4th and a Mile: Iowa Wrestling Disappoints at the Big Ten Tournament

By RossWB on March 4, 2018 at 9:44 pm
Crash and burn.
BTN Plus

The 2018 Big Ten Wrestling Tournament is over; good riddance.

Iowa finished fourth -- a very distant fourth -- in the team race and crowned no individual champions. That's the first time Iowa hasn't had an individual champion since 2015, but the third time since 2013. This is not a good trend. Iowa finished with 90.5 points and were closer to fifth-place Nebraska (72.5 points) than they were third-place Michigan (118.0 points). Needless to say, Ohio State, the 2018 Big Ten champions, were far out of sight (164.5 points). Iowa had just one wrestler in the finals, Brandon Sorensen, whose match with Zain Retherford had the expected outcome (a loss) although not quite the expected path to that outcome (Sorensen lost just 2-0). 

This was always going to be a bit of a rebuilding year for Iowa, but finishing this far off the pace is still jarring. Three Iowa wrestlers finished above their seeds (Vince Turk, Joey Gunther, and Mitch Bowman), two finished at their seeds (Brandon Sorensen and Sam Stoll), and unseeded Paul Glynn did not place. But four finished below their seeds (Spencer Lee, Michael Kemerer, Alex Marinelli, and Cash Wilcke), in most cases dramatically below their pre-tournament seeds. That hurts because Lee, Kemerer, and Marinelli are the youthful axis on which Iowa wrestling's rebuild is supposed to be built. Lee gave us the least cause for concern -- his lone loss was a narrow one-point loss to Nathan Tomasello, now a four-time Big Ten champion, and he utterly dominated his three wins. Kemerer's defeat and poor placement (he finished t-6th after medically forfeiting his two consolation matches) may be due to lingering injury issues. And two of Marinelli's three losses featured takedowns awarded against him (or not awarded to him) by mere fractions of inches. The optimist might say that Lee and Marinelli were close to having much better weekends; the pessimist might say that results are results and there always seems to be something holding Iowa wrestling back at these events. I leave it for you to decide which is closer to your own truth. 


1) 164.5 -- Ohio State
2) 148.0 -- Penn State
3) 118.0 -- Michigan
4) 90.5 -- Iowa
5) 72.5 -- Nebraska


#2 Spencer Lee -- 3rd Place, 125 lbs (3-1)
Quarterfinals #7 RayVon Foley (Michigan State) W, FALL (2:43)
Semifinals #3 Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State) L, DEC (2-1)
Consolation #4 Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern) W, MAJ DEC (12-0)
3rd Place #6 Luke Welch (Purdue) W, TECH FALL (16-0)

Bar one match, Spencer Lee had a pretty excellent Big Ten Tournament. He routed RayVon Foley in the quarterfinals with a first period pin and he demolished the consolation bracket with a major decision over #4 seed Sebastian Rivera (a marked improvement on his win over Rivera at the dual meet) and a 16-0 technical fall over #6 seed Luke Welch in the 3rd place match. But there was the matter of that one match. Lee lost 2-1 to Tomasello in the semifinals, reversing his 3-2 win from the dual meet. The result was disappointing, but I think there were still some positives to take away from the match. Tomasello unsurprisingly opted to stay neutral rather than take down (after getting ridden for an entire period in their first encounter), which robbed Lee of a point he had picked up in their first encounter. For the second straight match Lee wasn't able to get a takedown on Tomasello -- but I thought he came much closer to getting a takedown this time than he did in the dual meet. He was in deep on Tomasello a few times, but just wasn't quite able to finish. I'm very curious to see a potential rubber match between them at the NCAA Tournament. 

Paul Glynn -- DNP, 133 lbs (0-2)
Round 1 #7 Dylan Duncan (Illinois) L, MAJ DEC (9-1)
Consolation Garrett Pepple (Indiana) L, DEC (3-1)

Expectations were pretty low for Glynn entering the Big Ten Tournament; they were not exceeded. Glynn actually got a fairly manageable draw -- a R1 match against the #7 seed and a first consolation match against an opponent with a losing record -- but it didn't matter. It is rather shocking to realize that Iowa will go from having an NCAA finalist at 133 lbs the LAST FIVE CONSECUTIVE YEARS to not having a wrestler at 133 lbs at all, though. 

