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CEDAR FALLS — Drew Foster didn’t get a second look from many in college wrestling circles at the start of last season.
He gained plenty of attention when all was said and done, especially if fans were focused on the parade of All-Americans at the national tournament.
Foster ascended the ranks, turning around a losing freshman record into a 26-6 mark and a seventh-place NCAA finish as a sophomore. The Northern Iowa junior looks to make another jump that helped him leap frog most of his competitors in the national rankings and onto the final podium.
Foster is ranked fourth by Trackwestling.com to open the season, but hasn't rested on last year’s performance.
“It’s been the same approach since day one,” Foster said. “I’ve just been trying to get better on and off the mat. Just doing good things to make me a better person and a better wrestler.”
UNI Coach Doug Schwab praised Foster’s devotion to a championship lifestyle. The change has extended beyond the mat, branching into all aspects of his daily life.
“He hasn’t just done better in the wrestling room,” Schwab said. “It’s not like he said I’m just going to take care of everything in the wrestling room. He’s taken care of his school really, really well. He’s living really, really well.
“He’s cleaned up every area of his life. He wants to be a great teacher. He wants to impact lives, so he’s trying to make sure the things he wants to do beyond wrestling that he’s being a great role model in those things.”
Foster is not the demonstrative type, making an exception for a low-key celebration after a big victory. He prefers to let his actions speak and influence others.
“I want to lead by example,” Foster said. “I’m not real vocal. I’m more with actions. I feel like I can do that in front of the team in how I live my life, how I’m doing in school and on the mat stuff, too.”
As much of an impact as Foster has on his teammates, it pales in comparison to the one UNI assistant coach Randy Pugh has made on Foster. Pugh was the one that turned coaches’ attention to Foster, who was a three-time state medalist and 167-match winner without a state title at Mediapolis.
Pugh saw something in Foster and the pair has spent numerous hours working together. Pugh has been essential in Foster’s progress.
“That’s my personal coach,” Foster said. “A lot of guys on the team will joke around and say, ‘There’s your dad’ and that kind of thing, which is funny.
“The investment he put in me really means a lot and it’s helped me out a whole bunch.”
Foster earned an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament with a runner-up finish in the Mid-American Conference Championships, but shined at the national tournament. He defeated three top-10 ranked foes, going 4-2 against the nation’s best.
The results cemented the fact he could compete with anyone.
“I definitely believed in myself that I was capable and just going out and doing it,” “As far as this year, it’s the same expectations. Just improve, get better. I’m not really results based in that aspect, but I just want to be better than I was last year.”
Schwab said the focus has been to improve Foster’s ability to ride and finish shots, leading to higher-scoring matches. Foster made huge strides last season and he has made similar gains since March. Schwab said Foster is also starting with added confidence based off his success.
“You saw it last year,” Schwab said. “He’s taken it to a whole other level.
“It’s great that he’s an All-American. He can be a national champion, too. That’s the next step for a guy like him, because he’s knocking on that door.”
SCHWARM’S THE MAN
UNI Coach Doug Schwab wants the Panthers to exude confidence. He repeatedly emphasized the need for wrestlers to believe in themselves and their training.
One wrestler with a little swagger is 125-pound sophomore Jay Schwarm, who appears to be the successor to two-time All-American Dylan Peters.
“For him now, the shift is I’m not stepping in for somebody,” Schwab said. “I’m the guy.
“You kind of see how Schwarm struts around a little bit. He’s got some chest hair, so he feels good about that, but he walks out there like he’s the man and that’s what we want. To me, he's distanced himself.”
Schwarm was 15-10 last season as an undersized starter, starting when injury sidelined Peters. Among his highlights were a win over Iowa State’s Kyle Larson and a marquee win in his last match over Missouri’s ranked Barlow McGhee.
“He’s gotten better on his feet,” Schwab said. “He’s gotten stronger, which was a big thing for him. He got horsed a little bit last year.”
STEIERT TO REDSHIRT
UNI junior Bryce Steiert and Panthers Coach Doug Schwab confirmed that he plans to redshirt this season and will not be in the starting lineup. Steiert is a two-time NCAA qualifier, wrestling at 157 as a freshman and 165 last year.
Steiert posted a 22-6 mark as a sophomore and is 45-17 over the last two seasons. He will continue to compete in open tournaments, including Iowa State’s Harold Nichols Open this weekend.
“We’re going to keep him real close to the team,” Schwab said. “It’s not like a redshirt you’re off on your own.”
“There’s some areas we’ve talked about that we want to help him grow and see him take some of those steps. It was something that we talked about and he wants to do. I think it’s a great thing.”
Sophomore Isaiah Patton could step into the 165-pound spot, according to Schwab. Patton was 11-6 last season and 19-9 during a redshirt campaign.
“A guy like Isaiah Patton has put in a ton of work in these last two years,” Schwab said. “Now, it’s just believing your work.
“We have guys capable of stepping up and stepping up in a big way.”
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