It wasn’t a bad tournament. Nor was it necessarily a good one. But it was the tournament we expected and the expected we got. Very rarely have I had such emotional polarity in a sporting weekend. I had to take a break from all things athletics on Sunday just to get myself back in control of, well, myself.
My happiness and anger, my ecstasy and rage ebbed and flowed like the worst metaphorical tide you can think of for the better part of the Big Ten Tournament. I watched Spencer Lee round into form, then inevitably back out. Austin DeSanto looked every bit the hard-charger we’ve seen until he tanked out against Ethan Lizak, a guy he recently throttled. Then the rock bottom feeling of seeing Mitch Bowman Sam Stoll collapse before our eyes. Not to mention, the team struggled, mightily, for the better part of three sessions until turning it on late. Then finally, being able to sleep like a baby after Alex Marinelli, quite literally, worked a 2x NCAA champ like a nine to five job to claim his first Big Ten title.
Ladies and gents, that was a tough weekend and it’s only going to get tougher from here on out. But before we look too far into the near future, we need to look back and recap the good and the bad and what and who we can take with us to the NCAA Tournament.
Session I: The Hawkeyes burst out of the gate, sending nine guys into the quarterfinals and setting themselves up for a fabulous run. That run wouldn’t last and we’d go on to drop five of those nine matches, only sending four into the semis: Spencer Lee, Austin DeSanto, Alex Marinelli, and Jacob Warner. The crux of it all, we sat in sixth place as a team, behind the likes of Minnesota, Michigan, and Nebraska. The unacceptable was coming to fruition and the complete and utter collapse of our team was happening.
Session II: We went two for four on the front side of the bracket. Spencer Lee was looking great and majored #3 Sean Russell, 8-0. Alex Marinelli knocked off #3 Evan Wick, for the third time this year, 2-1. Unfortunately, Austin DeSanto lost a very chippy and heated rematch with #3 Nick Suriano, 6-3 and Jacob Warner fell to #2 Kollin Moore, 5-2.
Though we only batted .500% in the semis, we got work done in the consolation rounds. We won seven of the ten matches in the cons, including three by major decision. The tough effort to close out day 1, got us back into fourth place.
Session III: The events continued to trend in our direction as Session III progressed. We won five of the six matches, including Max Murin’s seventh place battle over #1 Michael Carr, 3-1. Austin DeSanto poured on the points early against #4 Roman Bravo-Young, which I initially thought was a horrible match up for DeSanto. He proved me and everyone else wrong, again. He faded late, but still hung on to win 12-8. Kaleb Young handled #6 Steve Bleise, Pat Lugo knocked off #4 Tommy Thorn for the 2nd time this year and Jacob Warner beat up on Christian Brunner, 6-0. Cash Wilcke was the only one to fall. He lost, 6-4, in a re-match with #3 Taylor Venz. All six of these guys that wrestled in Session III punched their ticket to the NCAA’s. More importantly, they crawled the team back into third place, a mere 3 points above Minnesota and Nebraska going into the medal rounds.
Medal Round: Alex Marinelli and Spencer Lee were sitting in the finals, with five more guys waiting in the medal rounds including, DeSanto, Lugo, Young, Wilcke, and Warner. Spencer Lee lost a heartbreaker of a match in suddenly victory to #1 Sebastian Rivera, 6-4, and DeSanto was upset by Lizak. It appeared the sky was falling and we were in jeopardy of coughing up third place. In large part, thanks to the three medial forfeits that Minnesota was receiving in the medal rounds.
Thankfully, Lugo got us back on track with a workmanlike workover against #5 Cole Martin, 11-6. Kaleb Young was up next but lost a well contested match against #5 Alec Pantaleo, 5-3. A guy he’s never beaten but looks to be closing the gap on. Cash Wilcke got us a win over Nick Gravina with a sweet medical forfeit and Jacob Warner won in SV1 over #5 Eric Schutlz, 7-5 in a come from behind intense match. Warner’s victory secured a third-place team finish, regardless of what Minnesota’s Gable Steveson did in the heavyweight final. He lost, by the way, and it was a tremendous site to behold.
And the best for last, #2 Alex Marinelli’s complete dominance over #1 Vincenzo Joseph, 9-3. Outside of Lee vs Rivera, this is the match up everyone was wishing and waiting and hoping for. The match was close until The Bull put the entire world on notice with another 6pt move against Joseph.
Marinelli and his style is what Hawkeye wrestling is all about and strives to be again. With his win he earned co-Outstanding Wrestler honors, a title he shares with Jason Nolf (PSU).
