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Iowa Wrestling: 2021 Big Ten Tournament Champions

Back-to-back Conference titles for the 37th in program history.


We thought Covid-19 might derail us again.

“I’ve got a better idea: no f***ing way.”

-MacGruber (die hard Hawkeye wrestling fan)

We also thought last year’s Big Ten title run was impressive, but I’m going to argue #37 tastes even sweeter.

We won the whole damn thing thanks to a damn near flawless medal round run to nearly lock up the team title for the second consecutive damn year!

1st Place Matches:

125 – #1 Spencer Lee tech. fall over #7 Devin Schroder (PUR), 21-3. 4:30

133 – #1 Roman Bravo-Young (PSU) dec. over #2 Austin DeSanto , 5-2

141 – #1 Jaydin Eierman dec. over #2 Nick Lee (PSU), 6-5

157 – #1 Ryan Deakin (NW) dec. over #2 Kaleb Young, 6-0

165 – #1 Alex Marinelli dec. #3 over Ethan Smith (tOSU), 3-2

174 – #1 Michael Kemerer dec. over #3 Carter Starocci (PSU), 7-2

3rd Place Matches:

184 – #5 John Poznanski (RUT) dec. over #9 Nelson Brands, 3-2

197 – #3 Jacob Warner dec. over #4 Cameron Caffey, 8-3

285 – #3 Tony Cassioppi major dec. over #7 Greg Kerkvliet (PSU), 9-0

Team Score:

1. Iowa 159.5

2. Penn State 124

3. Nebraska 105.5

4. Michigan 92.0

5. Minnesota 77.5

6. Purdue 76.0

7. Northwestern 74.0

8. Michigan State 73.5

9. Ohio State 69.5

10. Rutgers 52.0

11. Illinois 32.0

12. Wisconsin 30.5

13. Indiana 22.0

14. Maryland 2.0

In many ways this run parrels the events of last year. We punched nine guys into the NCAA’s, which is the same as 2020, but this time around Kaleb Young reached the finals and Max Murin (149lbs) was the lone man out. Though there is reason for optimism for an at-large berth for Mad Max, which we’ll discuss more later on.

We went 6 for 9 in the medal rounds, again like last year, but this time we came away with four champs: two seconds, two thirds, and a fourth. And despite Murin’s early exit we improved on the team score by netting two more points.

2020: 157.5

2021: 159.5

Coincidentally, this is the most team points we’ve put up since 1995.

The 35.5 point margin of victory is also the largest by a conference champ since we did it in 2010 by 37 points over Minnesota.

We entered the tournament as the heavy-hitting favorites to repeat, but Penn State’s young guns aimed to misbehave. The PSU studs put together a helluva backside run that narrowed the gap and cut our lead to 15 points, 126.5 – 115.5, following session II.

But going into Session III and the consolations semifinals, Nelson Brands, Jacob Warner, and Tony Cassioppi had other plans by going 3-0 and pushing themselves into the 3rd place match, and nearly locking up the team title before the finals began a couple hours later. Likewise, PSU went 1-3 and all but secured their fate in second. I love adrenaline induced cardiac arrests like all avid fans, but the wins from the big boys helped stabilize the blood pressure and anxiety (We mathematically clinched with Eierman’s win in the finals).

Anyways, Spencer Lee looked as dominate as ever and won his 2nd Big Ten Championship, while Alex Marinelli one-upped him by winning his 3rd. Jaydin Eierman and Michael Kemerer also earned their first Big Ten conference titles by knocking off two Penn State fan favorites, Nick Lee and Carter Starocci, respectively. Though it must be noted, this the 4th of Eierman’s career. He was a previous 3x MAC champ while wrestling for Mizzou.

I won’t dive into each individual weight and overload you guys, but I do want to focus on a few before signing off to let us bask in the glory and enjoy the win.

Gritty Performances:

  • While Nelson Brands is definitively undersized, he was a man on a mission this weekend. He came into the tournament rocking the #9 seed and proceed to wreck the hopes and dreams of three higher ranked wrestlers. He put together the best streak of his young career and came out going 4-2 with a 4th place finish. Furthermore, he went toe-to-toe with #1 Aaron Brooks (PSU) even leading before fading late in the 3rd and losing, 14-8. If he brings this type of mindset in two weeks, he will contend for an All-American finish for sure.
  • Tony Cassioppi continues to impress. This heavyweight class is as wonky as we’ve ever seen. Gable Steveson is possibly the Spencer Lee of the heavies. He’s a once in a generation talent, while Mason Parris would be a mutli-time champ if it weren’t for Steveson.

If those two have distanced themselves, then Big Cass has jettisoned himself from the rest of the pack. He went 4-1 with four bonus wins: two pins and two majors. He made one bad mistake against Parris, by hanging onto an unsavory position for too long that resulted in an early pin in the semis. He immediately bounced back and demolished everyone in his path, including monster recruit and expected title contender, Greg Kerkvliet (PSU), to the tune of a 9-0 major.

  • This team in general. The adversity that these athletes and coaching staff has overcame is truly unbelievable. Wrestling is all about heart, work ethic, and routine. And you can throw that last one out the window. Covid threatened to derail this team yet again by rearing its ugly head late in the season.

