MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — It is hard to miss the big yellow wall inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex back in Iowa City. It is decorated with the names of Hawkeye greats of the past. Hundreds of namplates are on display, honoring NCAA All-Americans and Big Ten Champions.
Alex Marinelli has seen that wall every day for the last three years, both in admiration and as a source of motivation. He has worked in its shadow, honing his wrestling skills so that, one day, he could add his name to the list.
Marinelli achieved one of those goals last season, when he became an All-American as a redshirt freshman. On Sunday, the sophomore ensured that his name will hang under both distinctions, as he claimed the Big Ten title at 165 pounds here inside Williams Arena.
In a matchup of the nation’s two best wrestlers at the weight, Marinelli emerged victorious in a 9-3 decision over Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph. He improved to 23-0 and likely cemented his position as the No. 1 seed at the NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh in two weeks. His conference tournament crown is also the 200th in the Iowa wrestling program's long and storied history.
“It means everything,” Marinelli said. “Coming away with a Big Ten title, it’s huge — especially after last year, losing in the first match. It’s terrible. You don’t want to feel that feeling ever again.”
Marinelli and Joseph have wrestled once before. During last year’s Iowa-Penn State dual in State College, Marinelli upset Joseph, 9-6. After allowing a couple of early takedowns, Marinelli took Joseph to his back for six points to steal one from the two-time national champ.
On Sunday, Marinelli did not steal the rematch. He won it handily, dominating most every facet. A scoreless first period featured plenty of clubs and hand-fights. Joseph led 1-0 in the second and defended a Marinelli shot by going upper-body. It did not work. Marinelli sunk his hips and took Joseph to his back for a 6-1 lead. It was an eerily similar sequence to what happened a year ago.
“It was just like last year,” Marinelli said. “Same side, same everything. I floated to the left side. Had him on a body lock. He thinks he’s confident there, and I think I’m confident there, so let’s see who wins.
“You don’t want to gamble in those situations, because a lot of times, it goes to the guy with the best position, and that’s what I had.”
Marinelli tacked on another takedown in the third, an exclamation point on perhaps his finest wrestling performance. At the tournament’s conclusion, he was named Co-Outstanding Wrestler of the Championships, sharing the award with Penn State’s Jason Nolf, the 157-pound champ.
Marinelli’s title capped the Hawkeyes’ third-place team finish. Afterward, he stepped off the mat and celebrated underneath with his coaches and teammates. He hugged younger fans and signed headgear. He snapped a picture with Royce Alger, a three-time Big Ten champion from 1986-88.
Once the celebration settled down, Marinelli immediately shifted his attention to Pittsburgh, where he may see Joseph again. Joseph, after all, has more national titles (2) than he does conference crowns (0). That fact was not lost on Marinelli.
But Sunday’s win went a long way toward building confidence. Marinelli will likely usurp Joseph as the No. 1-ranked wrestler at 165 pounds when new rankings are revealed later this week.
But the ultimate goal is to wrestle on Saturday night at the NCAA Championships. Win there, and Marinelli will get an asterisk added to his All-American nameplate inside the wrestling room — something reserved exclusively for national champions.
Hawkeyes finish third behind Penn State, Ohio State
The Hawkeyes took third place as a team, scoring 107.5 points thanks to eight place-winners. Penn State won the team crown for the sixth time in program history with 157.5, an effort buoyed by four champs and nine total place-winners, all in the top six. Ohio State sat second at 122.5. Host Minnesota took fourth with 101.5.
This was, mostly, what Iowa was expected to do. Consider: Six Hawkeyes wrestled to their seeds. Two more wrestled above their seeds. Only two wrestled below their seeds: Austin DeSanto, who finished fourth in the meat-grinder that is the 133-pound weight class after earning the two seed, and Sam Stoll, who did not place after earning the eight.
The two to wrestle above their seeds did so by a single placement. Kaleb Young, seeded fifth at 157, finished fourth after a quarterfinal loss. The other was Marinelli, who entered as the two seed and won it.
So, overall, this was an on-par performance from the Hawkeyes, who will still be in the race for a team trophy at the NCAA Championships. All eight place-winners — Spencer Lee (125), DeSanto, Max Murin (141), Pat Lugo (149), Young, Marinelli, Cash Wilcke (184) and Jacob Warner (197) — earned automatic bids for the national tournament.
