Alex Marinelli (left) and Carson Kharchla (Photos/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
When the Iowa Hawkeyes head east to meet Ohio State tonight, it will be a homecoming of sorts for their 165 lber, Alex Marinelli. The sixth-year senior is a graduate of powerhouse Graham High School in St. Paris, Ohio and became one of the top recruits in the high school Class of 2016 while wrestling in Ohio.
Marinelli won four Ohio DII state titles for Graham and helped lead the school to a #1 ranking in the country as a junior. Before that junior season, Marinelli gave a verbal commitment to the home team, the Buckeyes. A few months later, he changed his mind and committed to Tom Brands' Hawkeyes.
Now, almost six years later, Marinelli will compete on the campus of Ohio State for just the second time. The top-ranked 165 lber in the nation has never lost to a Buckeye opponent and looks to keep that streak intact against seventh-ranked Carson Kharchla.
Like Marinelli, Kharchla is an Ohio product and was regarded as one of the top seniors in the nation when coming out of high school. Kharchla is getting his first taste of Big Ten action, having redshirted in 2019-20 and suffering a season-ending injury last preseason.
Despite the long pedigree of success at the collegiate level (three Big Ten titles and three #1 seeds at nationals), Marinelli should have his hands full with Kharchla. The Buckeye is 15-1 on the year, with his only loss coming in the semifinals of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational to the defending NCAA Champion, Shane Griffith (Stanford), by a single point. Griffith is the same opponent who upset Marinelli in the NCAA quarterfinals, last season. Kharchla already boasts a victory over Griffith's NCAA finals opponent, Jake Wentzel (Pittsburgh), among his 15 wins.
Stylistically, this should be an interesting match. Kharchla is a stocky, ball-of-muscle, that had difficulty with Griffith's length. Marinelli has a body type more similar to his opponent Friday night. The Hawkeye also thrives off of his physicality and being able to bully his competition around the mat. That probably doesn't happen with Kharchla.
Marinelli's 14-0 start has run his record up to 87-10 for his career and only one of those losses came in dual competition (Vincenzo Joseph in January 2020). By the way the schedule has broken thus far, Marinelli hasn't faced any of the key contenders at 165 lbs. His highest-ranked opponent has been #24 Brian Meyer (Lehigh). Though he did win a one-point decision over teammate Patrick Kennedy (Iowa), who would likely be a contender if he were the Hawkeyes starter.
So, will Marinelli maintain his top-billing at 165 lbs in his home state, or will Kharchla continue his ascend up the weight class and signify a possible changing of the guard in the conference power structure? We'll have to tune in to the second half of the Big Ten doubleheader tonight!
#10 Drake Ayala (Iowa) vs. #18 Malik Heinselman (Ohio State)
The Hawkeye true freshman, Ayala, continues to get tested with a veteran from Ohio State, Heinselman. Expect plenty of offense here, as Ayala has the pace and gas tank, which will force action in the bout. Can he get by the crafty Heinselman?
#3 Austin DeSanto/Cullan Schriever (Iowa) vs. Will Bentancourt (Ohio State)
The big Hawkeye-related news last week was that Cullan Schriever was inserted into the starting lineup and had his redshirt pulled. Since then, there has been little clarity given, regarding the situation. If two-time All-American Austin DeSanto goes, Iowa could be looking at bonus points, whereas if it's Schriever, he should have a competitive match with Bentancourt.
#2 Jaydin Eierman/Drew Bennett (Iowa) vs. #23 Dylan D'Emilio (Ohio State)
Again, we could see a multiple-time All-American emerge for Iowa or the new face in Drew Bennett. Drew picked up his first dual win last weekend against Illinois. If no Eierman, the advantage swings over to Ohio State, as they have 2021 NCAA qualifier Dylan D'Emilio. Dylan gave three-time All-American Stevan Micic a tough match during his most recent outing.
#10 Max Murin (Iowa) vs. #2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State)
Despite the close ranking, the only time these two met during collegiate competition, Sammy Sasso was victorious via fall. The 2021 Big Ten champion, Sasso, has been nearly perfect this year, losing only to two-time national champion Yianni Diakomiahlis in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational finals. Murin got back into the top ten after defeating 2021 NCAA third-place finisher Yahya Thomas.
#12 Kaleb Young (Iowa) vs. Jashon Hubbard (Ohio State)
Iowa and Kaleb Young will probably never make excuses, but he was the victim of a rough stretch on the schedule from mid-November through December. Young lost five of seven matches, though all five were to wrestlers currently in the top-11 nationally. Now, without such a grueling set of opponents, Young has reeled off three straight wins. Jashon Hubbard is coming off a title last weekend at the Purple Raider Open. His best dual win of the season came against former teammate Elijah Cleary, who went on to win the MatMen Open.
#2 Michael Kemerer (Iowa) vs. #7 Ethan Smith (Ohio State)
After our headline matchup, it's not time for a popcorn break as the next best match on the docket is ready. Michael Kemerer took some time to return to the mat for Iowa, but has been excellent thus far. He's 4-0 with two falls and a tech. Seeing Ethan Smith will represent a significant jump up in competition, though. Smith is a returning All-American who already has three losses on the year. Don't be fooled by that number. It's a function of his competition as all three came against top-six wrestlers.
#18 Abe Assad (Iowa) vs. #7 Kaleb Romero (Ohio State)
Both Abe Assad and Kaleb Romero have taken time to get into their respective lineups, but both have been worth the wait. Assad is on a four-match winning streak with victories over a pair of returning qualifiers during that stretch. Romero pushed Olympic bronze medalist Myles Amine to the brink during their bout last Friday, before falling in sudden victory. The Buckeye made his season debut at the CKLV Invitational and came away with the title.
#4 Jacob Warner (Iowa) vs. #20 Gavin Hoffman (Ohio State)
A seven-match winning streak for Jacob Warner has elevated the two-time NCAA All-American to a number four ranking this week. This will be the first meeting between Warner and Hoffman, both massive recruits with international experience on their side. Warner was a Cadet World bronze medalist in 2016 at 85 kg. A year later, Hoffman duplicated the feat, at the same weight.
#5 Tony Cassioppi (Iowa) vs. #12 Tate Orndorff (Ohio State)
A clash between a pair of returning All-Americans will close out the dual. Despite the high ranking and 2021 All-American honors, Orndorff has struggled to compete with the Iowa big man. The pair tangled three times in 2021 and all three times, Cassioppi came out on top, with bonus points in each match. Should Ohio State pull an upset or two and keep things close heading into the final bout, Brands and company have their ace in the hole.