IOWA CITY — Alex Marinelli sees a challenge in being the top-seeded wrestler at 165 pounds for the NCAA Championships beginning Thursday.
“If I am the number one guy, I’ve got to prove that this week,’’ the Iowa sophomore said. “If anything, it motivates me.’’
Marinelli enters the three-day tournament at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena with a 23-0 record, expecting to benefit from lessons learned on his way to an all-American finish during last year’s NCAA meet.
He completed the regular season as a freshman with a 14-0 record, but finished sixth in his weight class at both the 2018 Big Ten Championships and the NCAA Championships to finish the year at 19-6.
“I walked away with a lot to learn. It starts with understanding that I need to be the best me that I can be. Every wrestler has a double leg, every wrestler can hand fight,’’ Marinelli said.
“It’s about the consistency you bring to the mat against an opponent. (Wisconsin’s Evan) Wick is good on top, Vincenzo (Joseph of Penn State) is good on his feet, but those things don’t matter if I shut it down and do the things that I can do.’’
Marinelli defeated both on his way to becoming the 200th Hawkeye wrestler to earn a Big Ten championship earlier this month, beating the Badgers’ then third-ranked Wick 2-1 and then top-ranked Joseph by a 9-3 score.
Iowa coach Tom Brands sees a steadiness in Marinelli’s work that has allowed him to come out and compete.
“He’s unique and he’s been that way for a long time. The legend of Alex Marinelli goes back to eighth, seventh grade. People say he’s been the same size forever, 175 pounds playing junior high football, hasn’t changed at all. He was probably 175 pounds at birth,’’ Brands said.
Brands believes that brings a steadiness to the way Marinelli prepares and ultimately, the way he competes.
He describes him as meticulous in the way he prepares, detail oriented and focused from the onset.
“He takes a lot of pride in being the guy on the team who is so ready whenever he steps on the mat,’’ Brands said. “He’s a team guy, somebody all of our guys turn to when they need to talk. He brings that steadiness to our team. He’s ready for this, just plugged in all the way around.’’
Brands said where Marinelli has grown this season as a competitor is in his ability to push forward both within matches and from one match to the next.
“He is recovering quickly from adversity,’’ Brands said. “He was unbeaten in the regular season a year ago, but when adversity hit it was tough for him. He’s moving on now. I think that helps him.’’
Marinelli believes the season has prepared him well for what lies ahead this week.
He’s won seven matches this season against ranked opponents including five wins over wrestlers seeded in the top four in the 165-pound field, second-seeded two-time defending NCAA champ Joseph, third-seeded Joshua Shields of Arizona State and fourth-seeded Wick.
Discounting their losses to Marinelli, the trio has a combined record of 78-3 this season.
“There are good wrestlers at my weight, but my intentions are to go out and wrestle my matches, compete the way I need to compete,’’ Marinelli said. “That’s what matters.’’
Brands said he hasn’t spent much time talking with Marinelli about his seed, preferring as usual to maintain the focus on the next opponent.
In this case, that will be the winner of a match between Joseph Smith of Oklahoma State and Northwestern’s Tyler Morland during Thursday’s 11 a.m. opening round.
“Right now, that’s the only thing that matters. Then, the next one will be the only thing that matters,’’ Brands said. “The difference now is that he understands what is behind you doesn’t matter. It’s the next one and that’s where it starts for him, that next one.’’
That’s the only thing Marinelli is focusing on as the NCAA tourney begins.
“Just go out and wrestle, get to my attacks and compete,’’ Marinelli said. “One match, then the next, just wrestle.’’