1. Penn State 157.5
2. Ohio State 122.5
3. IOWA 107.5
4. Minnesota 101.5
5. Nebraska 96.5
6. Michigan 76.5
7. Wisconsin 76.0
8. Northwestern 53.5
9. Rutgers 53.5
10. Purdue 42.0
11. Illinois 39.5
12. Indiana 31.0
13. Michigan State 29.5
14. Maryland 13.0
125lbs: #3 Spencer Lee – 2nd Place
133lbs: #2 Austin DeSanto – 4th Place
141lbs: #7 Max Murin – 7th Place
149lbs: #3 Pat Lugo – 3rd Place
157lbs: #5 Kaleb Young – 3rd Place
165lbs: #2 Alex Marinelli – 1st Place
174lbs: #10 Mitch Bowman – DNP
184lbs: #5 Cash Wilcke – 5th Place
197lbs: #3 Jacob Warner – 3rd Place
285lbs: #10 Sam Stoll – DNP
# indicates seed followed by actual place finish
Thanks to Hawkcentral and their data analysis we can take a better look at our performance. As I mentioned in the opening, we wrestled as expected. Everyone thought we’d be right in the mix for third place, based off seeding projections, and that’s exactly what we got, behind Penn State and Ohio State. A few optimists, myself included, thought we’d be in the battle for second. Once more, I will be in that group for the NCAA’s.
A couple guys did slightly better: Young and Marinelli, and a couple did slightly worse: Lee and DeSanto. Four wrestled to their seed: Murin, Lugo, Wilcke, and Warner, and two bottomed out and did not place: Mitch Bowman and Sam Stoll.
We collectively went 27-15 in the two days of wrestling, which is around a 64% W/L record. Over 40 contested matches that’s not entire what we want, but it’s not entirely awful either, considering we were underdogs in eleven matches. It’s unreasonable to expect we come out on top in all of them, but four or five would suffice. Unfortunately, we only won two of the eleven. It goes with saying, but a couple more wins here or there and we’re knocking on Ohio State’s door.
Bonus point wins tanked us and tanked us hard. Of the 27 wins, only five came by bonus, which is entirely unacceptable at this stage of things and that doesn’t include the two wins we had by medical forfeit in the consolation rounds. FWIT- Medical or injury forfeits count the same as pins, which is two additional team points.
Of the five bonus point wins, Lee had two of them, a fall and major. Kaleb Young contributed two majors and Pat Lugo added in one. There were no tech falls for the Iowa Hawkeyes… at least on the giving end. For those five wins, it only gave us an additional 4 team points. PSU had 15 bonus point wins for an additional 14.5 team points, while OSU and Minnesota had ten wins each for 9 and 10 team points, respectively. It’s a dangerous way to live when we don’t score bonus points, especially early in the tournament. Obviously, the deeper you go, the tougher the competition gets, the more unlikely it is to get those wins. We need to do better early on at the NCAA’s if we want to be in the hunt for a medal.
By my count, we had at least five more matches that were in major territory that we failed to convert on. And that’s not including a few pinning combos that didn’t work out either. If we keep the pace and energy up like we’re supposed to, convert like we’re supposed to, then we get the job done. Alas, we left upwards of 7+ potential points off the board.
Directly related to the lack of bonus points, was our lack of takedowns. We recorded exactly 56 TD’s over the 40 matches, which isn’t nearly enough. We didn’t record a single TD in exactly 12 matches and predictably, we went 1-11. There are several Hawkeyes that exhibit elite defense, but the best defense is having a steady offense and being on the attack. It’s a mental mindset that we need to find, fast.
There were far too many low scoring matches as well, most of them coinciding with the low takedowns. By my math, we had nine matches where we scored 2pts or less, going 2-7 overall. It’s impossible to win if you don’t outscore your opponent and 2pts usually isn’t going to outscore anybody.
Mitch Bowman’s career is done. After the disastrous start to our season at 174lbs, Bowman took the plunge down and gave us our best chance at qualifying at this weight. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Bowman is a redshirt senior who hasn’t been this light since his high school days. He was quite literally going in the opposite direction a growing boy goes. Perhaps, the weight cut took its toll because he was a shell of himself since making that cut. He was never the most gifted, but he has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen a Hawk wrestler possess and that’s what kept him in matches late. But his heart was never in question, his body was and when he tried to dig deep, it just wasn’t there.
Bowman lost in the opening round, followed by a disheartening tech fall in the cons. Typically, going 0-2 at the B1G’s would end your season, but there was still some life left in the ol’ boy. He dropped into a mini-bracket for 9th place for the possibility of claiming an at-large berth. He answered the call and won an 8-2 decision of Carver James, before the wheels fell off for the final time. Bowman was fighting for his life against Joseph Grello from Rutgers, down 1-2. Getting in deep several times, but failing to convert on any of them. His last attempt of his career proved to be too much. Grello sprawled and hipped in, sending him to his back. Bowman unceremoniously was pinned in the final match of his life.
Though Bowman’s record will never reflect how much he meant to this team, he is undoubtedly a hero in my book.
