Michael Kemerer returns to starting lineup as Iowa wrestling team beats Minnesota 22-10

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — The Iowa wrestling team’s best, most complete lineup for the remainder of the 2021-22 wrestling season made its Carver-Hawkeye Arena debut on Friday night.

The second-ranked Hawkeyes beat No. 9 Minnesota 22-10 before another sellout crowd. Iowa is now 7-0 and 1-0 against Big Ten competition, and will go again on Sunday afternoon against No. 24 Purdue.

The lineup that competed on Friday is likely the one that gives the Hawkeyes the best chance to repeat as NCAA team champions come March. It includes a 25-year-old, beat-up, seventh-year senior; an exciting 19-year-old true freshman; seven All-Americans with room for improvement; and a slim margin for error — at least right now.

All of that is true, but so is this: The Hawkeyes' performance vs. Minnesota, save for a few individuals, was very blah.

“I’m agitated right now,” Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands said afterward. “I’m agitated. We’re getting ready for Purdue.”

More:4 thoughts on Iowa wrestling before Hawkeyes begin Big Ten schedule

Michael Kemerer, the seventh-year senior, made his long-awaited season debut. Wearing a brace on his left shoulder, he scored three takedowns in a 9-2 win over Bailee O’Reilly at 174 pounds. The crowd roared as he ran onto the mat — his walk-out song for years has been “Who Let The Dogs Out?” by the Baha Men.

“It felt good and I could feel the energy,” Kemerer said. “There's no place like (Carver). I always try to stay calm, stay in my match, everything, but you can't help but notice it. It's an unbelievable atmosphere.

“It felt good to be out there and get that first match. Excited to keep getting better with this team.”

More:Iowa wrestling lands commitment from Gabe Arnold, a national champion from Wyoming Seminary

Drake Ayala, the true freshman, made his Carver debut. He’s been tapped to start at 125 now that Spencer Lee will miss the rest of the season (his surgery on Friday went successfully). Minnesota’s Pat McKee, a 2021 All-American, spoiled Ayala's debut, winning 8-6 on a 4-point, feet-to-back sequence in the second period.

“We come back to the center and our hands are on our knees, and we’ve got to be so aware,” Brands said. “You don’t go back to the center with your hands on your knees. That guy blast-doubled us. When you’re up in the air, scrambling, and you’re not sure which way is up or down, you’ll get counts against you.

“He did a good job fighting off his back. I’ll give him credit there. He’s just a little bit in the fire right now. I’m sure that we’ll come out of this just fine.”

Iowa's Drake Ayala, left, lost to Minnesota's Patrick McKee at 125 pounds during Friday's Big Ten dual at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Those were the exciting developments. The rest of the dual didn’t exactly feature a ton of energy.

The Hawkeyes won seven of 10 matches but recorded just one bonus-point win. In his first match at Carver this season, Abe Assad recorded five takedowns in a 12-4 major decision over Sam Skillings at 184 pounds.

Kemerer and Assad combined for eight of Iowa’s 21 takedowns on Friday night. Austin DeSanto scored three, but recorded just a 7-5 win over Jake Gliva at 133. Jaydin Eierman, Alex Marinelli and Jacob Warner all scored two each, but won 6-2, 6-5 and 6-4 at 141, 165 and 197.

“They squeeze a lot, for whatever reason, and we need to deal with that,” Brands said, referring to the Gophers (1-2). “I don’t think we dealt with that very well.

“You’ve got to be more ready. That’s energy. We probably weren’t ready enough. I’m certain that we’ll do something about that.”

The Hawkeyes outscored their Gopher counterparts 65-52 in total match points. A large chunk of Minnesota's offense came from heavyweight Gable Steveson, the 2021 NCAA champ and Olympic gold medalist. He scored seven takedowns in a 17-7 major decision over Tony Cassioppi. (The Carver crowd gave Steveson a standing ovation afterward.)

Minnesota's Gable Steveson, left, beat Iowa's Tony Cassioppi at 285 pounds during Friday's Big Ten dual at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

The dual ended on a couple of exciting notes. Max Murin, after evading various attacks throughout the match, scored a late takedown to defeat Iowa native Michael Blockhus 3-1 at 149 pounds. At 157, Brayton Lee scored a late takedown to defeat Kaleb Young 4-3 after Young scored a takedown in the first period and nearly hung on to win.

"We got caught with our heels together, and that guy was coming and he pasted us hard," Brands said of Young's match. "We were dodging bullets, almost like we were trying to hang on too much.

"We need to be a little bit more mindful down the stretch when we're controlling it and make it go our way."

The good news for Iowa is it does not have to wait long to compete again. Purdue will be in town on Sunday afternoon. The Boilermakers knocked off No. 6 Nebraska 18-15 on Friday night in Lincoln, a performance highlighted by a couple of upsets — from Gerrit Nijenhuis over Mikey Labriola at 174, and Max Lyon over Taylor Venz at 184.

If Brands was agitated by Friday night's performance, a repeat showing on Sunday might leave him fuming. He'd rather see the firepower and talent that this lineup possesses — the kind that'll be required to bring home another golden trophy in two months.

“We’ve got work to do, and we know we’ve got work to do,” Brands said. “This will be a quick turnaround. You either keep doing what you’re doing, if it was good, and if it wasn’t good, you turn it around.”

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

#2 Iowa 22, #9 Minnesota 10

  • 165: #1 Alex Marinelli (IA) dec. Cael Carlson (MN), 6-5
  • 174: #2 Michael Kemerer (IA) dec. #23 Bailee O’Reilly (MN), 9-2
  • 184: #18 Abe Assad (IA) maj. dec. Sam Skillings (MN), 12-4
  • 197: #5 Jacob Warner (IA) dec. #30 Michial Foy (MN), 6-4
  • 285: #1 Gable Steveson (MN) maj. dec. #6 Tony Cassioppi (IA), 17-7
  • 125: #7 Pat McKee (MN) dec. Drake Ayala (IA), 8-6
  • 133: #3 Austin DeSanto (IA) dec. #24 Jake Gliva (MN)
  • 141: #2 Jaydin Eierman (IA) dec. #19 Jake Bergeland (MN), 6-2
  • 149: #12 Max Murin (IA) dec. #25 Michael Blockhus (MN), 3-1
  • 157: #4 Brayton Lee (MN) dec. #12 Kaleb Young (IA), 4-3
Iowa's Michael Kemerer, right, has his hand raised after scoring a decision at 174 pounds during Friday's Big Ten dual against Minnesota at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.