ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Iowa redshirt freshman Michael Kemerer wrestled like a seasoned senior Thursday at the Scottrade Center.
Good thing, because he'll likely have to pick off a veteran-laden bracket to keep advancing at 157 pounds.
Kemerer led Iowa's charge of bonus points with a major decision and technical fall in his first NCAA Wrestling Championships appearance.
He's one of six Hawkeyes who advanced to Friday morning's quarterfinal round. The Franklin, Pa., native said he had some pre-tourney jitters, but they didn't show from the opening whistle.
“A little bit (nervous), but once you get out there and make contact it goes away,” second-seeded Kemerer said following his dominant 14-3 major decision over Indiana’s Jake Danishek. “You just start thinking about wrestling, your next hold. It just changes everything.”
Kemerer (30-2) is trying to become Iowa's first freshman to reach an NCAA final since Matt McDonough won a 125-pound title in 2010. If he's going to get there, he'll likely have to dispatch Cornell seventh-seeded senior Dylan Palacio (11-1), then Missouri third-seeded senior Joey Lavallee (28-1).
“It doesn’t matter who I’m wrestling," Kemerer said, "I’ve just got to stick to my game plan.”
Kemerer was impressive, just missing a third-period pin but settling for a four-point near fall after putting Danishek in a cradle on Mat 8 — right in front of gleeful Hawkeye fans seated in Sections 110, 111 and 112 here.
Among those in attendance to cheer on Kemerer: Spencer Lee, the nation’s top recruit who has signed with Iowa and a teammate of Kemerer’s at Franklin (Pa.) Regional High School, and Hawkeye Class of 2018 commit Gavin Teasdale.
It was a reminder that no matter what happens with this year’s team race, reinforcements are on the way to replace five outgoing senior starters.
Down the road, what Lee and Teasdale and Co. will want to do at Iowa is what Kemerer did in his opening matches: Not only win, but also score bonus points.
That’s an annual theme at the NCAA Championships.
Pins are worth two extra points no matter the round; technical falls are worth a bonus 1.5; and major decisions are an extra one.
It’s the annual math test here that Penn State, the team leader after Day 1, usually seems to ace.
The Nittany Lions (30.5 points), despite injury defaulting with No. 3 seed Nick Suriano at 125 pounds, racked up seven technical falls and two pins in advancing seven wrestlers to the quarterfinals.
Second-place Ohio State (26 points) got seven major decisions and three technical falls, including two from Olympic champ Kyle Snyder at heavyweight, but had its championship hopefuls trimmed to five.
Third-place Oklahoma State (25.5 points) got three falls, including two from ninth-seeded Chandler Rogers at 165, from its seven quarterfinalists.
And the fourth-place Hawkeyes (24.5 points) got pins from Brandon Sorenson (149) and Sammy Brooks (184) plus a technical fall from Kemerer in his second match vs. Edinboro's Chase Delande. Kemerer wound up accounting for the most Hawkeye team points (4.5) on this day.
The Hawkeyes also got four major decisions — two from 125-pounder Thomas Gilman (four points), the one from Kemerer and one from Topher Carton (141) in the consolation bracket.
Southeast Polk alums Cory Clark (133) and Alex Meyer (174) moved into the quarters on a pair of regular decisions.
Let’s give Iowa a B-minus for the day on bonus points.
“You’re seeing a lot of bonus points from the teams that are favored to win this thing. Bonus points are big,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “We need the bonus points, and not just in the early round.
“When you can get them is when you get them, meaning get them anytime, get them all the time. And wrestle for separation."
But Iowa goes into Friday with all nine wrestlers alive. That's a good thing.
The Hawkeyes are winning some close matches, even from the guys in the consolation bracket.
At 197 pounds, freshman Cash Wilcke pulled off a surprising 4-2 win in sudden victory against 13th seed Tom Sleigh of Bucknell before being sent into the wrestle-backs by fourth-seeded Jared Haught of Virginia Tech.
And at 165, freshman Joey Gunther accounted for a half point with his 3-1 consolation win thanks to a third-period takedown.
“Every point matters," Sorensen said. "If you come in with a lot of confidence, you can be steam-rolling right through that bracket if you really want."