IOWA CITY — In its final Big Ten dual of the season, Iowa wrestlers Spencer Lee and Michael Kemerer find themselves dealing with more than top-ranked Penn State.
They’re also preparing for a homecoming of sorts on this business trip, a chance to wrestle in front of family and friends in their home state who will be among a sellout crowd of 15,261 expected for today’s 7 p.m. dual at the Bryce Jordan Center.
"Going back to Pennsylvania is great for my family and friends. They get a chance to see you wrestle, and I get a chance to talk to them after the meet," Kemerer said. "I owe a lot of my success to the people back home, the people I grew up with."
One person the Hawkeyes’ second-ranked 157-pound sophomore will likely not see tonight is the Nittany Lions’ top-rated Jason Nolf.
A knee injury has prevented the 2017 NCAA champion from wrestling since suffering the injury during a Jan. 28 dual at Rutgers, and although he is nearing an expected return to competition, Nolf is unlikely to compete tonight against Kemerer.
Nolf has handed Kemerer two of his three losses at the collegiate level, and Iowa’s 18-0 157-pounder will miss the opportunity to meet the Penn State junior with a 19-1 record.
"The big thing is that you want to wrestle against the best opponent you can every time out," Kemerer said. "That is how you become the best. I’m preparing this week to be at my best. That’s the only way I know how to do it."
Lee, off to a 12-1 start and ranked second in the country at 125, grew up in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, along with Kemerer, and he welcomes the chance to wrestle in his home state for the first time in his college career.
"The biggest thing I can do for them is to focus on my match and being on top of my game. I’m excited to go out there and show people what I can do," said Lee, who faces a wrestler not ranked in the top 10 for the first time in six matches.
While Kemerer will not get a chance to wrestle Nolf, three other Hawkeyes will get a chance to compete against top-ranked wrestlers from Penn State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten).
The Hawkeyes’ second-rated Brandon Sorensen will renew his rivalry with top-rated Zain Retherford at 149, fourth-rated Alex Marinelli faces top-rated Vincenzo Joseph at 165 and North Scott’s Mitch Bowman, now rated 20th at 184, is expected to face Bo Nickal.
Penn State will challenge Iowa (11-2, 6-2) with wrestlers ranked in the top five at 175, 197 and 285 as well, adding to what coach Tom Brands sees as an opportunity for his seventh-rated team.
"We talked earlier about wanting to be in conversation with the top two teams in the country," Brands said. "Right now, we’re on the outside of that top two. Ohio State put us there. Now, we have another chance to assert ourselves."