Hawkeye wrestlers finish strong in comeback win over Rutgers

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

For the second Friday night in a row, the Hawkeye wrestling team started off slow and finished strong en route to a Big Ten Conference dual victory.

Iowa beat Rutgers, 23-15, at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, New Jersey. The Hawkeyes improve to 6-0 on the year and 2-0 against conference opponents. Even more, they are now 4-0 all-time against the Scarlet Knights (3-2, 1-1).

"There’s opportunities for us out there," Rutgers coach Scott Goodale said afterwards. "You’ve got to take advantage. These opportunities don’t come around that often. Like Nick said, they’re a fun team. They fight and scrap and claw. I don’t know if they’re the best athletes but they scrap. They’re really good in position.

"There’s no moral victories. We let one get away, and this one will sting for a little bit. We’ll get back at them at 'The Midlands' and there’s an opportunity to win a team title there and that’s what we’re shooting for."

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

Much like last week’s matchup against Illinois, the Hawkeyes dropped the first three weights on Friday in spectacular fashion. Rutgers raced out to a 12-0 lead behind Nick Suriano’s technical-fall win over Justin Stickley at 125 pounds and Scott DelVecchio’s major-decision victory over Paul Glynn at 133.

Glynn was one of three new faces in Iowa’s lineup against Rutgers, a decision head coach Tom Brands made after last week’s poor showing against Illinois. The second was Carter Happel, who got the nod over Vince Turk at 141. Happel, a Lisbon grad and four-time Iowa high school state champion, fought valiantly, getting in on a handful of shots, but lost, 3-2, to Michael Van Brill.

"The thing that is going to make these guys a part of this team is, are you going to perform?" Brands said after the dual. "It isn’t even about winning. It’s about wrestling the entire match. Nothing in life works if you only wrestle part of it. I mean, even if I’m driving a bus. We’re going to go get on a bus right now, and if you’re only driving every other mile, you’re going to get in a lot of trouble.

"And some of these guys, it’s like they only want to wrestle 30 seconds of the first period. They only want to wrestle part of the second period. They only want to wrestle part of the third period. I’m being critical, but you get your chance in the lineup, and go make the most of it."

The deficit proved daunting. The Scarlet Knights, who have been without 141-pound All-American Anthony Ashnault since the start of the season, held a 13-0 takedown advantage at that point, which spurred the RAC's crowd of 6,754 — a new record for attendance for a Rutgers wrestling dual, by the way — to their feet.

But, just like last week, Iowa muscled its way back.

Brandon Sorensen first put the Hawkeyes on the board with a 4-1 decision over Eleazar DeLuca. Michael Kemerer followed with a 24-8 technical fall win at 157, wherein he scored 10 takedowns, bringing Iowa within 12-8 at the intermission.

Following the break, Alex Marinelli made his long-awaited Iowa wrestling debut. His task: take down Rutgers’ Richie Lewis, the nation’s fourth-ranked 157-pounder and, more recently, winner of a U23 freestyle world title. Marinelli, wearing a brace on his left knee, scored two takedowns, including one that clinched his 6-4 sudden-death victory, bringing the Hawkeyes within one.

"The crowd was amazing," Marinelli said. "It’s better to wrestle in those environments than going into a dual meet where there’s only 2,000 fans. I couldn’t have wanted anything better for my first match.

"(The match itself) didn’t go quite like I planned. I need to get to my attacks and extend the leg. He was being a little defensive, and I tried to push the pace a little bit. But I’m excited to be on the mat."

Marinelli’s victory at 165 was the first of four matches Iowa would win after the intermission, which helped seal the dual victory. Joey Gunther followed by beating Joe Grello at 174, 5-4, thanks to a riding-time point that put the Hawkeyes ahead, 14-12.

Nicholas Gravina followed with a methodical 4-0 win over Mitch Bowman at 184 to put Rutgers back up, 15-14. That would be the last time the Scarlet Knights led. Cash Wilcke followed with a workmanlike 8-3 win over Kevin Mulligan at 197 to give Iowa the lead back at 17-15.

Then, just like last week, Sam Stoll closed the dual with a pin — this time, over Razohnn Gross, in 2 minutes and 41 seconds. Stoll’s fifth pin of the season secured Iowa’s 23rd straight Big Ten road dual victory.

"I just told Ben Berhow in the locker room, we’re going to be in the funny farm if we have to keep digging ourselves out of holes," Brands said after the dual. "But you know what, we have some firepower back home. We’ll see other things in the lineup.

"But if you have an opportunity, go get it. Everybody that I’m talking to and everybody that sees this interview, especially people that have had opportunities and squandered them, they’ll be like, yeah, that guy knows what he’s talking about. It goes very, very fast. Seize the moment. Seize the day."

The Hawkeyes can extend that streak Sunday, when they face Maryland (3-2, 0-2) at the Xfinity Center in College Park. The dual is scheduled for 12 p.m.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

No. 10 Iowa 23, No. 9 Rutgers 15

125 -- Nick Suriano (R) tech. fall Justin Stickley (I), 23-5; 0-5
133 -- Scott DelVecchio (R) major dec. Paul Glynn (I), 12-4; 0-9
141 -- Michael Van Brill (R) dec. Carter Happel (I), 3-2; 0-12
149 -- Brandon Sorensen (I) dec. Eleazar DeLuca (R), 4-1; 3-12
157 -- Michael Kemerer (I) tech. fall Brett Donner (R), 24-8; 8-12
165 -- Alex Marinelli (I) dec. Richie Lewis (R), 6-4 SV1; 11-12
174 -- Joey Gunther (I) dec. Jordan Pagano (R), 5-4; 14-12
184 -- Nicholas Gravina (R) dec. Mitch Bowman (I), 4-0; 14-15
197 -- Cash Wilcke (I) dec. Kevin Mulligan (R), 8-3; 17-15
285 -- Sam Stoll (I) pinned Razohnn Gross (R), 2:41; 23-15