Iowa's Alex Marinelli talks about moving forward after beating Iowa State last weekend. Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — An Iowa wrestler walks into the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex, ready to train. Maybe they drill technique or wrestle live. Either way, there’s an expectation that they will give their all and improve before they leave.
And if they don’t, Alex Marinelli will say something.
“He’ll call you out when you need to be called out,” says Jacob Warner, Iowa’s redshirt freshman. “He calls out anybody."
Marinelli, Iowa’s 165-pounder, has emerged as the leader of the Hawkeye wrestling team through what’s been an uneven first month of the season. He’s been a steady voice for a team that’s 5-0 and hosts Lehigh on Saturday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
On the mat, Marinelli has been the example head coach Tom Brands wants from the rest of his team. He’s 5-0 himself so far with three pins and two major decisions. The returning All-American is ranked No. 4 nationally by Trackwrestling.
Off the mat, the sophomore has been more vocal this season. At the team’s media day last month, Brands said Marinelli would “go nose-to-nose with somebody in that locker room if they need it.”
It turns out, Marinelli did just that last Saturday.
Iowa beat Iowa State, 19-18. The Cyclones led at the intermission, and Marinelli went to the locker room and saw Sam Stoll putting on his knee brace.
Stoll hadn’t wrestled yet this year, and Brands was being cautious after yet another knee injury. But internally, there was confidence that Stoll could take the mat if he was needed.
So Marinelli walked up to the senior heavyweight.
“I knew it was getting close, and I knew we needed him,” Marinelli recalls. “I said, ‘Hey, we need you to wrestle.’ I was just trying to talk him into it. Sometimes, you have to let things off your chest. He was like, ‘I don’t know.’
“We had gone to breakfast in the morning. I guess (assistant coach Bobby Telford) thought his whole mentality was different that day, and he was thinking about going. Stoll is a grown man. If he wasn’t ready, he wouldn’t have gone out there.”
The rest, of course, is history. Stoll walked out before an announced crowd of 9,751. The Star Wars “Imperial March” theme blared over the speakers. He met Brands before taking the mat.
“I don’t want this,” Brands told him.
“I’m going,” Stoll replied.
“I don’t want this,” Brands said again.
Stoll held firm: “It’s my last one. I’m going.”
Brands slapped Stoll on the cheek. Stoll beat Iowa State’s Gannon Gremmel 5-1, a crucial decision that brought Iowa back from a 15-9 deficit to win for the 15th straight time over the up-and-coming Cyclones.
“What a memory,” Brands said.
Below is a video of Iowa coach Tom Brands talking about heavyweight Sam Stoll:
Iowa coach Tom Brands discusses Sam Stoll's health and what is expected of him moving forward. Des Moines Register
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Marinelli beamed with pride when Stoll took the mat, even with a bulky brace on his left knee. He was noticeably animated throughout the dual, not unlike the way Brands is from his coaching chair, “as if he was wrestling every weight class,” Brands said.
“A lot of respect in that locker room amongst our guys,” Brands continued about Marinelli. “I don’t think Stoll needed Marinelli’s nod of approval, but that helps instead of being a bump on a log and saying ‘I did my job’ and being down there, eating ice cream and saying, ‘Well, we’ll see how this goes.’
“Stoll’s rationale was our best chance there is our best guy. We’ve got some good guys, and the team means a lot.”
Marinelli has fully embraced the leadership tag. He’s talked with Brands about the mechanics of leading. He was in a similar role in high school, at perennial powerhouse St. Paris Graham. He loved working camps and counseling younger wrestlers. He wants to coach someday.
He sounds the part already. On Tuesday, Marinelli talked about moving forward. He spoke of how some of his teammates dropped matches they shouldn’t have last Saturday, and how it could ultimately be a good teaching tool.
“We have to go out and fight,” Marinelli said. “We train way too hard to not go out and perform our best. We train way too hard to not go out there for seven minutes and lay it all out on the line. It’s not two minutes hard, three minutes OK, then two minutes hard.
“No. It’s every single second, we’re focused. That’s what Iowa wrestling is all about.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
Wrestling: No. 3 Iowa (5-0) vs. No. 15 Lehigh (0-3)
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
LISTEN: KXIC-AM 800
WATCH: BTN Plus/Flowrestling ($)