Iowa stands in 3rd place after Day One of the NCAA Wrestling Championships

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

PITTSBURGH — The NCAA Wrestling Championships can be a wild ride. Opinions and confidence can balloon and wane from day to day, session to session.

The teams that prevail are usually the consistent ones.

On Thursday, the Iowa wrestling team won its first 15 matches and ultimately went 16-2, sending seven of nine wrestlers to the quarterfinals. The Hawkeyes were perfect in the first session and finished 7-2 in the evening session at PPG Paints Arena.

All nine Hawkeyes advanced to Friday.

► NCAA Wrestling Championships: UNI 10th in team race, Iowa State has 9 competitors alive

That strong start lifted Iowa into third place in the team race with 24 points. Penn State (32.5) sits in first and Ohio State (25.5) second. Minnesota and Oklahoma State round out the top five.

The Hawkeyes got a small bonus-point lift. Spencer Lee (125) and Kaleb Young (157) both contributed a technical fall and a major decision. Austin DeSanto (133) added a win by stalling disqualification. Alex Marinelli (165) scored another major.

All of that wasn't enough to fully keep up with the favored Nittany Lions, but it did keep the Hawkeyes close to the Buckeyes.

“I have to keep wrestling hard,” said Lee, a defending national champion. “That’s the big thing.”

Iowa won the bulk of its close matches, going 9-2 in bouts decided by three points or less. That’s an improvement from going 3-9 in matches decided by two points or less at the Big Ten Championships.

Iowa's Spencer Lee, left, and Northern Illinois' Bryce West grapple during a 125 pounds weight class match in the first round of the NCAA wrestling championship, Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Both of Thursday’s losses came in overtime — Cash Wilcke fell to Cornell’s Max Dean 6-4 at 184; Jacob Warner lost 4-2 to Cal Poly’s Thomas Lane at 197. Both Hawkeyes held leads at some point in their matches.

“We have to come back strong,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “Close matches, we’ve gotta have them go our way, and we won’t have that heartache.”

More than anything, Iowa’s strong opener sets up the rest of its tournament. Seven Hawkeyes reached the quarterfinals — more than every team, including Penn State (6), and Ohio State (5).

But the national tournament can resemble a rollercoaster. A lot of wrestling remains, especially on Friday, when significant team points are earned, and Saturday, where medals and titles are won.

Thursday’s performance was an encouraging development, but only the first step. Brands, now in his 13th season as the Hawkeyes’ head coach, knows that more than anybody. 

“Session two is in the books,” Brands said, “and we’re going to session three.”

DeSanto wins by stalling DQ … in the first period

Iowa’s Austin DeSanto went 2-0 to advance to the 133-pound quarterfinal. The sophomore faces Michigan’s Stevan Micic, the 2-seed, during Friday’s morning session.

DeSanto is exactly where he was a year ago — one win away from becoming an All-American. But on Thursday, he drew all the eyeballs with his two victories.

DeSanto began the day beating Appalachian State’s Codi Russell by stalling disqualification. It is the second time DeSanto has won a match in that fashion this season.

But on Thursday, DeSanto won by stalling disqualification … in the first period. Seriously.

Russell was hit for stalling 15 seconds into the match, then again at the 1-minute, 46-second mark, again at 1:35, again with 40 seconds left, and another just one second later. DeSanto controlled his ties and walked Russell around the mat and often out of bounds.

Asked if he had ever seen a first-period stalling disqualification, Brands smiled.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

DeSanto defeated Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young 7-2 in his second outing. He led 3-2 in the third after a first-period takedown. Bravo-Young got in deep on a shot but struggled to finish and ultimately took the sequence out of bounds, after which he took injury time.

Penn State’s bench challenged the takedown, but the official upheld his no-points call.

Upon the restart, Bravo-Young charged at DeSanto, who locked up a takedown on a merkle position and added two nearfall points to secure the win. It's the second time DeSanto has beaten Bravo-Young, the last being a 12-8 decision at the Big Ten Championships.

Marinelli overcomes early deficit against All-American for first win

Alex Marinelli, the No. 1 seed at 165 pounds, drew one of the toughest potential paths to the NCAA finals for a top seed in recent memory. His first-round opponent Thursday was Oklahoma State’s Joe Smith, a two-time All-American.

Smith, who won the pigtail match to advance, led 4-1 after a pair of first-period takedowns. But Marinelli rode Smith out in the second period, which took a toll on his stamina. Marinelli added an escape, takedown, stalling point and riding time in the third to win 7-4.

“I’m not into talking smack, but he faded,” Marinelli said of Smith. “I wanted to turn but I heard Tom and (assistant coach Ryan Morningstar) in my corner saying ‘stay smart.’ I didn’t need a turn, I just needed to ride him and get to my attacks and that’s what I did at the end.”

Marinelli followed with a 12-4 major decision over North Carolina State’s Thomas Bullard, buoyed by five takedowns, to advance to the quarterfinals,

Iowa's Alex Marinelli, right, and Oklahoma State's Joseph Smith battle during their 165 lb. match in the first round of the NCAA wrestling championship, Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Pittsburgh.

Stoll gets an upset to advance

Heavyweight Sam Stoll closed Iowa’s perfect opening session with an upset victory over Michigan’s Mason Parris, who was seeded fifth this week. Stoll won 8-5 in a wild one.

Parris scored a takedown in the first period, but Stoll forced the Michigan freshman into three stalling calls for a 3-2 lead. In the second, Stoll again forced Parris into a stall, then added a takedown for a 7-3 advantage. From there, Stoll basically turned it into a Greco-Roman match.

In the third, Stoll gave up a stalling point and an escape but added another point on riding time to win. In all, there were seven total stalling calls, but the senior prevailed. Parris was the only heavyweight seeded in the top-8 to lose in the first round.

“Very smart, very savvy match,” Brands said. “We stayed good in our positions. He was very smart in using his experience to his advantage."

Stoll followed with a 1-0 win over Northwestern’s Conan Jennings in the second round to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in his career.

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

2019 NCAA Wrestling Championships

 1. Penn State, 32.5
2. Ohio State, 25.5
3. Iowa, 24
4. Minnesota, 20
5. Oklahoma State, 20

Friday's schedule (all times CT)

Session III — 10 a.m., quarterfinals, second- and third-round wrestlebacks
Session IV — 7 p.m., semifinals, blood round, wrestleback quarterfinals