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Top-ranked Iowa wrestling pauses in-person activities after COVID-19 results

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

The Iowa wrestling program's much-anticipated dual against No. 3 Penn State this coming Friday night won't be happening after all.

The Hawkeyes have paused all team related in-person activities in response to the positive COVID-19 test results within the program. Iowa will continue to follow Big Ten Conference medical protocols.

The decision was under the direction of the University of Iowa medical team, and that team will make a determination on when Iowa will return to activity. 

"We are appreciative of the Iowa medical staff and respect the decision to pause activities," Iowa coach Tom Brands said in a statement. "We will continue to follow Big Ten protocols and look forward to a return to training and competition."

As such, the Hawkeyes' dual against Penn State, originally scheduled for this Friday in State College, Pa., will be postponed out of an abundance of caution surrounding the health and safety of the participants, according to a statement from the Iowa Athletics Department. Both schools will work with the Big Ten to identify rescheduling options.

The number of positive cases within the Hawkeye program has bubbled in recent weeks.

Before Iowa's 36-6 win over No. 13 Illinois two weeks ago, the program announced that Alex Marinelli, the Hawkeyes' starting 165-pounder and a two-time Big Ten Champion, entered the COVID-19 protocols.

"He’s with us in spirit," Brands said after the dual. "We had Joe Kelly fill in, and that’s what we do — next guy in. You look at the 17-day protocol and all that, all of you people at home can look at a calendar and I don’t need to tell you when he’s going to be back.

"We’re looking forward to having him back, for sure."

The following week, Brands announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Then, just this past Sunday, the program announced that Kaleb Young, a 2019 All-American and the team's starting 157-pounder, had also entered the protocol.

The Hawkeyes won both duals on Sunday — 31-18 over Purdue, then 33-14 over No. 8 Ohio State in Holloway Gymnasium in West Lafayette, Ill., and are 5-0 overall this season. Brands watched from home and talked with reporters over the phone afterward.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of drama in the fact that Tom Brands has COVID and he was watching this from home,” Brands said then. “Wrestling is wrestling, and what wins big matches wins big matches.

“Number two, you go out, you wrestle, you do your job — and that’s what they did. Not an easy trip. The guys responded well.”

This isn't the first time either program has been touched by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Iowa's dual against Illinois was supposed to be a triangular featuring No. 2 Michigan, but the Michigan Department of Public Health and Human Services forced Michigan’s entire athletic department to pause for two weeks due to issues related to COVID-19.

Penn State, meanwhile, paused all team activities on Jan. 13 because of positive results within the program. The Nittany Lions didn't wrestle their first dual of the season until Jan. 30, a 24-15 win over Indiana. They are now 3-0, with duals against Ohio State and Maryland remaining before the Big Ten Championships, set for March 6-7 at Penn State.

Iowa has just two duals left on the schedule, a Friday-Sunday doubleheader on Feb. 19, against No. 11 Northwestern at home, and 21, at No. 23 Wisconsin. It remains to be seen if those will take place as currently scheduled.

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