Wrestling Mailbag: Willie Miklus, Big Ten seeds, Alex Marinelli and Sam Stoll
There are many things I will remember from this wrestling season, but perhaps one of the first things that’ll come to mind will be Iowa State’s senior night. Willie Miklus wrestled against his old team, Missouri. He won, and celebrated with both fan bases.
But what I’ll remember is Miklus’ senior-day moment during the intermission. He stood next to his parents and the Iowa State coaches, and waved to the crowd. His dad, Garry, sat in front of him in a wheelchair, and he looked like he was about to cry as he smiled.
Garry, of course, battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease — for many years. It’s why Miklus transferred to Iowa State from Missouri for his final collegiate wrestling season, to be closer to Garry as his condition worsened.
On Monday night, Miklus sent out a tweet that Garry had passed. He had battled ALS since April 2016. He received condolences and well-wishes from wrestlers and coaches all over the country.
It took a lot of courage for Miklus to open up about his father. ALS is a nasty disease. Your brain sends motor neurons to your muscles so you can walk, talk, eat, breathe. We don’t think too much of it. But ALS stops that process — sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly — essentially robbing that person of their body. There is nothing you can do.
“It’s brutal, man,” Willie told me. “It’s basically a death sentence. It’s hard to explain to people. I don’t mean to be blunt, but I sometimes say, ‘Dude, he’s dying,’ and that stuns people.”
Garry made it to every dual at Hilton Coliseum this season. He and Luann, Miklus’s mother, also made the trip to Cedar Falls when the Cyclones wrestled Northern Iowa. Garry sat matside, wearing a neck brace to keep his head up to help him watch the action.
Miklus sat and talked with Garry before and after the dual. I remember them both looking happy in those moments.
Iowa State's senior night was a few days later, and the feeling was all the same. Garry was at the mat’s center as Miklus waved to the crowd. I’ll remember that moment, a dad swelling with pride, almost on the brink of tears.
When people ask why Miklus transferred to Iowa State, that’s exactly the reason.
►MORE:With dad's ALS battle in mind, Willie Miklus gives his all for the Cyclones
Now, then. Onto the wrestling mailbag. We’ll talk a lot about Big Tens and Big 12s here, but don’t forget that the Division II and Division III national championships are also this weekend, and there’s always fun, exhilarating wrestling at those tournaments.
Please give me a follow on Twitter, and I’ll keep you guys up to date on all things wrestling in Iowa. Thanks so much for your help here, and for reading.
The Big Ten tournament is always so strange, if only because it sometimes doesn’t foreshadow what the national tournament will look like in the weeks after.
In 2015, Iowa and Ohio State tied for first. In 2014, the Hawkeyes finished second (five points behind Penn State, 16.5 in front of Minnesota) then took fourth at the national tournament while the Gophers finished 5.5 points behind Penn State for second. The Buckeyes have won the last two Big Ten tournaments, but the Nittany Lions went on to win NCAAs both years anyways.
So, yeah. Crazy stuff. But that’s part of what makes these next couple of weeks fun. There is a level of unpredictability, or we’re all at least surprised when we watch the results unfold.
This year, Penn State is the front-runner. There’s no denying that. Just too much talent and firepower across the lineup.
But behind them, it’s up for grabs.
There’s Ohio State, with guys like Myles Martin, Kollin Moore, Joey McKenna, and Micah Jordan. There’s Michigan, with Stevan Micic, Myles Amine and Mason Parris. There’s Iowa, of course, but I’m also curious to see Minnesota and Nebraska in a tournament setting.
It’ll be interesting to watch, if only because we’ll finally get to see the Hawkeyes against other teams they didn’t see this season. We should learn a lot — not just about Iowa, but about some of these other teams, too.
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For those that missed it, the Big Ten pre-seeds were released on Monday. Iowa does not have any No. 1’s, but three Hawkeye wrestlers — Spencer Lee (125), Austin DeSanto (133) and Alex Marinelli (165) — ended up as No. 2’s. Pat Lugo (149) and Jacob Warner (197) are both No. 3’s.
Marinelli’s seed spurred a lot of confusion, both among Iowa fans and beyond. He’s No. 2 behind Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph. Both are undefeated — Marinelli is 20-0, Joseph is 21-0.
The pre-seeds are voted on by the Big Ten coaches, and there are rarely any changes between the pre-seeds and the actual brackets. Last year, there was a single change from the pre-seeds to the brackets — Mitch Bowman was the No. 8 pre-seed at 184, but was randomly drawn into the bracket after Minnesota's Brandon Krone, who wrestled at 174, 184 and 197 last season, was given the No. 8 at the seeding meeting (Krone beat Bowman head-to-head in the dual).
Marinelli and Joseph didn’t wrestle this season, obviously, but they have a few common opponents: Arizona State’s Josh Shields (Marinelli won by decision; Joseph won by major), Nebraska’s Isaiah White (Marinelli won 3-0; Joseph won 2-0), Kent State’s Isaac Bast (both won by fall), and Purdue’s Cole Wysocki (Joseph won by fall; Marinelli won by major).
I understand why people want Marinelli to be the No. 1. He beat Joseph head-to-head, but that was last season. Some will use the same argument about Joseph’s NCAA title, but he hasn’t lost since.
