physical,” Brands said. “Timid cannot be an ingredient in any way during that seven-minute match. When that clock stops and the whistle is blown and you’re going back to the center of the mat, you have to be ready. There is no let-up.”
Glynn gets the nod at 133
Paul Glynn will start at 133 pounds on Sunday for Iowa. At least for this weekend, it ends the debate about who would start between Glynn and Phillip Laux. Laux got the nod against Oklahoma State last Sunday, and lost by a 16-6 major decision to sixth-ranked Kaid Brock.
“He had the performance against Michigan State,” Brands said. “For whatever reason, we went with Laux (against Oklahoma State), and this is something where it’s his turn, but he’s certainly shown some things.
“Even at the Midlands, he went deeper into the tournament and probably performed more consistently than Phil Laux. That doesn’t mean Laux is out of consideration. We can only bring 13 (wrestlers) on the trip. That’s a Big Ten rule.”
Brands will bring both Vince Turk and Carter Happel and will decide prior to the dual who will get the start at 141 pounds. Happel seemingly took the lead in the race for that spot after a sixth-place finish at the Midlands in December, but Turk got a chance against Oklahoma State after Happel lost by fall to Michigan State’s Javier Gasca III.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.