Iowa hoping season dominance carries over to Big Ten meet

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              FILE - In this March 23, 2019, file photo, Iowa's Spencer Lee, left, celebrates his win over Virginia's Jack Mueller (not shown) in their 125-pound match in the finals of the NCAA wrestling championships in Pittsburgh.  Ten of the Hawkeyes’ 13 dual-meet wins came against nationally ranked teams, including a 13-day stretch in January in which they defeated Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State, teams that finished in the top five in the final national rankings. They go into this weekend’s Big Ten championships in Piscataway, N.J., with every wrestler seeded in the top three in their individual classes. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s top-ranked wrestling team made it through the regular season undefeated.

Ten of the Hawkeyes’ 13 dual-meet wins came against nationally ranked teams, including a 13-day stretch in January in which they defeated Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State — all teams that finished in the top five in the final national rankings.

They go into this weekend’s Big Ten championships in Piscataway, New Jersey, with every wrestler seeded in the top three in their individual classes, with 125-pounder Spencer Lee and 174-pounder Michael Kemerer seeded No. 1.

Coach Tom Brands demurred when asked if the Hawkeyes are “prohibitive” favorites.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know how we compare to others.”

The Hawkeyes have shown all season how they compare against some of the best teams in the nation. Iowa, which went undefeated in the regular season for the first time since 2010, went 108-22 in individual matches during its dual-meet schedule.

The closest dual meet was a 19-17 home win over No. 2 Penn State on Jan. 31, when they needed wins from 197-pounder Jacob Warner and 285-pounder Tony Cassioppi in the final two matches for the victory.

Lee and Kemerer went undefeated this season, and 141-pounder Max Murin, 149-pounder Pat Lugo and 165-pounder Alex Marinelli lost just once.

All 10 wrestlers going to the Big Ten championships are nationally ranked.

“We’ve seen a lot of the top guys (in the Big Ten) this year, and that’s a good thing,” Kemerer said. “I’m sure a lot of them look forward to a second chance. We look forward to another opportunity.”

“It’s awesome,” Lee said of the Hawkeyes’ depth. “We’re striving to be the best team Iowa has ever had.”

Lee, a two-time NCAA national champion at 125, outscored his opponents 183-13 in 15 matches. Three of the victories were pins, and eight were by technical fall.

“It’s about scoring points,” said Lee, who finished second and third in his two previous Big Ten championships appearances. “Don’t stop, no matter what. Even if the other guy doesn’t want to score points, you keep scoring points.”

Marinelli didn’t mind when asked if the Hawkeyes were favorites.

“We like it that way, but we don’t take anything for granted,” he said.

It’s still a young team. Lee, Marinell and Kemerer are making their third Big Ten appearances, with Marinelli winning the 165-pound title last season. Murin, Lugo, Warner, 157-pounder Kaleb Young and 133-pounder Austin DeSanto are wrestling in the tournament for the second time. Cassioppi, a redshirt freshman, and freshman 184-pounder Abe Assad are making their first appearances.

“Our best wrestling is in front of us,” Brands said. “That’s always how you operate. There are a lot of reasons to perform now and you will see your opponents’ best foot forward, so to speak. I think our guys do a good job of putting importance on each event.”

Iowa, which finished third behind Penn State and Ohio State in last season’s conference meet, has won 35 Big Ten championships, the last one in 2015. The Hawkeyes have 23 NCAA championships, but none since 2010.

The Hawkeyes’ depth may be enough to break both of those droughts.

“Each individual doing their job, that’s the key,” Lee said. “If I do my job, and the other nine guys do their job, we should win, right? Because everybody did their jobs.”