There’s also the in-season resume argument, and a lot of people will point to the fact that Marinelli beat Wisconsin’s third-ranked Evan Wick twice. That’s fine. But using Trackwrestling’s rankings, Joseph actually has more wins over ranked opponents (8) than Marinelli (7). Joseph is also No. 1 in both the NCAA coaches poll and RPI. Marinelli is No. 2 and No. 4, respectively.
The pre-seeds are what the pre-seeds are. Maybe they’ll change it before the brackets are released later this week. I doubt it, but it’s possible.
Regardless, if Marinelli truly is the nation’s best 165-pounder this season, he can remove all doubt over the next two weeks.
He just needs to keep doing what he’s doing. Marinelli has wrestled on a totally different level this season. It’s been impressive to watch.
This year, he’s 20-0 with nine pins, four major decisions, a technical fall and one victory by stalling disqualification — or, 15 bonus-point victories. He had just 14 regular-season wins all of last season (with three pins and two technical falls).
Marinelli has talked multiple times throughout the year that he’s learned from last year’s postseason. After going 14-0 in the regular season, he went a combined 5-6 at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
We’ll see for sure this weekend. Going by the pre-seeds, he could potentially see Indiana’s Bryce Martin in the quarterfinals and Wick in the semifinals before Joseph in the finals. That’s assuming he wins, of course.
►RELATED: How the death of Wisconsin wrestler Eli Stickley motivated Alex Marinelli
Sam Stoll is pre-seeded eighth at heavyweight, and that’s probably right where he should be, in all honestly. You could use his win over Northwestern’s Conan Jennings, who’s the 6-seed, as a way to bump Stoll up, sure, but I don’t believe he should be any higher than the 6-seed.
Here’s the thing about heavyweights in the Big Ten: behind Minnesota’s Gable Steveson and Penn State’s Anthony Cassar, it’s one big jumbled mess.
Michigan’s Mason Parris, the 3-seed, traded wins and losses with Ohio State’s Chase Singletary, the 5-seed, and twice lost to Jennings. Nebraska’s David Jensen, the 7-seed, has losses to Singletary and Maryland’s Yousiff Hemida, but beat Jennings and Stoll. Jennings beat Wisconsin’s Trent Hillger, the 4-seed. Hillger beat Singletary.
You get the point.
Should the pre-seeds hold, Stoll would meet likely Steveson in the quarterfinals. A loss there means Stoll would need to win one in the wrestlebacks to secure an automatic bid. Stoll doesn’t currently have enough matches to earn an RPI ranking (you need 17; he has 11), so it’s imperative for him to earn an automatic berth in Minneapolis this weekend.
I think they get at least one. I think Marinelli, with the way he’s been wrestling, is probably the guy with the highest chance. There are other contenders, of course, like Spencer Lee and Austin DeSanto and, to a degree, Pat Lugo. We’ll learn a lot about the Hawkeyes this weekend.
I’m don't know. I’m really intrigued to see how Gavin Teasdale’s recruitment unfolds. He’s gone quiet since making an appearance at the Iowa-Indiana dual last month. I’m not sure if or when we’ll see him pop up again.
I guess the thing I’m curious about is, why Iowa? Don’t get me wrong, depth is a good thing, but where would he fit in? Iowa has Lee and DeSanto at 125 and 133, respectively, for this season and the next two. Max Murin is the likely guy at 141 until Lugo graduates, then he’ll bump up to 149.
I could see some movement after that. There’s Jason Renteria, who’s redshirting this year and could challenge Murin at 141 next year. Or maybe he decides 149. There are a lot of options and potential scenarios and more questions than answers right now.
I’m not sure where Teasdale is leaning with regards to his recruitment. The silence leads me to believe he may not make a decision until after the season. I’m not sure where else he’s visited, or plans to visit, but his recruitment is intriguing.
Should he decide on Iowa, things will get interesting. We’ll see what happens.
For those who don’t know: The “War at West Gym” is a postseason exhibition held at Northern Iowa’s West Gym that pits some of Iowa’s top high school wrestlers against each other. IAWrestle puts it on, and these matchups look incredible.
There’s Ankeny’s Trever Anderson against New London’s Marcel Lopez, in a battle of freshmen state champions. There’s West Sioux’s Adam Allard against Solon’s Hayden Taylor, a three-timer against another freshman state champ. There’s Union’s Jack Thomsen against Pleasant Valley’s Eli Loyd, in a battle of 138-pound title-winners.
There's more, too: Fort Dodge’s Drake Ayala against Iowa City West’s Hunter Garvin; Waverly-Shell Rock’s Jacob Herrmann against Don Bosco’s Carson Tenold. There are a couple of girls’ matchups, too: Davenport Central’s Sydney Park vs. C.R. Jefferson’s Chloe Clemons, and AGWSR’s Ali Gerbracht vs. Davenport North’s Tateum Park. All four are state champs.
But I’m most looking forward to the Caleb Rathjen-Robert Avila Jr. matchup. Both guys won state titles last month at 126 pounds — Rathjen in 3A, Avila Jr., in 1A. They squared off in an incredible match in the finals of the Iowa freestyle state tournament last year, with Rathjen winning thanks to a 4-pointer with less than 30 seconds left in the second period.
All of these matches will have fireworks, but that one, especially, will be so much fun.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.