Northern Iowa Coach Doug Schwab and the Panthers were not pleased with the performance at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
Six wrestlers qualified, five were seeded and four were predicted by those seeds to contend for All-American honors, giving UNI a chance for its best finish of Schwab’s eight-year tenure.
Instead the Panthers’ unseeded 197-pounder Jacob Holschlag was the lone bright spot, earning All-American honors, and the team finished tied for 24th with 20 points last weekend at Quicken Loans Arena.
“I think the biggest thing is using what we went through this year,” Schwab said. “There are a lot of guys on the stand that we beat, so why are they on the stand and we’re not, so there are some things as a coaching staff we have to figure out and do better, because our guys are certainly capable.”
UNI will have an experienced and balanced lineup next year, possessing the potential to have its most successful season under Schwab and its best finish since the 1992 team. All six qualifiers return, including Holschlag and 2017 All-Americans Max Thomsen and Drew Foster, and two-time NCAA qualifier Bryce Steiert will be back after using his redshirt this year.
“What you guys saw this weekend is nothing (like) what we can do,” said Holschlag, who placed fifth after going 0-2 here in 2017. “That’s some horsepower coming back.”
The Panthers had similar potential this season, but they didn’t produce at nationals.
Big 12 champion Taylor Lujan (174) was the lone quarterfinalist, dropping his next two matches and missing the podium. Foster, a conference titlist who placed seventh last year, won his opener and lost two straight at 184.
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Thomsen (149) was fifth last season and was ranked in the top 10 all year, but was a win shy of making it back on the stand. Foster, who was seventh, won his first match and then dropped the next two. Jay Schwarm and Alber went 0-2, despite being seeded.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed overall,” Schwab said. “How can you not be when you feel like every single guy that we brought has the capability being on that stand, and high on that stand, and then you only put one there?
“Obviously, it hurts, but also our guys are more than their results, too, as far as the people and the men they are and the conversations I’m already having with these guys about how they are going to move forward.”
UNI will have seven with national tournament experience, including Steiert expected to step back in at 165. The Panthers do have some holes, posting a losing record at 133 and getting a 17-10 mark from transfer Logan Ryan at 157. Freshman heavyweight Carter Isley shows promise with 23 wins last season.
Even the more accomplished returners are not guaranteed improvement, unless they devote the time in the offseason. Schwab said Holschlag is a good example of doing extra work and being coachable.
“You do have everybody back, but you don’t get better just because you get a year older,” Schwab said. “There were two guys in this tournament that won it as freshmen and never won it again.”
“If you just think that you get older and you get better, you have to add to your wrestling. You have to be very open-minded as far as being able to build to things that you do well and maybe adding something to your wrestling style.”
UNI has a strong nucleus to its lineup. Current redshirts and a strong recruiting class will add some depth. The Panthers have plenty of motivation.
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“I think we can really turn some heads this next year, but it starts in the room and it starts with guys pushing each other to become better. I don’t think that is going to be hard, because there is a fire with some of these guys right now that just missed out.
“There is a big fire. They’re ready to go. It’s going to be easy to get back to work.”
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