Midlands takeaways: Alex Marinelli’s win, Spencer Lee’s loss and another Midlands title for Iowa

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Alex Marinelli is at his best 40 seconds into the first period. He clubs Wisconsin’s Evan Wick with his right hand, drops to a single, then immediately shifts into a double leg for a takedown on the edge.

Two minutes later, Marinelli and Wick restart at the center. This time, Wick reaches out, and Marinelli instinctively counters by lowering his level and lunging at Wick’s legs. He runs through Wick for another two points.

“It was a driving finish,” said Marinelli, the starting 165-pounder for the Iowa wrestling team. “It wasn’t slapping at the knee or the leg; it was penetrate, finish, drive through him — you can’t let off the gas pedal.”

Iowa's Alex Marinelli gets his hand raised after winning a match at the 2018 Midlands Championships. Marinelli reached the finals at 165 pounds.

Those two takedowns lifted Marinelli to a 4-3 win over Wick in the finals of the 2018 Midlands Championships. The sophomore is now a two-time Midlands champion, and improved his record to 11-0 this season.

Marinelli had his eye on this particular match. A year ago, at the NCAA Championships, Wick beat Marinelli. Badly — it was a 16-3 major decision. Wick got on top and went tilt happy. He went on to take third. Marinelli fell to sixth.

The loss served as fuel. Marinelli said he circled the dates on which he could potentially cross paths with Wick — Iowa’s dual at Wisconsin in February, the Big Ten tournament in March, the NCAA Championships, and, of course, this weekend’s Midlands.

Wick, who’s ranked second nationally at 165 by Trackwrestling, entered the weekend as the one seed, and he wrestled like it, too. He won his first five matches by a combined 49-7. He recorded four major decisions.

Marinelli, ranked fourth, drew the two seed, but was far from his best. He muscled out a late pin over Army’s Cael McCormick, then regained form with a 12-2 major over Illinois freshman Dan Braunagel. He survived a barnburner against Brown’s Jonathan Viruet in the quarters, then used a single takedown to beat Arizona State’s fifth-ranked Josh Shields to reach Sunday’s finals.

Against Wick, Marinelli showed a mix of both. His two first-period takedowns led to a 4-1 lead, but Wick rode Marinelli out the entire second period, which helped induce two stall calls. A third in the final period inched Wick to within one, but Marinelli got in one final shot to help milk the rest of the clock.

“I was a lot better than what I showed today, and during this whole tournament,” Marinelli said. “I have a lot more to give. I could’ve scored on that last takedown. I was in on his leg and I should’ve drove up and finished and iced it.”

Added Iowa coach Tom Brands: “Marinelli is a smart wrestler. He’s smart and he makes adjustments … I like that performance, for sure.”

Marinelli’s win over Wick will surely send ripples through the rest of the country. The only three wrestlers ranked ahead of him in Trackwrestling’s latest set of rankings are Wick, Penn State’s two-time NCAA Champion Vincenzo Joseph — whom Marinelli beat last season — and Lock Haven’s Chance Marsteller.

Joseph should rightfully be considered the favorite when March rolls around, but Marinelli has his eyes set on a national title. Sunday’s victory over Wick was more reinforcement that he is capable.

The trick now, of course, is doing it in March — which is only three months away.

Hawkeyes roll to 28th Midlands team title

Iowa rolled to a team title over the weekend with relative ease. The Hawkeyes, ranked second nationally by Trackwrestling, amassed 184 points — the fourth-highest point total in Midlands history. Northern Iowa placed second, with 119.5 points. That gap — 64.5 points — was large enough to take 10th in the team race.

The Hawkeyes put six wrestlers in the finals and ended with two champs — Marinelli and Austin DeSanto (133). Spencer Lee (125), Max Murin (141), Kaleb Young (157) and Cash Wilcke (184) all finished second. DeSanto totaled the most individual team points in the tournament, with 28.5.

Iowa’s 10 starters turned in a mostly solid weekend — that’s the six finalists, plus Pat Lugo (4th at 149), Mitch Bowman (2-2 at 174), Jacob Warner (5th at 197) and Sam Stoll (2-0 before medically forfeiting at 285). They combined to go 42-10 with 26 bonus-point victories.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Brands said. “We had two champions, six in the finals. Two for six — we have to do better than that. We have to maybe wake up from the break in some of those cases — maybe still on Christmas break a little bit.”

The Hawkeyes flashed their depth as well.

Paul Glynn finished fifth at 133 pounds. He won four straight matches Saturday to reach the semifinals, then lost twice in a row Sunday before finishing fifth. At 157, Jeren Glosser dropped his first match, then rattled off eight straight wrestleback victories before taking fourth, in which he beat three straight seeded wrestlers on Sunday.

Northwestern’s Rivera beats Spencer Lee

Spencer Lee is now halfway through his second collegiate wrestling season, and he has more national titles than he does Midlands titles, and he’s had two shots at the latter.

Lee reached the finals at 125 pounds, where he met Northwestern’s Sebastian Rivera. It was a matchup of the top two 125-pounders in the country — Lee at No. 1, Rivera No. 2. A year ago, Lee beat Rivera twice — 7-4 in the dual, and by a 12-0 major at the Big Ten tournament.

