Iowa coach Tom Brands reacts after the Hawkeyes clinched third place in the team race at the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Tom Brands is being asked about his team’s third-place finish at the 2018 NCAA Wrestling Championships, and before he answers, he takes a minute to think it over. His eyes hone in on the wall behind the throng of media, as if looking for the correct thing to say.
“I’ve been third and fourth and second a lot,” Brands says. “The last time we won was 2010. It doesn’t feel good. But you do have to give some credit to some tough performances to get us in that position.
“We scored a lot of bonus points in that tournament. That’s something that we preach. That’s something that we haven’t maybe seen a lot of.”
Iowa used Saturday morning’s session to clinch third place in the team race, scoring 97 points to finish behind Penn State (141.5) and Ohio State (133.5) and ahead of Michigan and North Carolina State (both scored 80. It is the 10th time in 12 seasons under Brands that the Hawkeyes have earned NCAA hardware.
Five All-Americans anchored the effort, led by Spencer Lee’s national title at 125 pounds. Michael Kemerer finished fourth at 157. Sam Stoll and Brandon Sorensen both took fifth at 285 and 149, respectively. Alex Marinelli ended up sixth at 165.
“There’s a lot of credit to tough matches,” Brands said. “A lot of credit to wide open-type wrestling that our fans like — and, really, it’s good for the sport, with Marinelli, with Kemerer, with Lee. Let’s have everybody jump on that bandwagon and go that way.”
A strong Friday evening session pushed Iowa to third place ahead of Michigan. The Hawkeyes entered Saturday with a 13-point lead over the Wolverines. That advantage became 12 after the wrestleback semifinals, wherein Michigan went 1-2, Iowa went 1-3, and Stoll cost the Hawkeyes a team point after getting pinned by Duke’s Jacob Kasper.
“I chucked my ankle bracelets at him,” Stoll said afterward. “I don’t know. I’m a poor loser. I have no problem saying that. I get sour. I don’t lose well. I was (ticked) off. I think that’s the only way he could’ve beaten me, if he threw me to my back and pinned me early.
“I was mad. It wasn’t the smart thing to do, but I moved forward, and that’s what was important.”
Indeed, Stoll rebounded by pinning Hofstra’s Mike Hughes in the fifth-place bout, which mathematically clinched third place for the Hawkeyes before Saturday night’s finals, save for another point deduction.
As Brands continued answering questions about his team’s rebound effort from a poor showing at the Big Ten tournament, his competitive nature emerged once more. Third place is a solid finish for this Iowa team, but his mind was already moving forward.
“The biggest message is probably that I’m never going to get used to third,” he said. “We left points out there, too. We left points out there, no doubt.”
Iowa heavyweight Sam Stoll took fifth with three pins and a major decision.
Sorensen caps Iowa career as four-time All-American
Sorensen became the 20th Iowa wrestler to become a four-time All-American when he won in the bloodround on Friday. He added a fifth-place finish to his decorated Hawkeye career when he beat Missouri’s Grant Leeth, 4-0, in his final match in an Iowa singlet.
“Getting knocked down early, for me, it’s huge, mentally (to come back),” Sorensen said. “I could’ve just checked out, got beat, took the easy way out, not make weight again, but that’s not me, and that’s not our team.
“We’re going to fight back for every point possible and move forward.”
For the tournament, Sorensen accounted for 13 total team points, wherein he contributed three major decisions in a 6-2 showing. He finishes his Iowa career with 127 victories, which is just outside the top 10 in program history. He also recorded 69 bonus-point victories.
It was hard for Sorensen to fully reflect on Saturday. Despite becoming a four-time All-American, he also became the third in that group to do so without a national title, joining Mike DeAnna and Mike Mena. (The guy who beat him on Thursday, Lock Haven’s Ronald Perry, advanced to Saturday night’s final against Penn State’s Zain Retherford.)
“Not really how I wanted to end my career,” Sorensen said. “I wanted better. I can’t change history now. Yeah, I feel like I accomplished something. It’s not just nothing. It means something. But that’s what I have to hang my hat on.