Vince Turk -- 5th Place, 141 lbs (4-2)
Round 1 #8 Eli Stickley (Wisconsin) W, DEC (6-0)
Quarterfinals #1 Joey McKenna (Ohio State) L, DEC (4-0)
Consolation Sal Profaci (Michigan) W, DEC (3-1)
Consolation #4 Chad Red (Nebraska) W, DEC (5-4)
Consolation #2 Nick Lee (Penn State) L, DEC (8-3)
5th Place #8 Eli Stickley (Wisconsin) W, DEC (4-1)

Of any Iowa wrestler this weekend, Vince Turk probably has the most reason to hold his head high after this tournament. Turk entered the event unseeded and knowing that he likely needed a Top-8 finish to secure an NCAA Tournament bid (given that his at-large case was tenuous). He accomplished that and then some, going 4-2 and finishing 5th with wins over two seeded wrestlers (one of whom he beat twice). Turk also gave 141 lb champion Joey McKenna his closest match of the tournament, losing 4-0. Turk performed well in both of his wins over Stickley, picked up another win over Profaci, and secured his most impressive win by beating Red in the consolation bracket. Turk showed sharper defense than he had for much of the season, as well as good offense. Turk has very clearly improved from the beginning of the season, which has been a lot of fun to watch. 

#2 Brandon Sorensen -- 2nd Place, 149 lbs (2-1)
Quarterfinals #7 Alfred Bannister (Maryland) W, DEC (4-3)
Semifinals #3 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) W, DEC (7-2)
Championship #1 Zain Retherford (Penn State) L, DEC (2-0)

Sorensen's tournament started on a rough note -- he needed a takedown in the final 30 seconds to beat the unfancied Bannister in the quarterfinals. But from that inauspicious start, Sorensen put together a very solid tournament. He beat the tricky Deakin in the semis, a wrestler who had given him a very tight match at the dual meet earlier this year. The 7-2 score is a little misleading -- the final takedown came in the closing seconds and the second takedown came with 30 seconds or so remaining in the third; it was a 3-1 score before that -- but Sorensen never appeared to be in too much danger. As for the final... well, it was a Sorensen-Retherford match. We know how those end, right? This was one closer than most and Sorensen did an impressive job of defending Retherford's offense. Taking down was a costly mistake (Retherford is a pitbull on top and difficult to escape) and he again struggled to score from neutral, but at least with a close match, the possibility of an upset is still there. Sorensen may get one last chance at that upset in a few weeks. 

#1 Michael Kemerer -- t-6th Place, 157 lbs (2-1*)
Round 1 Jake Danishek (Indiana) W, FALL (3:49)
Quarterfinals #8 John Van Brill (Rutgers) W, MAJ DEC (15-5)
Semifinals #4 Micah Jordan (Ohio State) L, FALL (5:48)
Consolation #6 Andrew Crone (Wisconsin) L, MED FORFEIT
Consolation #2 Jason Nolf (Penn State) L, MED FORFEIT

Kemerer's tournament started well, with a pin and major decision in his first two matches, but went very sour after that. Nursing a narrow 1-0 lead in the third period against Micah Jordan, Kemerer got taken down to his back and pinned. He medically forfeited his next two matches to finish in a tie for 6th, which gives us plenty of concern for what his condition may be at the NCAA Tournament in a few weeks. A healthy Kemerer is obviously a contender to make a deep run and even vie for a title. A limited Kemerer is likely to have another disappointing tournament, which would leave a very bitter aftertaste in his otherwise excellent sophomore season. 

*I'm not including Kemerer's losses via medical forfeit in that win-loss record. 

#2 Alex Marinelli -- 6th Place, 165 (2-3)
Quarterfinal #7 Logan Massa (Michigan) L, DEC (8-6 OT)
Consolation #9 Te'Shan Campbell (Ohio State) W, DEC (9-3)
Consolation #6 Nick Wanzek (Minnesota) W, DEC (11-4)
Consolation #4 Richie Lewis (Rutgers) L, DEC (7-5)
Consolation #7 Logan Massa (Michigan) L, DEC (6-3)

I said before the tournament that the 165 lb weight class was going to be a bloodbath; unfortunately, Marinelli was the biggest victim of that bloodbath, dropping from the #2 seed to a 6th place finish. He wrestled four wrestlers he had faced -- and beaten -- during the regular season... and went just 2-3 against them (he faced Massa twice). He did manage to extend the gap in his wins over Campbell and Wanzek -- those were closer wins at the dual than they were here -- and his losses to Massa (the first one, at least) and Lewis were by the slimmest of margins. The first loss to Massa featured some close calls in terms of takedowns awarded and not awarded and his loss to Lewis featured a takedown by Lewis that was secured by mere centimeters and required a lengthy video review. His second loss to Massa wasn't particularly close; Marinelli frankly looked drained of energy in that match and was unusually slow and lacking in intensity, compared to his usual matches. It would hardly be surprising if a weekend full of grueling matches had finally taken its toll on him. Unfortunately, losses are losses and Marinelli's disappointing 6th place finish here is certainly going to be costly when it comes to his seed at the NCAA Tournament, which means he's likely to see a wrestler like Isaiah Martinez or Vincenzo Joseph a bit earlier than we might have otherwise hoped. 

