Iowa wrestler Alex Marinelli sets sights on World Team, Mark Hall for second freestyle experience

Chris Cuellar
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The wrestling world viewed April’s UWW Junior Freestyle Nationals 74-kilogram championship as a continuation of Mark Hall’s control over Alex Marinelli.

Penn State’s 174-pound phenom and NCAA title-holder handed Iowa’s promising freshman a 10-0 technical fall, another impressive performance in their run of marquee matchups.

Iowa's Alex Marinelli warms up during practice at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016.

But Marinelli left Las Vegas with new-found confidence. The Hawkeyes’ prospective 165-pound starter had just finished runner-up in the first freestyle tournament of his life and knew his second opportunity would be Friday’s Junior World Team Trials in Lincoln, Neb.

“I’ve watched freestyle and I had a feel for what it was like, but I had never done it,” Marinelli said before a workout at Iowa’s Dan Gable Wrestling Complex.

“I had to make sure I wasn’t focused on the rules and scoring so much as just letting it fly. It’s basically the same. It’s just a tournament.”

More:Inside the relentlessly intricate world of Iowa's Tom Brands

A knee injury last fall contributed to Marinelli being redshirted by Iowa for the 2016-17 NCAA season, but his transition from folkstyle to freestyle has been healthy and swift. The four-time Ohio high school state champion is learning the discipline daily from Hawkeye Wrestling Club members and Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands.

Before arriving in Iowa City last summer, Marinelli’s lone competitive freestyle match was a 2015 AGON exhibition in Cedar Rapids.

“Vegas was a great learning experience,” Marinelli said. “Getting that first match out of the way was crucial, because it just let me know that it really was just another match.

“I’m very limited in my freestyle knowledge, but because of who I get to work with and the coaches I’m around, I already think I’m ahead of a lot of guys who might have more freestyle experience.”

Iowa's Alex Marinelli answers questions during media day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016.

This weekend, he’ll be one of four current Hawkeyes — Paul Glynn, Jeren Glosser and Keegan Shaw are the others — competing for a Junior World Team spot on the campus of the University of Nebraska. Classmate Kaleb Young, a national runner-up at 79 kilos in Las Vegas, has been Marinelli’s primary training partner. The duo has drilled with Brands on Tuesdays and Thursdays to keep a competitive pace during this offseason.

“Terry is very articulate and detail-oriented,” Young said. “Every little thing has to be right with him. But that’s a good thing, because Alex and I want to do everything right here. It pays in the end.”

Marinelli has a difficult path to the top of the podium Friday. A first-round bye and four quick wins in the bracket allowed him to face Hall in April.

At the World Team Trials, getting through the morning’s challenge tournament would set up a best-of-three finals series in the evening, where a fresh Hall will be waiting for the tournament winner. Penn State’s rising sophomore is also a defending Junior world champion.

“That’s got to be me. I’ve got to do whatever I can do to get there,” Marinelli said. “I’m not there, but at the same time, I’ve got to look at it like I can beat this guy.”

Penn State Nittany Lions wrestler Mark Hall celebrates after defeating Ohio State Buckeyes wrestler Bo Jordan during the 174 weight class finals for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Scottrade Center.

The physicality and pace of freestyle wrestling helped Hall put away Marinelli in less than two minutes back in April. The former Minnesota prep standout had also won previous folkstyle meetings at national events, but a quick takedown, leg lace and gut-wrench racked up points on a frustrated Marinelli.

The Hawkeye has dedicated time and effort since toward improving his bottom positioning and escaping chains of attacks that he never had to defend in high school or college competition.

“Wrestling is wrestling,” said Thomas Gilman, Iowa’s three-time All-American at 125 pounds and a Senior World Team Trials qualifier. “But you can’t win world and Olympic titles in folkstyle. To get to the pinnacle of the sport, it has to be through freestyle or Greco. That’s just the way it is.”

After coming up just short on the national stage, this weekend’s tournaments offer redemption to wrestlers on the international level.

So what is Marinelli looking forward to most about his second freestyle tournament opportunity?

“Facing Mark Hall,” he said with a smile.