Top-ranked Iowa wrestling team earns a statement win over No. 6 Wisconsin

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Alex Marinelli celebrates his emotional win at 165 pounds. Photo courtesy of Brian Ray, Hawkeyesports.com

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Led by a deep and talented lineup, and energized by a loyal fan base that withstood adverse weather conditions to give its support, the Iowa wrestling team showed on Sunday why it currently sits atop the rankings.

What transpired on the mat also showed that the gap between No. 1 and No. 6 is incredibly wide as sixth-ranked Wisconsin never really stood a chance in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

Iowa won nine of 10 matches and rolled to a 32-3 victory before an announced attendance of 10,603 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

In one of the marquee matchups, Iowa’s second-ranked Alex Marinelli recorded a takedown late in the third period to edge third-ranked Evan Wick 4-2 at 165 pounds.

Marinelli's victory was Iowa’s sixth in a row in the dual and expanded the lead to 20-0 with four matches remaining.

It has been an emotional week for Marinelli, whose friendship with former Wisconsin wrestler Eli Stickley is the subject of a documentary that the Big Ten Network was scheduled to air after Sunday’s dual, which the network also televised.

Stickley was killed in an automobile accident on July 5, 2018. He was driving to Iowa City to surprise his twin sister, Moriah, to whom Marinelli was going to propose that weekend.

Stickley’s twin sister is now Marinelli’s wife and also Iowa’s Director of Operations for wrestling.

“My in-laws are in town, my cousins and stuff like that on my wife’s side, they made it a great weekend,” Marinelli said. “They cooked a good Thanksgiving meal and got me ready.

“And them being a part of the Wisconsin family, it definitely does make it a little different, obviously. But it’s something that’s special that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”

The Hawkeyes dominated some of their matches on Sunday, including at 174 pounds where Michael Kemerer pinned his opponent at the 5:47 mark.

But Iowa also won all but one of the close matches that could have gone either way.

Iowa coach Tom Brands was asked after Sunday’s match if a team can make a statement in early December.

“If you keep getting better, you know the most important time of the year is March,” Brands said. “That Big Ten and that national tournament, and the national tournament more importantly is the most important thing.

“You can make statement wins any time. Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, you’ve just got to keep getting better as you go forward. Peaking is a mindset.”

It feels good to be able to say the top-ranked Iowa wrestling team again, even if it is only the first day of December.

Penn State suddenly appears vulnerable, at least by its dynasty-like standards, and Iowa supposedly has its best lineup in quite some time, and maybe is ready to seize the moment.

The Nittany Lions lost to Arizona State in a recent dual, and though it wasn’t Penn State’s full lineup, the loss still raised eyebrows.  

Only time and performance will determine if Penn State’s dynasty is in jeopardy, but judging from Iowa’s performance on Sunday, it could be a hotly contested battle for the national title in March.

Sunday’s match ended with an intriguing matchup at 285 pounds between Iowa freshman Tony Cassioppi and Badger sophomore Trent Hillger, who is ranked second nationally.

Cassioppi scored a takedown in the first period and that worked the crowd into a frenzy. He then lifted Hillger and slammed to the mat, which also delighted the fans.

Cassioopi would go on to win 3-2, handing Hillger his first loss of the young season.

Cassioppi drew praise from Tom Brands after the match.

“This Cassioppi guy gets up for big matches,” Tom Brands said. “He gets ready to wrestle these matches and he goes out there and performs.”

Junior Spencer Lee started the dual in spectacular fashion, winning by technical fall over Michael Cullen with 1:46 still left in the second period. That match was stopped with Lee leading 16-0.

Lee is the two-time defending NCAA champion at 125 pounds, and though it’s still early, he seems poised to make it a three-peat.

His trouncing set the stage for the much-anticipated showdown between top-ranked Seth Gross from Wisconsin and second-ranked Austin DeSanto from Iowa at 133 pounds.

DeSanto controlled the match almost from start to finish, winning 6-2.

The crowd chanted “let’s go Hawks” with DeSanto leading 6-2 in the third period. The Drexel transfer, who finished fifth at the 2019 NCAA Championships, then waved to the fans as he left the mat victorious, and with Iowa leading 8-0 after two matches.

DeSanto was asked if he felt like an underdog against Gross, who started his career at Iowa before transferring out of the program.

“I just went out and wrestled,” DeSanto said. “I know that he’s a professional, he’s an adult and he’s going to come back harder. He’s a man, but I just wrestled man.”

Marinelli credited DeSanto’s aggressiveness for getting him even more motivated to wrestle on Sunday.

“I’m just proud of my teammates, honestly,” Marinelli said. “I can get emotional, but DeSanto beating Seth Gross the way he did, Seth Gross is a great competitor and he just stayed on his attack and that’s what I thought I needed to do, too.

“So you feed off of great energy and it’s better to move on with success. These guys are my brothers and when they win like that, you want to do the same thing.”

Ninth-ranked Max Murin then literally hung on to 10th-ranked Tristan Moran’s ankle in the final seconds to secure a 3-2 win at 141 pounds.

Murin’s victory expanded the lead to 11-0, and helped to energize the crowd even more.

Third-ranked Pat Lugo then won his match 5-3 at 149 pounds and that gave Iowa a commanding 14-0 lead.

Fourth-ranked Kaleb Young then defeated unranked Garrett Modell 12-6 at 157 pounds to give Iowa a 17-0 lead at the break.

Iowa’s only loss came at 184 pounds where Johnny Sebastian edged Cash Wilcke 7-5 in overtime.

Iowa 32, Wisconsin 3

125 – Spencer Lee tech fall over Michael Cullen, 16-0

133 – Austin DeSanto won by decision over Seth Gross, 6-2

141 – Max Murin won by decision over Tristan Moore, 3-2

149 – Pat Lugo won by decision over Cole Martin, 5-3

157 – Kaleb Young won by decision over Garett Model, 12-6

165 – Alex Marinelli won by decision over Evan Wick, 4-2

174 – Michael Kemerer pinned Jared Krattinger in 5:47

184 – Johnny Sebastian (W) won by decision over Cash Wilcke, 7-5 in overtime

197 – Jacob Warner won by decision over Taylor Watkins, 5-2

285 – Tony Cassioppi won by decision over Trent Hillger, 3-2