In 2007 the University of Iowa handed over the keys to their blue blood program to one of their star alumni to rejuvenate the program which had taken a tumble from the days of Dan Gable. Tom Brands has now been at the helm for 13 seasons in Iowa City and during that time he has produced three NCAA team titles and helped lead a multitude of individual performances worthy of all-time status. As Tom enters season number 14 and is in search of the first team title in a decade we wanted to reflect back on the top wrestlers at each weight in the Tom Brands Era… The Best of Brands.
*Obligatory note we are only considering college accomplishments, during the NCAA season, for this list. All post-collegiate honors, or freestyle accolades do not apply.
Previous Articles in this series:
The Best: Derek St. John (2011-2015)
Another no doubter in the ‘Best of Brands’ is The top 157-pound wrestler in the Brands era is without question the local product, Derek St. John. Three wrestlers have earned All-American status at this weight class for Tom Brands, but none were more successful than St. John, who made the podium all four seasons, and was a 2014 NCAA champion.
St. John entered the lineup one year after Iowa’s three year title run, though he likely could have been the starter as a true freshman, the team looked to be well positioned for the title which meant Iowa had the luxury of keeping him in redshirt.
St. John’s pinnacle came his junior year when he won an NCAA title over Jason Welch of Northwestern, but injuries slowed his potential in his sophomore and senior seasons. Don’t get me wrong, injuries are a big part of the sport of wrestling, but the fact that St. John reached the NCAA finals while dealing with a knee injury his sophomore season is a testament to his toughness, talent, and ability. Had St. John been closer to 100% we may not view Cornell’s Kyle Dake in the same light, but this sport doesn’t offer much sympathy to ‘what ifs’.
What St. John can hang his hat on is being the first wrestler Brands recruited as a head coach to become a four-time All-American.
Runner-up: Michael Kemerer (2017-Present)
The runner-up for ‘Best of Brands’ is still an active member of the Hawkeyes’ roster, and that is Michael Kemerer, who earned two All-American honors as a freshman and sophomore. Coming out of high school Kemerer was a big-time get at a point in time that Iowa was looking to tap into the Western Pennsylvania pipeline that has since produced three other wrestlers who are now all starters in Iowa’s lineup, including two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee.
It’s comical to look back now and recall that at the time Kemerer broke into the lineup that there were some concerns about how he would fare at 157 given he looked to be a 149-pound prospect early on, but he was forced up the lineup due to the presence of Brandon Sorensen at 149. Now days, Kemerer is expected to take over the 174-pound spot in this year’s lineup. Times have certainly changed.
Kemerer answered those concerns by taking third in the country as a freshman, and he followed that with a fourth place finish in 2018. Last season Kemerer did not compete at all due to injury and he is expected to be a strong candidate for a medical hardship for a sixth year of eligibility. With two top four finishes Kemerer is an easy pick for the runner-up spot though that could change in the near future.
Next in line: Kaleb Young (2019-Present)
And that is because Kemerer could be supplanted by his current teammate Kaleb Young, who took over this weight last season and managed to place fifth in the country. Young established himself as a top ten wrestler early on and while many were hoping for a podium finish it didn’t appear to be a guarantee.
This past season Young was a takedown away from wrestling in the NCAA finals, dropping his NCAA semifinal bout 5-3 to Tyler Berger of Nebraska. With two more seasons of eligibility remaining, many are happy with Young’s early performance and looking forward to seeing what he can do over the next two seasons.
The Best: Mark Perry (2005-2008)
To date the wrestler that holds the honor of ‘Best of Brands’ at 165 pounds belongs to Mark Perry who was a four-time All-American during his time at Iowa. While Perry had a very accomplished career at Iowa he is one of two wrestlers that will appear in this series that was not a Tom Brands recruit. Sure Perry joined the Iowa program while Brands was serving as Jim Zalesky’s assistant, but shortly into Perry’s career Brands headed east for Virginia Tech. When he came back Perry had already wrestled in the finals as a freshman, and was coming off a third place finish as a sophomore.
Over his remaining two years of eligibility Perry won two titles, and both were very memorable. It’s a well-worn story by now, but with Perry’s entire family competing for Oklahoma State it was a shocker that the future star wrestler would join his family’s rival program Iowa. It would mean that Perry would have to actively compete against his own uncle, the head of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, John Smith.
Perry’s first title came over Oklahoma State’s Johnny Hendricks, and it came in dramatic fashion as Perry needed late near fall points to secure the victory. As a senior Perry sustained a knee injury that sidelined him for big portions of the season. When he returned he had to overcome a very tough Eric Tannenbaum of Michigan to win his second title.
No other wrestler has won a title at this weight under Brands since, which makes him a clear favorite to be ‘Best of Brands’ even if Perry really only competed for two seasons while Brands was the head coach. Though Perry can be found in Iowa room developing his potential successor as he remains affiliated with his old college team as a head coach of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club.
Runner-up: Ryan Morningstar (2007-2010)
The runner-up behind Perry is another staff member, current assistant coach Ryan Morningstar, who earned two All-American honors during his career. After Perry graduated it allowed for Morningstar to move up in the lineup where he enjoyed a good amount of success. As a junior he placed third in the country and closed out his career with a seventh place finish.
While Perry is helping groom the future of this weight, Morningstar’s replacement for runner-up is closing on him fast, and a lot of that is his own doing. On the outside staring in is current Hawkeye junior Alex Marinelli, who has placed sixth and seventh in his first two years in the lineup, and all things considered he is very much in the title contention for this coming season.
Morningstar played a pivotal role in the recruitment of Marinelli, and the pair share a close bond.
Next in line: Alex Marinelli (2018-Present)
This coming season Marinelli will have an opportunity to slide up the list and overtake his current coach in the ‘Best of Brands’. This past season Marinelli was an undefeated wrestler, and he won a Big Ten title defeating the NCAA’s two-time defending champion, Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State. He entered NCAA’s as the top overall seed, but fell victim to eventual champion Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals.
If Marinelli has another season like he did in 2019 he will move closer to overtaking Morningstar on this list, or perhaps he will if exceeds his 2019 season’s performance.