A year ago, the Hawkeyes wrestled poorly at the Big Ten tournament. A couple of weeks later, they racked up bonus points and took third at the NCAA Championships. They travel to Pittsburgh in less than two weeks, where the hunt for 11th team trophy in 13 seasons will begin.
“We have to get ready for Pittsburgh now,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “Let's get ready to go.”
Final placement breakdown
Behind Marinelli and Lee’s finals appearances, both Jacob Warner and Pat Lugo turned in third-place finishes at 197 and 149, respectively. Young finished fourth, as did DeSanto. Wilcke took fifth and Murin ended up seventh.
After dropping his quarterfinal matchup to Penn State’s Brady Berge, Lugo won four straight in the wrestlebacks, outscoring his opponents by a combined 36-17 along the way. He racked up 10 takedowns in those four matches and allowed just four.
Warner went 3-1 overall, losing only to Ohio State’s Kollin Moore, 5-2, in Saturday’s semifinals. He outscored his other three foes by a combined 23-9. Against Nebraska’s Eric Schultz in Sunday’s third-place bout, Warner allowed Schultz to score a takedown in the first period, then scored three of his own, including one off a Schultz shot in sudden victory to win, 7-5.
“He’s got some fire,” Brands said. “Like all these guys, they take great pride in doing it right. Warner has had some adversity that we’ve talked about throughout the year, but he’s strong and getting stronger.”
Young won three wrestleback matches, including two by major, to reach the top four at 157. DeSanto rebounded from Saturday’s semifinal loss to Rutgers’ Nick Suriano by beating Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young, 12-8, to advance to the third-place match at 133. Wilcke also won twice in the wrestlebacks to finish fifth.
Murin ended up seventh in perhaps the wackiest bracket of the tournament. The redshirt freshman went 3-2 on the weekend, losing to wrestlers who took third and fourth while beating Illinois’s top-seeded Michael Carr, 3-1, on a third-period takedown in the seventh-place match.
“I lost a bunch of close matches this year,” said Murin, who lost to Carr on a late takedown in the dual in January. “It feels good to get this one.”
About Spencer Lee’s loss…
Spencer Lee lost to Northwestern’s Sebastian Rivera, 6-4, in the Big Ten finals at 125. Lee led 3-0 after an escape and a takedown in the second period, but Rivera scored points on an escape, a hands-to-the-face call against Lee (on a challenge), and a takedown to force overtime. Rivera scored another takedown off a Lee shot to win just 42 seconds into sudden victory.
“If Spencer scores a takedown in overtime, it’s over,” Brands said. “If Spencer scores a takedown in the third period, it’s over. When I say ‘over,’ I don’t mean the clock will stop and he’ll get his hand raised.
“I’m talking about, if he scores a takedown in the third period, we don’t have to do all the hands to the face stuff and the other things that derailed us, or whatever. We just have to wrestle our match. Spencer knows that.”
This likely assures that Lee will be the three seed at the NCAA Championships, which is exactly where he began last year’s national tournament. He won it all a year ago, of course. This year, he enters with three losses — twice to Rivera, the likely one seed, and another to Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni, the likely two seed.
If the last couple of weeks have shown us anything, it’s that it will take Lee’s best effort in Pittsburgh if he is to repeat. Barring something unforeseen, Lee would have to beat Piccininni in the semifinals and to see Rivera in the finals.
“When he wrestles his match, he’s dynamite,” Brands continued on Lee. “When he wrestles his position, he’s dynamite. That’s what he needs to do.”
Winning a national title isn’t easy, despite how Lee made it look a year ago. Repeating is even harder. Lee is learning this lesson this year. The brackets and seeds for the NCAA Championships will be announced on Wednesday.
The tournament begins eight days later.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
2019 Big Ten Wrestling Championships
1. Penn State, 157.5
2. Ohio State, 122.5
3. Iowa, 107.5
4. Minnesota, 101.5
5. Nebraska, 96.5
125: Spencer Lee, 2nd
133: Austin DeSanto, 4th
141: Max Murin, 7th
149: Pat Lugo, 3rd
157: Kaleb Young, 4th
165: Alex Marinelli, Champ
174: Mitch Bowman, DNP
184: Cash Wilcke, 5th
197: Jacob Warner, 3rd
285: Sam Stoll, DNP