UNI Panthers

5 things to watch for UNI, Iowa State and former Iowa preps at NCAA wrestling

Panthers push for best finish under Schwab; Degen lone Cyclone in the field

Northern Iowa’s Taylor Lujan (right) wrestles Wisconsin's Ryan Christensen in a 174-pound match during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa’s Taylor Lujan (right) wrestles Wisconsin's Ryan Christensen in a 174-pound match during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

The NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Here are five things to watch from UNI, Iowa State and former Iowa preps.

1. Is this the year UNI cracks the top 10?

UNI has six qualifiers, including All-Americans Max Thomsen at 149 and 184-pounder Drew Foster. Five Panthers have national tournament experience. Two-time qualifiers Taylor Lujan (174), Josh Alber (141) and Jacob Holschlag (197) join Thomsen, Foster and 125-pounder Jay Schwarm, who leads the team with 15 pins. Lujan and Foster won Big 12 titles, helping UNI get second behind national power Oklahoma State.

The Panthers were 18th last year and were 15th under UNI Coach Doug Schwab in 2013 and 2014. This year should be their best finish. The top 12 is likely with top 10 a possibility if all goes their way.

“Nobody is going to be overwhelmed or surprised by anything that comes their way,” Schwab said. “I know these guys are ready to make their mark, individually and as a program. The three days in Cleveland are going to be a lot of fun for me as a coach being able to watch these guys compete and let it go.”

2. Taylor Lujan's unfinished business

For the last two seasons, Lujan has been one of the most exciting wrestlers on the UNI roster. He is a fan-favorite, willing to mix things up in competition and attempt to score from any position.

Last year, as Thomsen and Foster earned spots on the podium, Lujan missed it by two wins.

Lujan is seeded seventh this year and opens with Virginia’s Will Schany (18-12). He has a manageable path two the quarterfinals, where Penn State NCAA champ Mark Hall likely awaits. He would need just one more win after getting to the quarters, which is very possible.

3. Consolation prizes

UNI has five seeded wrestlers but none better than seventh. Alber and Thomsen are No. 9 seeds, Foster is the eighth seed, while Schwarm is 16th.

That means they could face one of the top two wrestlers of their respective brackets in the opening two rounds. It’s not out of the question that they pull an upset, but the way they rebound in consolation matches could be crucial to their individual and team success. H

olschlag has the toughest draw, facing Missouri’s two-time All-American and sixth-seeded Willie Miklus in the first round.

4. Jerrett Degen the lone Cyclone

Iowa State qualified just one wrestler in Kevin Dresser’s first year as head coach, attempting to rebuild the Cyclones program. Jarrett Degen followed Dresser and some staff from Virginia Tech. The redshirt freshman from Belgrade, Mont., is 20-9 and opens against Nebraska’s 13th-seeded Colton McCrystal.

Last year, Iowa State tied for 57th with one point. Degen could get a win or two, but don’t expect much more.

5. What former Iowa preps could place

Four former Iowa preps are in the field for out-of-state programs.

Henry Pohlmeyer, a Johnston state champion, was a 141-pound at-large pick for South Dakota State.

The 149-pound bracket has McCrystal, a two-time state titlist for Sergeant Bluff-Luton, and Eastern Michigan’s Kyle Springer, who wrestled at Davenport Assumption.

Miklus (22-3) was a two-time state champ at Southeast Polk. Miklus, a redshirt senior and medalist at 184, is a safe bet to place. McCrystal could make his way to the lower end of the podium.

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com



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