“Just had to go out there and get it done, and that’s on me. The coaches prepared us. But the great thing about wrestling is it’s just you and another guy out there. Everything is all on you. I didn’t get it done. A couple of these matches, I didn’t wrestle like Brandon Sorensen wrestles.
“It’s been a fun ride.”
Iowa senior Brandon Sorensen reflects on his career after finishing fifth at 149 pounds at the NCAA tournament.
Kemerer injury defaults to fourth; Marinelli gets pinned, takes sixth
Michael Kemerer finished fourth at 157 pounds for the second All-American finish of his career. After beating Michigan’s Alec Pantaleo, 6-1, to advance to the third place match, Kemerer then defaulted out because of an apparent injury to his left shoulder.
“Got in a position, and got my shoulder extended,” Kemerer said afterward. “It is what it is.”
Iowa 157-pounder has an injured knee, nose and then injury defaulted with a shoulder in his 3rd-place match. Here, he discusses Iowa wrestling future.
Kemerer declined to offer more details on his injury — his match against Nebraska’s Tyler Berger was stopped twice, during which he was heavily favoring his left shoulder. He continued wrestling after the first stoppage, but injury defaulted during the second.
“Must have had a pretty strong snap, I don’t know,” Berger said. “He was in on my leg early, I defended it. Right after that, I just kind of snapped him. I went to grab him again, and before I could even grab it, he pulled it away.”
Alex Marinelli ended his redshirt freshman season with two losses on Saturday, dropping him to sixth place at 165 pounds after reaching the semifinals on Saturday. After losing 16-3 to Wisconsin’s Evan Wick, Marinelli was pinned by Virginia Tech’s David McFadden in the fifth-place bout. McFadden caught Marinelli in a spladle in the third period.
“Decent last match,” said Marinelli, who is Iowa's first 165-pound All-American since Ryan Morningstar in 2010. “He got me.”
Kemerer and Marinelli combined to account for 29.5 team points. Marinelli, like his coach, was not fully satisfied with third place afterward, and has his eyes on the future.
“It’s not where we want,” Marinelli said. “We want to beat Ohio State and Penn State. We all know we can do it, and next year is the year. This year, we didn’t get it done. I think our team believes in ourselves. We can do it.”
Iowa’s Alex Marinelli finished at 165 pounds at the NCAA tournament.
Northern Iowa’s Holschlag takes fifth at 197
Jacob Holschlag’s second trip to the national tournament will end with a spot on the podium.
Holschlag, who entered this weekend unseeded, finished fifth at 197 pounds, posting a 6-2 record wherein he dropped his first-round match on Thursday and mowed down opponents in the wrestlebacks to reach the top six and All-American status.
“I couldn’t be prouder of that guy,” UNI coach Doug Schwab said. “You know, you lose first round and come back and get fifth place, that’s not an easy thing to do. You watch. He has to dig deep for everything.”
Holschlag ended his run with a bang, too, securing a first-period pin over Cornell’s Ben Darmstadt, who entered this weekend as the No. 2 seed. Holschlag opened the match with a takedown and two back points for a 4-0 lead.
Darmstadt scored a reversal, then Holschlag muscled him to his back and locked up the fall in two minutes, 37 seconds.
“That was a good way to end it, getting the fall there,” Holschlag said. “I knew he liked to come out front and try the assassin, so I just sat my hips in and hooked his head there, and I’ve been there hundreds of times in practice. So I went with it.”
Holschlag is the eighth Panther wrestler to earn All-American honors under Schwab.
Unseeded Jacob Holschlag runs through the wrestlebacks to place 5th at nationals.
Barry Davis says goodbye
Barry Davis, the Iowa wrestling program’s all-time wins leader who’s spent the last 25 years as the head coach at Wisconsin, announced that he was leaving his post after the NCAA tournament.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Wisconsin,” Davis said in a release. “I’ve worked with lots of great people and many tremendous student-athletes. This university will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Only seven Badger wrestlers qualified for this week, but Evan Wick made sure Davis went out with a bang. Wick placed third at 165 pounds, scoring a major decision and a pin on Saturday. The announced crowd of 19,267 gave Davis a rousing applause afterward.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.