On Sunday night, Rivera got his revenge. The Northwestern sophomore rolled up three takedowns to beat Lee, 7-3, before the Iowa-heavy crowd inside the Sears Centre. Rivera led 2-1 after the first period, then added two more in the second.

Throughout the bout, Rivera struck quickly when in neutral and used his length to keep Lee from building setups for his shots. He dictated the pace of the match, and Lee struggled to get to his offense. In the third, Lee chose top — and Rivera escaped after about 40 seconds.

“We let that guy wrestle his pace,” Brands said. “We let him hang — he was like a satellite on the outside. It was too slow. Our stalk was slow. When we got taken down, Spencer, I don’t think he was too concerned when he got out, but he never made the adjustment to pick up his pace.”

“There’s got to be that gear in your head that clicks — like, 'Hey, my urgency has to pick up here. This guy is trying to slow it down and he ambushed me.' The thing is, the match was the same pace the whole match … he beat us good, and we’ll take our medicine.”

Lee, of course, lost in the semifinals at last year’s Midlands Championships, lost again at the Big Ten tournament, and still went on to win a national title in March. All of that is still on the table after Sunday’s loss.

After the awards ceremony, Lee deposited his second-place medal into a nearby garbage can underneath the Sears Centre. His teammates and coaches quickly retrieved it, but it was clear that Lee wanted absolutely nothing to do with it.

Iowa's Spencer Lee wrestles Central Michigan's Drew Hildebrandt in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Midlands Championships. Lee beat Hildebrandt, 18-0, on his way to the finals at 125 pounds.

Northern Iowa takes second

The Panthers made their first appearance at the Midlands since 2015, and came away with a runner-up finish, their highest Midlands team finish in the program's history. Northwestern (110), Wisconsin (97.5) and Princeton (92.5) rounded out the top five.

Even more, Josh Alber (141) and Drew Foster (184) both won titles, marking the first time two Northern Iowa wrestlers won a Midlands title in the same tournament. Alber and Foster both beat Iowa wrestlers in the finals. Alber scored two third-period takedowns to beat Max Murin, 5-2. Foster scored a first-period takedown and defended many shots against Cash Wilcke to win, 3-2.

Northern Iowa had two other finalists — Max Thomsen, who lost to Princeton’s top-ranked Matthew Kolodzik at 149, and Taylor Lujan, who lost to Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia, the defending NCAA Champion, at 174. Bryce Steiert was the only other placer for the Panthers, taking fourth at 165.

This was an encouraging performance from the Panthers, a team that has largely been talked about simply because of their potential. They showed how tough they can be this weekend, as Northern Iowa, ranked 20th nationally by Trackwrestling, outscored 8th-ranked Arizona State, 11th-ranked Princeton, 13th-ranked Northwestern, 15th-ranked Illinois and 19th-ranked Wisconsin.

Perhaps a jump in the rankings is in order.

Northern Iowa's Michael Blockhus tries to finish a shot against Bucknell's Joey Gould in a match at the 2018 Midlands Championships. Blockhus won, 8-3, to advance to the semifinals at 141 pounds.

Panther redshirts fare well

A pair of Northern Iowa true freshmen both ended up on the podium, too.

Michael Blockhus, a three-time Iowa state champ from New Hampton, took fourth at 141 pounds. Blockhus reached the semifinals before losing to Iowa’s Murin, then rebounded with a win in the wrestlebacks before losing to Northwestern’s Yahya Thomas in the third-place match.

Kyle Biscoglia, a Waukee product who also won three state titles, finished seventh at 125. Biscoglia went 5-2 overall and beat two 2018 NCAA qualifiers as well as Central Michigan’s Drew Hildebrandt, who’s currently ranked No. 23, nationally.

“Wins like that solidify where I’m at and the training I’ve been doing with my coaches,” Biscoglia said. “I just took it one match at a time. My goal was to place. That’s what I did, and I feel great.”

Tanner Sloan falls in the finals

Tanner Sloan, a two-time state champ from Alburnett and a current true freshman at South Dakota State, took the Midlands crowd by storm with his run to the finals at 197 pounds. He picked off four seeded wrestlers, an effort punctuated by an 18-3 technical fall over Iowa’s Jacob Warner.

That run came to an end Sunday night. Sloan lost to Princeton’s Pat Brucki, who’s ranked third, nationally, by a 13-4 major decision in the finals. Brucki scored four takedowns and a reversal.

Another former Iowa high school wrestler, Henry Pohlmeyer, also made the podium. Pohlmeyer, originally from Johnston and ranked 16th, nationally, at 149 pounds, went 3-3 and finished eighth.

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

2018 Midlands Championships

Final Team Scores

1. Iowa, 184
2. Northern Iowa, 119.5
3. Northwestern, 110
4. Wisconsin, 97.5
5. Princeton, 92.5

Individual Champions

125: Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern)
133: Austin DeSanto (Iowa)
141: Josh Alber (Northern Iowa)
149: Matthew Kolodzik (Princeton)
157: Ryan Deakin (Northwestern)
165: Alex Marinelli (Iowa)
174: Zahid Valencia (Arizona State)
184: Drew Foster (Northern Iowa)
197: Pat Brucki (Princeton)
285: Tanner Hall (Arizona State)