Two days after the Ohio State beat down, all team activities were suspended and the team was thrust into quarantine on Feb. 9th. That would be our last dual of the season as the next three were all canceled: Penn State, Northwestern, and Wisconsin.

It wasn’t until shortly before the scheduled Wisconsin dual on Feb. 21 that the team resumed practice. Following the two-week quarantine, plus two confirmed (and several rumored) positive tests, that only gave us two more weeks to prepare for the conference showdown.

Further compounding the issue was the SEVEN first round byes. This isn’t typically an issue, because let’s face it, most teams don’t have that many byes, but coming off a long layoff with your first competition coming against quarterfinal opponents is a rough go. Additionally, missing out on that early round tune-up, plus the opportunity of bonus points can make things interesting early. And they did to a humorous degree.

Enter exhibit A – Session I team scores through 165lbs.

1. Michigan 7.0

1. Nebraska 7.0

1. Purdue 7.0

4. Michigan State 6.0

4. Ohio State 6.0

6. Illinois 5.0

6. Indiana 5.0

6. Penn State .0

9. Northwestern 4.0

9. Rutgers 4.0

11. Minnesota 3.0

12. Wisconsin 2.0

13. Maryland 1.0

14. Iowa 0.0

Again, it’s generally good to have those byes, but we (as the entire sporting community) have never been in this type of position before. The Big Ten is the biggest, bestest, and toughest conference in wrestling. Coming back from a hiatus and suddenly facing these brutes is a hurdle and we cleared the fucker.

Max Murin:

Max went 0-2 on the weekend and now has a record of 4-3. The record is certainly a blemish, but his three losses are against the top three place finishers in the Big Ten: #1 Sammy Sasso (tOSU), #2 Ridge Lovett (NEB), and #3 Mike Van Brill (RUT).

He also has a win over the 4th place finisher, Michael Blockhus (MINN).

Furthermore, Max had been sitting at #5 in the NWCA Coach’s Poll prior to the collapse. The ranking alone and past performances may help to push him in but there are other candidates that the seeding committee will consider.

  • #12 Yahya Thomas (NW) 8-5 (2-3 in B10/ 8th place)
  • #26 Beau Bartlett (PSU) 8-3 (1-2 in B10/ DNP)
  • #28 Ed Scott (NCST) 6-6 (2-2 in ACC/ 4th place)
  • #29 Cameron Hunsaker (UTV) 9-7 (2-2 in B12/ 7th)

Yahya Thomas is probably in ahead of Max. Despite having a lower ranking, his record is better, and he placed one position removed from an auto-bid. Bartlett also poses an interesting dilemma, but he has no signature wins despite a nice 8-3 record. He also got a TD against #1 Sammy Sasso in their dual, eventually losing, 5-3. Ed Scott didn’t compete in the ACC Championships, so I’m not sure what’s going on there. Cameron Hunsaker is the next guy up that could contend.

All in all, I’d say Max is in a good position, but it truly depends on whether they want to gift two bids to Big Ten wrestlers, let alone three, depending on where Bartlett falls on the scale. The lesson of this story is: don’t leave it up to the committee. Win and get in.

Now, let’s close it out with some fun stats from Trackwrestling. Enjoy!

Most Team Points:

1. Spencer Lee 24.0

2. Gable Steveson (MINN) 23.5

3. Jaydin Eierman 21.0

3. Michael Kemerer 21.0

3. Ryan Deakin (NW) 21.0

6. Sammy Sasso (tOSU) 20.0

6. Aaron Brooks (PSU) 20.0

8. Alex Marinelli 19.0

8. Roman Bravo-Young (PSU) 19.0

8. Myles Amine (MICH) 19.0

11. Tony Cassioppi 18.5

12. Mason Parris (MICH) 18.0

Fastest Falls:

1. Tony Cassioppi 0:23

2. Spencer Lee 0:24

3. Sebastian Rivera (RUT) 0:39

4. Joe Lee (PSU) 0:45

5. Beau Bartlett (PSU) 0:56

6. Mason Parris (MICH) 0:58

7. Jacob Warner 0:59

8. Trent Hillger (WISC) 1:08

8. Patrick McKee (MINN) 1:08

10. Michael Kemerer 1:30

Most Match Points:

1.Greg Kerkvliet 52.0 (7 matches)

2. Rayvon Foley 45.0 (5 matches)

3. Spencer Lee 44.0 (3 matches hahaha)

Largest Seed/ Place Difference:

1. Colin Valdiviez (NW) seeded #13 // 6th place // 7 difference

2. Nelson Brands seeded #9 // 4th place // 5 difference (tied with six others)

Total Team Pins:

1. Iowa 6

2. Minnesota 4

3. Penn State 3

3. Michigan 3

3. Michigan State 3

Total Team Techs:

1. Iowa 2

2. Penn State 1

2. Rutgers 1

2. Minnesota 1

2. Illinois 1

2. Michigan State 1

Team Bonus Points:

Iowa - 17 points (6 falls, 2 tech falls, 2 majors) 36 matches

Penn St. - 16.5 (3 falls, 1 tech fall, 9 majors) 45 matches

I pulled this from Overeasy on Hawkeye Report, so I have yet to confirm it. But I believe it. Good stuff.

Next up is the NCAA Championships Mar 18 - 20th in St. Louis.

We should get word on seedings and at-large bids within the next few days.