Leistikow: Big-picture approach for Iowa wrestling star Michael Kemerer all about winning NCAA championship

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Michael Kemerer is a sharp guy.

The Iowa wrestler carries a 3.5 GPA and a class-load that includes marketing, corporate finance, investment management and an entrepreneurship.

Not much gets past the redshirt sophomore. That includes what happened over the weekend in his native Pennsylvania.

“Kind of hard to miss it, yeah,” Kemerer said.

The news: Penn State junior Jason Nolf, the explosive and dominant defending NCAA champion at 157 pounds, suffered a right knee injury in a Sunday dual against Rutgers. Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson said it would keep Nolf out for the rest of the regular season.

Iowa's Michael Kemerer takes it to Michigan State's Jake Tucker on his way to a Jan. 5 pin. Kemerer has won 20 consecutive matches dating to last year's NCAA Championships.

Nolf is ranked No. 1 and has handed Kemerer two of his three collegiate losses.

Kemerer is ranked No. 2.

You don’t have to be a Finance major like Kemerer to figure out the door of national-title opportunity might be a little more ajar for the Hawkeye.

“That’s my goal,” Kemerer said, “being a national champion.”

Kemerer has been dominant in his second year in Iowa’s varsity lineup. His march to a 16-0 record includes seven pins and four technical falls.

Iowa 12th-year coach Tom Brands loves how Kemerer has upped his arsenal from a freshman year in which Kemerer racked up a technical fall and four major decisions on his way to a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis.

“He doesn’t leave (practice) without getting better. That’s what’s been great about having him in the room,” Brands said. “His leadership qualities are because of the way he marches, the way that he lives his life academically, those characteristics.

“But in the room, it’s more about … you’ve got to get tough. And you know what? Michael Kemerer’s going to get tough.”

In the room, Kemerer sharpens his craft by wrestling teammate and three-time 149-pound all-American Brandon Sorensen.

Sorensen, who Brands called “a true Hawkeye,” will wrestle his final home college duals this weekend against Minnesota (Friday, 8 p.m.) and Northwestern (Sunday, 10 a.m.).

In Kemerer, Sorensen has seen a great fit to the team culture.

“He has the right mindset. His goals are high. His work ethic is high,” Sorensen said. “He’s doing the right things, and he wants to be the best he can be.”

It’s been almost 11 months since Kemerer lost a match at any level. That happened in the NCAA quarterfinals, when he was pinned in a second-period flurry against Cornell’s Dylan Palacio. 

Kemerer is 20-0 since.

“My goal was to be a national champion last year, and that match set me back,” Kemerer said. “… Those losses are part of what fuels you. I definitely think about it.”

Kemerer, though, is dealing with his own knee injury that he appeared to suffer Jan. 21 in the third period of an 8-4 decision against Ohio State’s Micah Jordan. Brands kept Kemerer off the mat against Michigan last weekend, and his absence was the primary factor in Iowa’s 19-17 dual loss.

“Kind of being smart with it,” Kemerer said. “Nothing serious.”

Brands indicated Kemerer would wrestle in one of this weekend's duals, but probably not both.

No need to take unnecessary risks. Especially considering what happened with Nolf.

Sanderson has said Nolf should be available for the Big Ten Tournament in East Lansing, Michigan, in early March. The NCAAs are March 15-17 in Cleveland.

The nation’s two best 157-pounders won’t meet until then, at the earliest.

March is what matters. Skipping January and February duals doesn’t.

“We have that wall upstairs with the all-Americans, national champs and Big Ten champs on it,” Kemerer said. “That’s what you’re remembered for, your performance at the end of the year.”