Wrestling: Hawkeyes surge ahead to team lead after Day One of the Big Ten Championships

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Iowa wrestling team stormed to an early lead during Session I of the 2021 Big Ten Championships, then hit the gas during Session II for a strong Day One performance here at the Bryce Jordan Center.

But Penn State is still lurking nearby in the team race and will provide a stiff challenge come Sunday.

The Hawkeyes totaled 126.5 points to sit in first place entering Day Two. Six Iowa wrestlers made the finals and three more are alive for third. Only one failed to make the podium at all. In total, the Hawkeyes went 19-5 overall on Saturday, with five pins, one technical fall and one major decision.

Penn State is second with 111.5 points, thanks to a strong performance in the wrestlebacks. Four Nittany Lion wrestlers made the finals, but five are wrestling back, and four are alive for third. These guys will be Iowa's top competition on Sunday. Nebraska sits third with 88 points, followed by Michigan (76) and Purdue (67).

Iowa's strong front-side performance had them lead by as many as 49 points during Saturday's second session, but Penn State combined to go 12-2 in the wrestlebacks, with five major decisions and two pins. That helped the Nittany Lions climb back from down 30 after the first session to within 15 entering Day Two.

The Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions do not hit at all during Sunday's first session, which will be key for team points. They could, however, meet in medal matches at both 197 and 285, and will meet in the finals at 133, 141 and 174.

So buckle up for a fun Sunday of wrestling. Penn State rallied and has made this thing interesting, but it's still Iowa's race to lose.

Iowa's Spencer Lee scores a takedown against Michigan's Dylan Ragusin in their quarterfinal matchup during Session I of the 2021 Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. Lee beat Ragusin by 19-4 technical fall.

125 pounds

Spencer Lee finally wrestled in the second and third periods after record four first-period pins during the regular season. After a first-round bye, Lee needed a little more than five minutes to defeat Michigan's Dylan Ragusin by a 19-4 technical fall in the quarterfinals.

Then Lee needed just 23 seconds to pin Michigan State's Rayvon Foley to advance to Sunday's finals.

Between the two matches, Lee spent a combined 5 minutes, 57 seconds on the mat on Saturday, and both of those matches were against top-tier Big Ten opponents — Ragusin had a strong fall wrestling freestyle while Foley is an NCAA All-American.

Lee, in his usual way, defeated them both without much resistance. He'll face Purdue's Devin Schroder in the finals. It will be a rematch of last year's finals, won by Lee, 16-2.

133 pounds

Austin DeSanto also went 2-0 and is in the Big Ten finals for the first time in his career, but did so with a pair of hard-fought decision victories.

DeSanto opened with a 4-1 quarterfinal win over Nebraska's Tucker Sjomeling, then gutted out a 5-4 win over Illinois' Lucas Byrd in the semifinals, during which he appeared to really hurt one of his fingers.

That semifinal win over Byrd was gutty from DeSanto, who trailed 2-1 in the first and scored an escape in the third to win after Byrd tied it with a reversal. He will face Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young in the finals.

Iowa's Jaydin Eierman turns Purdue's Parker Filius in a tilt in their quarterfinal matchup during Session I of the 2021 Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. Eierman ultimately pinned Filius to advance at 141 pounds.

141 pounds

Jaydin Eierman won three MAC tournament titles during his Mizzou career. He's now one win away from his first Big Ten tournament title.

Eierman went 2-0 to reach the finals, pinning Purdue's Parker Filius in the quarterfinals, then defeating Nebraska's Chad Red, 7-1, in the semifinals. He outscored both guys by a combined 21-3, and scored six total takedowns and allowed none.

Eierman will face Penn State's Nick Lee in the finals. Lee outlasted Rutgers' Sebastian Rivera, 8-6 in overtime, in a thrilling semifinal.

149 pounds

Here was Iowa's one disappointment on the day: Max Murin, the 2-seed this weekend, went 0-2 and was bounced from the tournament.

Murin dropped his first bout to Nebraska's Ridge Lovett, the 7-seed who ended up making the finals. Lovett tossed Murin to his back for a 6-0 lead in the first period. Murin battled back to within 7-4 after two second-period takedowns, but Lovett added another takedown in the third period to win, 11-4.

Then Murin lost to Rutgers' Mike Van Brill in the wrestlebacks, 7-2. It was tied 1-1 in the third, then Van Brill scored a takedown with 30 seconds left and held Murin for four back points out of the sequence. 

Murin will have to rely on an at-large bid to wrestling at the NCAA Championships in two weeks. He was No. 5 in the last coaches ranking, so there's some hope there that he'll get one. We'll find out for sure next week.

