Iowa wrestlers finish fourth at Big Ten tournament, go without individual champ for second time in four years

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Iowa wrestling team’s weekend at the 2018 Big Ten tournament might best be illustrated through the performance of Alex Marinelli, if only because the redshirt freshman had an up-but-mostly-down weekend here at the Breslin Center.

Seeded second at 165 pounds, Marinelli opened his inaugural collegiate postseason with an overtime loss to someone he had beaten earlier this year. He bounced back nicely to round out Saturday, but the struggles returned Sunday, as he ultimately finished sixth.

“If something goes bad, we have to be able to handle that a little better over a two-day, three-day period,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “Marinelli is a good example. He handled it. He lost his first match, then came back and won two hard-fought matches (on Saturday).

“Today, he needed to continue that. The second day was rough on him. Those are some of the things we have to iron out.”

Iowa's Alex Marinelli, bottom and Michigan's Logan Massa wrestle in their 165-pound Big Ten 5th-place match, Sunday, March 4, 2018, in East Lansing, Mich.

Brand was talking about Marinelli, but he very well could have been assessing his team as a whole. A rough first day put the Hawkeyes in a hole. They made some strides and recovered, but another rough day ultimately capped a disappointing weekend.

In the end, Iowa finished fourth, with 90.5 points — far and away behind the first-place Buckeyes (164.5). Penn State took second, with 148, followed by Michigan, with 118.

The Hawkeyes’ fourth-place Big Ten tournament finish is their lowest since taking sixth in 2006, which was Jim Zalesky’s last year as coach. Brands was hired shortly after that season ended. Until this weekend, Iowa had never finished worse than third under Brands.

“Overall thoughts on the weekend,” Brands said. “You’re going to get the generic answer from me: We have to go forward. We have another tournament. It’s a three-day tournament, and it’s in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s the national tournament.

“We have work to do.”

Iowa's Sam Stoll, right, and Penn State's Nick Nevills grapple in their 285-pound Big Ten 3rd-place match, Sunday, March 4, 2018, in East Lansing, Mich.

The Hawkeyes ended the weekend with nine place-winners, but only three wrestlers finished fourth or better at their respective weight classes. Only three wrestlers placed above their seed — Vince Turk (141) and Mitch Bowman (184) both went from unseeded to the podium. Joey Gunther came into the weekend seeded seventh at 174, and placed sixth.

Just one wrestler reached the finals — senior Brandon Sorensen, who was seeded second at 149 pounds. He ultimately lost to Penn State’s Zain Retherford, 2-0. For the second time in four years, and the third time in six, Iowa left without an individual Big Ten tournament champion.

Meanwhile, Ohio State had four and Penn State had three. Michigan, a team the Hawkeyes are expected to compete with for an NCAA trophy in two weeks, had two champs from three finalists.

“I think we fell off,” Brands continued. “Obviously, our seeds didn’t hold in a lot of places … regardless of where we ended up at each individual weight class, there’s a lot of work to do.”

The good news, perhaps, is that all nine place-winners qualified for the 2018 NCAA Championships. On paper, that means more potential point-scorers in Cleveland.

But Brands knows performance is what matters most. On Sunday, the Hawkeyes were virtually nonexistent, totaling just 12.5 team points and four victories in 13 contested matches. The biggest adjustment needed between Sunday and Cleveland, Brands said, was between the ears.

“Well, we need to make some adjustments in individual minds,” he said, “and we have to have our guys fresh in their mind.”

Lee named Big Ten Freshman of the Year

Iowa true freshman Spencer Lee was named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year on Sunday. The award was announced at the tournament’s conclusion and came after Lee took third place at 125 pounds.

Lee reached the semifinals Saturday, where he lost to Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello, 2-1, after Tomasello scored a late third-period takedown. Tomasello went on to take first, becoming the 15th wrestler to win four individual Big Ten titles.

In response, Lee ripped through the backside of the bracket, winning two matches Sunday by a combined score of 28-0. He made up half of Iowa’s win total Sunday, but wasn’t at all pleased by his final placement on the podium.

“Just need to keep scoring points,” Lee said. “I ultimately lost one match in the semifinals … coaches always talk about getting the next best thing. That was the job. That was what I set out to do.”

Turk goes from unseeded to fifth place

Vince Turk needed a wrestle-off to even secure the starting spot at 141 pounds in Iowa’s lineup. A week after, the redshirt sophomore went from unseeded to placing fifth at the Big Ten tournament.

Turk ultimately posted a 4-2 record here, which helped him earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships. His two losses came to Ohio State’s Joey McKenna, who finished first, and Penn State’s Nick Lee, who finished third. Both losses were by decision.

But all four of Turk’s victories were impressive. He outscored those four opponents a combine 19-6, scoring seven takedowns, including six in the first period.

“They’re always crucial,” Turk said. “We emphasize that in practice, too. Just getting those first takedowns in practice, and getting the last takedown. There’s some stuff I have to work on out there.”

Iowa's Vince Turk, right, rolls Nebraska's Chad Red in their 141-pound match, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in East Lansing, Mich.