#7 Joey Gunther -- 6th Place, 174 (3-3)
Round 1 Beau Brekse (Nebraska) W, DEC (4-3 OT4)
Quarterfinals #2 Bo Jordan (Ohio State) L, DEC (8-3)
Consolation Logan Ritchie (Michigan State) W, DEC (2-1)
Consolation #6 Devin Skatzka (Indiana) W, DEC (5-4 OT2)
Consolation #5 Johnny Sebastian (Northwestern) L, DEC (3-2)
Consolation #4 Dylan Lydy (Purdue) L, DEC (3-2)

Gunther was one of the trio of Iowa wrestlers who improved upon his seed, but the nature of his performance makes it difficult to get too excited. For one, he finished sixth, one spot better than his seed of seventh -- nice, but hardly revelatory. For another, he recorded almost no takedowns through the entire tournament. There's something to be said for the sheer cussedness involved in grinding out so many close wins without actual takedowns, but it's very difficult to keep winning matches that way. In related news, Gunther has very clearly replaced Alex Meyer as the most exasperating Iowa wrestler to watch. 

Mitch Bowman -- 8th Place, 184 lbs (1-3)
Round 1 #3 Dom Abounader (Michigan) L, MAJ DEC (13-2)
Consolation #5 Nick Gravina (Rutgers) W, DEC (6-4 OT)
Consolation #8 Brandon Krone (Minnesota) L, DEC (11-7)
7th Place #7 Ricky Robertson (Wisconsin) L, DEC (9-4)

Mitch Bowman's tournament started off with a lopsided loss to Abounader which was disappointing, but not really unexpected. He followed that up with a very solid win, though, toppling #5 seed Nick Gravina, a fringe Top 10 wrestler at 184 lbs. Unfortunately, it was downhill after that, as Bowman lost two matches in a row to the #7 and #8 seeds. Robertson is also a fringe Top 10 wrestler, but Krone isn't, and overall Bowman's efforts here don't speak too highly of his ability to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. 

#3 Cash Wilcke -- 6th Place, 197 lbs (3-2*)
Round 1 Andre Lee (Illinois) W, DEC (4-3 OT4)
Quarterfinals #6 Christian Brunner (Purdue) L, DEC (8-2)
Consolation David-Brian Whisler (Maryland) W, DEC (6-3)
Consolation #7 Zack Chakonis (Northwestern) W, DEC (4-2)
Consolation #4 Kevin Beazley (Michigan) L, DEC (3-1)
5th Place #6 Christian Brunner (Purdue) L, MED FORFEIT

The good news is that Wilcke did enough to secure an auto-bid for the NCAA Tournament. The bad news is that he didn't really do much to give us hope for him being able to do much when he's there. Wilcke was barely able to grind out a win against Lee, a wrestler with a losing record, in his opening match. He lost handily to Brunner, a wrestler not ranked in the Top 20 at 197. He bounced back with a pair of wins in the consolation bracket, but neither Whisler nor Chakonis are the most daunting competition. Wilcke went into last year's NCAA Tournament with little momentum and wound up narrowly missing out on All-America status, so there's some reason to hope for a repeat performance... but it would be a lot better if we had more confidence in Wilcke based on his performances. 

* Like Kemerer, I'm omitting the medical forfeit loss from Wilcke's win-loss record here. 

#4 Sam Stoll -- 4th Place, 285 lbs (3-2)
Round 1 Razohnn Gross (Rutgers) W, DEC (4-1)
Quarterfinals #5 Youssif Hemida (Maryland) W, DEC (8-1)
Semifinals #1 Adam Coon (Michigan) L, FALL (2:13)
Consolation #6 Conan Jennings (Northwestern) W, FALL (1:47)
3rd Place #3 Nick Nevills (Penn State) L, DEC (5-2)

First things first: it's just nice that Sam Stoll was able to stay healthy and finish a Big Ten Tournament. He was hampered by an injury and finished 8th two years ago and missed out on last year's tournament altogether after tearing his ACL in January. Stoll certainly deserved some better luck with health. As far as his performance, well, he beat the opponents seeded lower than him and lost to the opponents seeded higher than him. He looked good against Hemida and Nevills and was unchallenged against Gross. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that his losses to Coon and Nevills were so lopsided; he lost to both in dual meets, but those losses were close; here he was pinned in the first period by Coon and gave up four nearfall points to Nevills to make that match pretty one-sided. We hoped to see Stoll narrowing the gap with those guys, but we saw the opposite, which is unfortunate. 

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