Iowa’s Austin DeSanto hugs head coach Tom Brands after defeating Arizona State’s Michael McGee in a 3rd place match at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Little Caesers Arena in Detroit, Michigan on Saturday March 19, 2022. DeSanto won by 7-4 decision. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
DETROIT — Alex Marinelli’s voice cracked as he reflected on his college wrestling career.
Austin DeSanto noted that the University of Iowa made his life better and prepared him for what came next, while Michael Kemerer said he was happy with his decision to extend his time as Hawkeye.
The emotion was almost palpable, whatever the end resulting in victory, defeat or a withdrawal, as a handful of seniors put on the black and gold jersey one last time.
Each earned All-America honors and helped third-ranked Iowa finish third at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday at Little Caesars Arena.
The Hawkeyes had five winners, including 197-pound runner-up Jacob Warner, and locked their spot in the tag team race with 74 points heading into championship games.
Kemerer became Iowa’s first five-time All-American, receiving National Wrestling Coaches Association honors in 2020 when the national tournament was canceled. He finished fourth at 174.
“I’m a competitor, so I hate losing,” Kemerer said. “It’s hard to put that aside. At the same time, the other voice inside me is trying to tell me how grateful I should be and how good my college career has been.
“All the good things I would say to someone else, I try to tell myself. That little battle over there.
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The leader, affectionately nicknamed “Grandpa Mike” due to his age, and 2021 NCAA runner-up opted to return for a seventh season, enduring injury to clinch his fourth top-four finish.
“It’s funny,” Kemerer said. “It makes me feel old and then I realize I’m 25 and I have a lot of life left to live. The joke was funny.
“Honestly, even though I didn’t get what I wanted, I have no regrets about coming back. I learned a lot about myself. It’s been an amazing journey.
Kemerer’s season was indicative of the team’s – filled with injuries and adversity. He made a habit of dazzling Hawkeye fans and overcame a shoulder injury to record back-to-back sudden consolation wins to reach the bronze medal bout. He beat Michigan’s Logan Massa 6-4 in the consolation semifinal before losing to North Carolina State’s fourth-seeded Hayden Hidlay in his final.
He demonstrated the “no give up” and selfless nature, doing whatever it took to win for the team. Kemerer had an idea of the lasting impression he wanted to make.
“Somebody who was fun to watch wrestle and did it well,” said Kemerer, who became the 41st Hawkeye with 100 career wins, “and that left it all on the mat.”
DeSanto and Marinelli joined Kemerer as four-time All-Americans. Marinelli notched his best result, fighting back after an upset quarter-final. The realization also came with the sobering reality that it may not have included the ultimate individual prize for any of them.
“It’s a big deal, but you know what I wanted,” Marinelli said. “You know I wanted the title. I have to be thankful and thankful for what I’ve done, but I know I’m better than that. This tournament is tough. I have to enjoy the ride and the journey. It was awesome.
Marinelli was just one of eight Hawkeyes to be a four-time Big Ten Conference champion. National gold eluded him, but he had a global impact.
“My goal and my word that I like to describe myself is a champion,” Marinelli said. “If I don’t get what I want, I can still be a champion off the mat. I can still be a champion the way I carry myself.
DeSanto reached the semifinals and won both of his games on Saturday. He went 5-1 in the tournament, dropping to 20-4 this season. He beat Illinois’ Lucas Byrd, 10-6, to start the day and finished with a 7-4 decision over Arizona State’s third-seeded Michael McGee.
DeSanto had to react after his title hopes were dashed on Friday.
“You can’t just give up,” DeSanto said. “There are people in the trenches and people working. You have to get the next best thing. You have to.”
DeSanto, who started his career at Drexel, said his experience has been great since moving to Iowa. He said he was a better person being part of the Hawkeye program, which prepared him for a transition from student-athlete to the real world.
DeSanto assumed what would have been had he not arrived in Iowa City.
“At home, living with my parents, playing video games all the time,” DeSanto said, “and being a bum.”
DeSanto also shared what he wanted people to remember.
“How hard I worked, not just in the room, but the mental side of things and being a good teammate,” DeSanto said.
Heavyweight Tony Cassioppi rounds out Saturday afternoon’s medalists. He beat Nebraska’s Christian Lance, 2-0, for seventh place.
“I think I’m much better than what I finished today in the group,” Cassioppi said. “There are a lot of tough heavyweights, but I think I just should have been better.”
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