Similarly, Sam Stoll’s tournament didn’t go to plan. Stoll bumped into #1 Gable Steveson in the quarterfinal, but his lack of mobility, speed, quickness, and strength have all but fled his lower half. Stoll hung tough, but Steveson dropped him into the cons with a 5-3 decision. Once there, things went from bad to worse. Stoll was thoroughly dominated by Jacob Aven, 5-2. Aven was 10-19 going into the year. Somehow though, Stoll’s season and more importantly, his career are not done. On Tuesday, the NCAA announced their at-large selections and Stoll’s name appears on the list. Stoll still has life.
We have it.
Pat Lugo overcame an early quarterfinal loss to Brady Berge (PSU), but charged on the backside of the bracket, going 4-0, to come back and take 3rd place. Similarly, Kaleb Young also fell in the quarterfinals, but rattled off three consecutive wins, two by major, before falling in the 3rd place medal match to claim fourth. Jacob Warner showed true grit after losing in the semis to Kollin Moore. He collected himself and rebounded with two straight wins to get third.
Austin DeSanto lost to rival Nick Suriano and then immediately came back to upend PSU’s Roman Bravo-Young. Though he ultimately took fourth place, he’s shown growth and maturity over the final 2 months of this season. He had aspirations of winning his first B1G title, but he handled both of his loses with respectability and that is honorable. Hawkeye haters and fans alike have been critical of Austin all year, scrutinizing and analyzing every action or reaction that comes from the young man. It appears DeSanto is learning from his mistakes and that’s truly all we can ask for. Now can we please move on and enjoy what he brings to this sport? Unparalleled energy and effort. Win or lose he’s going to be a treat to watch.
And now for Spencer Lee. He’s still a bit of an enigma at this point, which is concerning, but he appears to be rounding into form at the right time. Yes, he lost in the finals, but he was up 3-1 and dominating Rivera in the top position before the refs decided to interfere. I’ll let you guys go to town in the comment sections, but his performance this weekend raises my hopes that a repeat for a National Championship is in his future. It’s been a trying season for Lee and we definitely won’t know the details until after this season. In fact, it’s possible we’ll never know. Neither Lee or Tom or Terry Brands are the type of individuals to make excuses. But perhaps it’s time to lay off the unprecedented expectations that we have put onto his young shoulders. Has he been unhealthy this season? Definitely. Have the others closed the gap? Also, definitely. But this is the time of year where excuses and reasons go into the trash can. The kid is out there banging, battling, bleeding, and giving this program everything he has. Win a championship or lose it, he’s a guy to admire. He’s doing it the right way. So please enjoy the ride while it lasts.
And finally, Alex Marinelli. What more can be said about The Bull? He is the leader of this team and he’s wrestling like it. He exercised his demons from a year ago and ran the gauntlet, knocking off the #3 and #1 ranked wrestlers to go 3-0 this weekend. He became Iowa’s 200th individual Big Ten champ in school history and was awarded the co-Outstanding Wrestler award, which is the first time a Hawkeye has received the honor since Brent Metcalf won it in 2009. He was also named USA Wrestling Athlete of the Week, for the second time this season. He’s taking a perfect 23-0 record into the NCAA’s, which will guarantee him the #1 overall seed. He’ll more than likely run into Evan Wick one more time, which personally scares the crap out of me. So far, Marinelli has had one of the best runs in recent Hawkeye history. Win it all or lose, he has assuredly given us a season to remember.
This is an incredibly young team, with only two seniors, coincidentally the only two to not place. This team handled adversity and persevered.
But what does it all mean?
It means we’re sending nine guys to the NCAA tournament, matching last year’s total. Seven of the ten will earn solid seeds, with Marinelli earning a #1 and Spencer Lee, more than likely, checking in at #3. DeSanto, Lugo, Young, and Warner will all probably be in the 5-8 range, which should give them a clear shot into the quarterfinals before things get too squirrely.
Meanwhile, Murin, Wilcke, and Stoll will have their hands full from the get-go, but I still think they have a chance at reaching the quarters, before things potentially turn sidewise. Personally, I can see as few as five earning All-American honors: Lee, DeSanto, Lugo, Marinelli, and Warner. To as high as all nine, especially if we receive some favorable draws early on.
Going in our expectations should be a 3rd to 4th place, once you factor in Oklahoma State, who tore through the Big 12 tournament. But we cannot and should not count out a 2nd place finish. Last year we led the entire tournament in bonus point wins, with Sam Stoll contributing most. Stoll is playing with house money at this point and I believe he’ll have that mind set. Though my expectations are low, I do have high hopes that he finds success here.
We clearly didn’t wrestle to our potential, but yet we hung tough in the B1G’s. We’re going to elevate our wrestling. I don’t know how I know, but it starts with this quote from our leader.
“You shouldn’t worry about the score. You shouldn’t worry about the time. You shouldn’t worry about how you feel. I didn’t know anything, except wrestle. That’s it.”
-Alex Marinelli, Big Ten Champ