By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — If you look at Alex Marinelli’s collegiate wrestling story, the opening of chapter two reads a lot like chapter one. Now the University of Iowa’s 165-pounder is trying to improve the conclusion.
Marinelli is a redshirt sophomore from Miamisburg, Ohio. A year ago, he completed his first regular season in the varsity lineup 14-0 and capped it with a fall on the road against a rival opponent (Iowa State). Similarly on Feb. 24, 2019, Marinelli pinned Jonce Blaylock of Oklahoma State in 2:44 in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and will head to the postseason 20-0.
That adds up to a two-year regular-season mark of 34-0, 25-0 in dual meets.
The spotless records look comparable and Marinelli claims to be an improved version of his freshman self.
“I’m wrestling with more freedom,” Marinelli said. “My mindset is different spiritually.”
En route to his 20-0 record this season, Marinelli has posted two victories over Wisconsin’s Evan Wick, who was ranked second and third in the nation at the time. In wins over No. 5 Josh Shields of Arizona State and No. 6 Isaiah White of Nebraska, Marinelli allowed a total of one point.
He has prevailed in close matches (2-0 in sudden victory), but he has been more prone this season to racking up a lot of points, posting four major decisions, a technical fall, and nine falls.
His most recent pin over Blaylock tied the Iowa-Oklahoma State dual, 12-12, after six matches.
“(Iowa associate head coach) Terry (Brands) tells me I’m getting better every match and I capped the dual season off the right way,” Marinelli said. “I feel like I am ready for Big Tens. I’m excited and I’m feeling good.”
Feeling excited, good… and different.
Last season he opened the Big Ten Tournament with an overtime loss to Logan Massa of Michigan. He was 2-2 in the next four matches and finished sixth in the conference. The win-loss symmetry continued at the NCAA Championships: Marinelli won his first three matches and dropped his final three to finish sixth and earn All-America honors.
“Now is where we’re going to see the growth,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said.
In 15 duals this season, Marinelli scored a team-high 77 points, averaging 5.13 team points per dual. That is the most by a Hawkeye since two-time NCAA champion Brent Metcalf averaged 5.35 in 2009-10.
“Last year I was a little more scared to lose and scared to make a mistake,” said Marinelli, who was named Big Ten Wrestler of the Week on Feb. 19. “Now it’s like, ‘OK, I’ve lost before and I’ve experienced it, now I have nothing to worry about because I don’t have anything to lose.'”
Five of the top seven 165 pounders in the country will fill the bracket at the Big Ten Championships from March 9-10 in Minneapolis. Marinelli could make a claim as the top seed because of his 9-6 victory over 2018 national champion Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State on Feb. 10, 2018. Regardless if he sits at No. 1 or No. 2, the goal is to finish much higher than No. 6.
“Let’s do better than last year,” Brands said. “Our focus is on finishing strong and continuing to stay sharp and crisp and get sharper and crisper.”
Marinelli will spend the days leading up to the postseason listening to his body and making sure he feels good. In fact, most of his grueling workouts — except one or two — are over.
“I feel something is different about this season,” Marinelli repeated. “I’m feeling good and hungry.”