UNI's Josh Alber opens NCAA tournament with pin

Panthers win five first-round matches; Wilcke cashes in for opening-round win; Hathaway advances

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Advantage Josh Alber.

The Northern Iowa 133-pounder is competing with relatives, trying to get the most pins from a high-profile move called a “cement mixer,” rolling an opponent to their back from a front headlock position.

Apparently, the next generation of Alber wrestlers present a challenge.

“I have two nephews, who hit it all the time,” Alber said. “Now, we have a competition going with who can get the most pins with it. I’ve got the biggest pin with it, right now. I know that, so they will have to catch me.”

Alber’s latest tally came in the opening round of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Thursday at the Scottrade Center. He sparked UNI to a 5-2 mark in the first session, using the move to pin Michigan State’s Austin Eicher in 2:23.

“I’ve been hitting it since I was little,” Alber said. “It won me a lot of matches when I was younger. I usually hit it when I’m down but caught him off guard because it’s a 0-0 match.”

He calls the maneuver a “gator jack,” which resembles a “Mena roll,” which is named for former Iowa wrestler Mike Mena. UNI Coach Doug Schwab said many wrestlers are too conservative here, wrestling tight at the national tournament. Alber stayed loose and capitalized on the situation.

“I like that he has the (guts) to take a risk there,” Schwab said. “He had it locked down pretty well and went to it.”

Alber stood up after his match and flashed a smile to the UNI coaches in his corner. He purged the butterflies from his body when the match ended. The goal is to have fun and remain relaxed throughout the tournament.

“As soon as that ref slaps the mat, it’s like a flood of emotions that leaves your body that you don’t have to deal with the rest of the tournament,” Alber said. “It’s big.

“Every round that I’m wrestling I’m going to smile.”

The redshirt sophomore is making his second NCAA tournament appearance, going 1-2 in 2016. Schwab said he wasn’t enjoying the moment as much last year. Obviously, it is a lesson learned.

“You’re part of this sport because you enjoy getting the opportunity to compete,” Schwab said. “You sacrifice a lot for these opportunities, why not enjoy them and make the most of them.”

The Panthers received a major decision from redshirt freshman Drew Foster at 184 and decisions from Max Thomsen (149), Bryce Steiert at 165 and 174-pounder Taylor Lujan in the first round.

“Overall, we competed all right,” Schwab said. “As the tournament goes, you have to get tougher. That’s the nature of this event.”

Wilcke Cashes In

Iowa redshirt freshman Cash Wilcke was the last entrant into the national tournament field, receiving a final at-large bid to replace West Virginia’s Jake Smith, who withdrew due to injury.

Wilcke cashed in on his chance, capping Iowa’s first round with a 4-2 decision in sudden victory overtime over Bucknell’s 13th-seeded Tom Sleigh at 197 pounds. He recorded the team’s third victory over a better-seeded foe in tournament competition this season and first since Michael Kemerer’s win in the Midlands Championships final.

“Wilcke, that’s a big for him,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “That’s an upset on paper. He wasn’t supposed to be here. He’s here, so good job.”

Wilcke scored a reversal in the second, showing good match awareness on the edge while being returned to the mat by Sleigh. He recorded the winning takedown just 12 seconds into the overtime.

“He did a good job of putting the nail in the coffin in overtime,” Brands said. “In tight matches like that, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

West's Hathaway Wins

Former Iowa City West state champion Jack Hathaway is making his second NCAA tournament appearance for Oregon State. Hathaway earned his first victory at nationals.

Hathaway trailed early, but pinned North Carolina’s seventh-seeded Joseph Ward in 3:28 at 141.

The Beavers’ redshirt junior advanced to face Wyoming’s returning finalist and No. 10 seed Bryce Meredith in the second round.

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

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