Iowa's Kaleb Young scores a takedown against Michigan State's Chase Saldate in the quarterfinals during Session I of the 2021 Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. Young won, 4-0, to advance at 157 pounds.

157 pounds

Kaleb Young went 0-2 at least year's Big Ten Championships. On Saturday, he went 2-0 to make the finals, defeating Michigan State's Chase Saldate, 4-0, and Minnesota's Brayton Lee, 3-2 in overtime, to advance.

It was a very workmanlike day from Young, but he'll need more than just workmanlike results to win on Sunday. He faces Northwestern's Ryan Deakin, the 1-seed and defending Big Ten champ, in the finals.

165 pounds

Alex Marinelli is one win away from becoming a three-time Big Ten Champion. He also went 2-0 on Saturday to reach the finals, defeating Purdue's Gerrit Nijenhuis, 8-2, in the quarterfinals, then Michigan's Cam Amine, 2-0, in the semifinals.

Marinelli used an escape and a riding-time point to defeat Amine, the first of four-straight semifinal bouts featuring Hawkeye wrestlers competing against their Michigan counterparts. More on that. Keep reading.

Marinelli will wrestle Ohio State's Ethan Smith, the 3-seed, in the finals. 

174 pounds

Michael Kemerer gave the Hawkeyes a sixth Big Ten finalist from the first seven weights on Saturday, and did so thanks to a second-straight Iowa win over Michigan in the semifinals, defeating Logan Massa, 4-2, thanks to a first-period takedown and riding time.

Before his matchup with Massa, Kemerer pinned Wisconsin's Jared Krattiger in the first period in the quarterfinals. He will face Penn State's Carter Starocci in the finals. Starocci upset Nebraska's Mikey Labriola, 3-1 in overtime, in the other semifinal.

Iowa's Nelson Brands scores a takedown against Illinois' Zach Braunagel during Session I of the 2021 Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. Brands beat Braunagel, 7-6, to advance at 184 pounds.

184 pounds

Nelson Brands needed a big weekend, entering as the 9-seed — and he delivered on Saturday.

Brands posted a 3-1 record and is into the top-6, out-wrestling his seed and securing his spot at the NCAA Championships. He opened with a big 7-6 win over Illinois' Zach Braunagel, thanks to a third-period takedown. Braunagel beat Brands in the dual earlier this season, so kudos belongs to Brands for flipping this result.

In the quarterfinals, Brands lost to Penn State's top-seeded Aaron Brooks, 14-8, in a wild match.

They traded takedowns in the first period, making it 3-3. Brooks then injured his ankle in the second period after Brands quickly escaped. Injury time allowed Brands to keep choosing down and scoring escapes. Brands carried a 7-5 lead into the third period. There, Brooks scored a reversal, then added a takedown and four back points to win.

But Brands bounced back with two wrestleback wins to move into the top-6 — first, a 5-2 win over Ohio State's Rocky Jordan, then a 3-2 win over Minnesota's Owen Webster, the 4-seed, to advance.

He'll face Wisconsin's Christopher Weiler in the wrestlebacks, where the winner goes for third and the loser goes for fifth.

197 pounds

Jacob Warner went 2-1 and reached the top-6, losing in the semifinals. He opened with a 58-second pin in the first round over Wisconsin's Andrew Salemme, then beat Purdue's Thomas Penola, 4-0, to reach the semifinals.

There, he lost to Michigan's Myles Amine, 3-1 in sudden victory. Amine corralled Warner's ankles for two out of a re-shot to win and advance to the finals, and send Warner to the wrestlebacks.

Warner will face Northwestern's Lucas Davison in the wrestlebacks. Winner goes for third, loser goes for fifth.

Iowa's Jacob Warner pinned Wisconsin's Andrew Salemme in 58 seconds during Session I of the 2021 Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. Warner advanced to the semifinals at 197 pounds.

285 pounds

Tony Cassioppi followed the same script at Warner, going 2-1 and reaching the top-6, but he fell in the semifinals.

Cassioppi opened with a 23-second pin over Maryland's Garrett Kappes in the first round, then topped Wisconsin's Trent Hillger, 9-1, behind four takedowns in the quarterfinals.

But in the semifinals, Cassioppi hit Michigan's Mason Parris, who pinned Cassioppi for the second time in as many meetings, this time in 58 seconds. Parris got in on a  double-leg and put Cassioppi on his butt, and Cassioppi held on for a little too long, allowing Parris to work up for the pin.

That sent Cassioppi to the wrestlebacks. He'll face Ohio State's Tate Orndorff first on Sunday. Winner goes for third, loser goes for fifth.

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