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CEDAR FALLS — After day one of the Mid-American Conference Wrestling Championships, the UNI Panthers are feeling pretty good.
Well, most at least. The university event staff might be a little sore after tearing down the entire event Saturday in order to host a women’s basketball game against Missouri State and then having to put it all back together for the second day of the tournament.
That’s a lot of work. But if they’re going to have to do it, it probably is a little better knowing UNI sits second in the team race with 90 1/2 points, 27 behind first-place Missouri, and will wrestle in five individual championship matches.
“Missouri has a lead, but we’re not going to concede anything,” Northern Iowa Coach Doug Schwab said. “We have matchups with them and those are huge matches from a national seeding standpoint, too.”
The Panthers pushed Dylan Peters (125), Max Thomsen (149), Bryce Steiert (165), Taylor Lujan (174) and Dylan Foster (184) into the finals, up from having three last year.
As an added bonus, all five are guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Championships.
Peters got things started off for the Panthers, getting a fall in his first-round match and gutting out a 4-2 decision in his second. It’s the fourth time Peters has qualified for the national meet and he’s done it wrestling just 11 matches this season coming into the MAC Championships.
Peters, however, was the lone upperclassman who will be in the finals Sunday. The rest are sophomores and redshirt freshmen, which says no small thing about the future of the Panther wrestling program.
“Everything is a building block,” Thomsen said. “Layer, throw some cement, layer, just keep going. You can only build up.”
Steiert, Lujan and Foster have been a huge part of Northern Iowa’s scoring and all have been having excellent tournaments. Steiert has been dominating, putting up a 14-3 major decision in the first round before a 10-4 decision put him into the finals.
Lujan and Foster had similar days, grabbing bonus-point wins in the first round (a fall and a major decision, respectively) before battling through close matches in the semifinals.
“Rolling, we’re just rolling,” Lujan said. “We could have a few more and hopefully we can get some titles (Sunday).”
There really isn’t a great chance for the Panthers to catch the Tigers in the team race, but individual titles are not to be discounted. It’s not impossible for UNI to catch Missouri, but the Tigers have six wrestlers in the finals and have wracked up a lot of bonus points.
Action resumes at noon Sunday with the consolation semifinals. The seventh-place matches start at 1:05 p.m. The championship matches, third-place and fifth-place matches begin at 2 p.m.
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