Wrestling takeaways: Alex Marinelli set to face Joey Gunther in Iowa-Illinois dual on Friday

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Alex Marinelli has wrestled long enough that most of his opponents are somewhat familiar faces by now. But come Friday night, the Iowa sophomore will likely shake hands with — wait for it — a former teammate. 

Joey Gunther, a one-time Hawkeye wrestler, transferred to Illinois in the offseason and is now the Illini’s starter at 165 pounds. He is expected to wrestle Marinelli when Iowa takes on Illinois at Huff Hall in Champaign on Friday (8 p.m., Big Ten Network).

“It doesn’t matter who’s out there,” Marinelli said Tuesday. “I know you guys know who I am as a competitor. It doesn’t matter who’s out there on the mat. I’m going to go out there and wrestle them like I know how to wrestle.”

Joey Gunther, pictured here ahead of the 2018 NCAA Championships last March, spent three seasons with the Iowa wrestling program. He now wrestles for Illinois, and is expected to wrestle Iowa's Alex Marinelli on Friday night.

Gunther, of course, spent three seasons in Iowa City. He redshirted the 2015-16 season before starting for Iowa the following two years. He compiled a 36-19 overall record while competing at 165 and 174 pounds and twice qualified for the NCAA Championships.

This season, Gunther is 15-7 overall and is ranked No. 22 nationally by Trackwrestling. He took a 3-1 loss to Iowa true freshman Nelson Brands at the Lindenwood Open in November. He was on a crash course to wrestle Marinelli at the Midlands Championships last month, but lost to Arizona State’s Josh Shields by technical fall in the quarterfinals.

Marinelli went on to beat Shields in the next round and ultimately won the Midlands. He’s 13-0 this season and ranked No. 3 in the country. On Tuesday, he recalled Gunther as a “good training partner” but will view him as the enemy come Friday.

“There’s no bad blood with me and him. It’s just another opponent,” Marinelli said. “I just need to keep my pace. A lot of guys try to slow me down. You just have to stay on him, stay in good position, and when the opportunity comes, you put them away. Put the nails in the coffin.

“These guys don’t want it hard. They don’t want a hard match, and I’m not afraid to get tired. That’s what I’ve tried to preach to this team. You cannot be afraid to get tired. Our shape and our body will not betray us. We train too hard.”

Iowa coach Tom Brands had similar sentiments.

“We wished him well when he left,” said Brands. “Our guys have a lot more to focus on, whether or not their opponent was a transfer from here. As a matter of fact, for me, it’s an opponent that we’re getting ready for. That’s what we’re doing. We’re getting ready for Joey Gunther.

“The difference is that we know him, we know his strengths, and we have to be ready. We’re going into his arena. This is what we do every week.”


Hawkeye Wrestling Club members head to Russia

Four members of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club — Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark, Sammy Brooks and Forrest Molinari — will be in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, later this week for the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix, one of the toughest freestyle tournaments in the world. Joe Colon, a former Northern Iowa wrestler and a 2018 world bronze medalist, is also expected to compete.

Former Hawkeyes have a stellar history at the Yarygin (pronounced Yar-E-gen), as four former Iowa wrestlers have won the ultra-tough tournament: Chris Campbell (1991); Brands (1993); Lincoln McIlravy (1998); and Joe Williams (2005). (You could argue five, as Steve Mocco won it in 2009.)

That’s significant, considering only 18 Americans have ever won gold at the event. The action runs Thursday through Sunday. Brands said he plans to watch.

“There’s actually a heat wave there,” Brands said Tuesday. “It’s like 25 degrees above zero. There’s only like seven degrees of frost. It’s supposed to dip over the next couple of days, but if you look at your weather app on your phone, there’s a heat wave in Krasnoyarsk.”

Thomas Gilman, pictured here at the Final X event in Lincoln, Nebraska, is headed to Russia to wrestle in the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix, one of the toughest freestyle wrestling events in the world.

DeSanto named Co-B1G wrestler of the week

Austin DeSanto notched a big win last Friday night, and because of it, he’s been named co-Big Ten wrestler of the week.

DeSanto defeated Rutgers’ Nick Suriano 6-4 in Iowa’s 30-6 win over the Scarlet Knights. The Iowa sophomore erased a 3-0 deficit and scored a takedown with 1.5 seconds remaining to knock off Suriano, a returning NCAA finalist.

The Exeter, Pennsylvania, native shared the honor with Indiana’s Jake Danishek. DeSanto is now 12-1 this season, and he's the second Iowa wrestler to earn the weekly honor. Kaleb Young garnered the award back in November.

New rankings

A new week means a new set of national rankings from Trackwrestling.

Iowa stayed at No. 3 in the team poll, behind only Penn State and Ohio State. Oklahoma State and Michigan round out the top five. Iowa State is up to No. 18, while Northern Iowa is now at No. 19.

Nine Hawkeye wrestlers are ranked at their respective weights.

  • Spencer Lee, No. 2 at 125
  • DeSanto, No. 5 at 133
  • Max Murin, No. 13 at 141
  • Pat Lugo, No. 10 at 149
  • Young, No. 4 at 157
  • Marinelli, No. 3 at 165
  • Cash Wilcke, No. 15 at 184
  • Jacob Warner, No. 5 at 197
  • and Sam Stoll,No. 2 at 285

Iowa State has six ranked individuals.

  • Austin Gomez, No. 8 at 133
  • Ian Parker, No. 12 at 141
  • Jarrett Degen, No. 7 at 149
  • Marcus Coleman, No. 22 at 174
  • Sam Colbray, No. 14 at 184
  • and Willie Miklus, No. 6 at 197

Northern Iowa also has six ranked wrestlers

  • Jay Schwarm, No. 24 at 125
  • Josh Alber, No. 8 at 141
  • Max Thomsen, No. 14 at 149
  • Bryce Steiert, No. 12 at 165
  • Taylor Lujan, No. 8 at 174
  • and Drew Foster, No. 7 at 184

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