It remains to be seen where Turk will be placed in the 141-pound bracket at nationals, but this weekend alone, he finished ahead of eight other Big Ten wrestlers that were ranked in the most recent NCAA RPI rankings. He may very well draw one a seed after his showing this weekend.

The full list of NCAA qualifiers for each weight will be revealed on March 6. But Turk can rest easy knowing he doesn’t have to hold his breath and hope for a wildcard. He already knows he’s in.

“It’s great,” Turk said. “Great for the team, great for myself. It’s just war out here. There’s going to be causalities. You can’t sit there on the battlefield and think about the causalities. You have to battle. You have to finish.

“That’s what we have to do — get ready for nationals, and have a better performance there.”

Sorensen drops tight finals bout to Retherford

Brandon Sorensen has lost just 15 matches during his stellar Iowa wrestling career. After Sunday, six of those have come to Penn State’s Zain Retherford.

The Iowa senior dropped a 2-0 decision in the 149-pound finals of the Big Ten tournament. While the points were at a premium, the match itself was full of action, complete with shots countered by shot defense and plenty of strategy from both sides.

Retherford’s victory came thanks largely to a second-period ride in which he piled up a full two minutes of riding time. He escaped early in the third period for the lead. Sorensen nearly scored off a slide-by in the third to level the match, but Retherford wiggled free just in time.

Iowa's Brandon Sorensen, left, and Penn State's Zain Retherford wrestle in their 149-pound Big Ten championship match, Sunday, March 4, 2018, in East Lansing, Mich.

“That’s what it’s going to take,” Sorensen, now a three-time Big Ten runner-up, said afterward. “Flurries. The whole time, seven minutes. Putting together seven minutes of it. Not just one period of flurries. It’s going to take a whole seven minutes. Need to get two hands to the leg.

“I mean, I don’t know if it’s the match I wanted, but if I’m going down, I have to get out. That’s something I have to think about if there’s a rematch at nationals. Maybe we don’t go down. We’ll see how the match is going.”

Retherford was ultimately named the Big Ten Wrestler of the Year. He is now 26-0 entering the national tournament and is the likely No. 1 seed at 149 pounds. Sorensen is 21-2, with both losses coming to Retherford. He is the likely No. 2.

Kemerer, Wilcke both default

Before action got underway Sunday, Iowa announced that Michael Kemerer, the starting 157-pounder, would medically forfeit out of the tournament. Kemerer, a sophomore, fell to the wrestlebacks after losing in the semifinals Saturday evening.

The move was out of precaution, Brands said afterward.

Kemerer missed the dual against Michigan during the regular season after he appeared to tweak his knee against Ohio State’s Micah Jordan the week before. It was Jordan who beat Kemerer on Saturday, locking up a third-period fall to advance to the finals.

The decision to default forced Kemerer to sixth place, which made for a funny scene during the award ceremony, as Penn State’s Jason Nolf also medically forfeited out of the tournament after reaching the semifinals. Both wrestlers stood on the sixth-place spot on the podium, while the fifth-place spot remained empty.

Kemerer was not the only Iowa wrestler to default Sunday. Cash Wilcke also medically forfeited at 197 pounds. Wilcke dropped a 3-1 decision to Michigan’s Kevin Beazley early on Sunday and fell to the fifth-place match. He ended up sixth after not wrestling Purdue’s Christian Brunner.

“The postseason is not over, and we look to the most important event,” Brands continued afterward. “We don’t make a habit out of that, but when it’s the best for the individual, we’ll do it.”

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

2018 Big Ten Wrestling Championships

Team, Scores

1. Ohio State, 164.5
2. Penn State, 148
3. Michigan, 118
4. Iowa, 90.5
5. Nebraska, 72.5

Individual Championship Results

125: Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State) over Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) 10-7
133: Stevan Micic (Michigan) over Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) 7-4
141: Joey McKenna (Ohio State) over Michael Carr (Illinois) 13-0
149: Zain Retherford (Penn State) over Brandon Sorensen (Iowa) 2-0
157: Alec Pantaleo (Michigan) over Micah Jordan (Ohio State) 3-1
165: Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) over Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) 4-1
174: Mark Hall (Penn State) over Myles Amine (Michigan) 4-3
184: Bo Nickal (Penn State) over Myles Martin (Ohio State) 7-4
197: Kollin Moore (Ohio State) over Shakur Rasheed (Penn State) 8-4
285: Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) over Adam Coon (Michigan) 4-2 (SV1)

Iowa Results

Third Place, 125: Spencer Lee over Luke Welch (Purdue) 16-0
Third Place, 285: Nick Nevills (Penn State) over Sam Stoll 5-2

Fifth Place, 141: Vince Turk over Eli Stickley (Wisconsin) 4-1
Fifth Place, 157: Michael Kemerer MFF
Fifth Place, 165: Logan Massa (Michigan) over Alex Marinelli 6-3
Fifth Place, 174: Dylan Lydy (Purdue) over Joey Gunther 3-2
Fifth Place, 197: Christian Brunner (Purdue) over Cash Wilcke, MFF

Seventh Place, 184: Ricky Robertson (Wisconsin) over Mitch Bowman 9-4