Wrestling Weekend That Was: UNI shows why expectations are high

Observations in wrestling for Dec. 1-3

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The college wrestling season is starting to see big tournaments dot the schedule and high schools opened their first weekend of competition in Iowa. From the Panther train rolling in and out of Vegas to heroics from Hawkeye big man Sam Stoll to a marquee area event, here are some random thoughts on wrestling’s weekend that was.

Leaving Las Vegas on a good note

Northern Iowa showed why the expectations are so high around this group of competitors.

The Panthers finished fourth at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, coming in behind highly-rated programs Ohio State, Michigan and Arizona State in the 46-team field. Maybe they do have what it takes to crack that top 10 at year’s end.

Josh Alber was the 141-pound runner-up, moving up a weight from a year ago. He posted impressive wins over Minnesota’s No. 7 Tommy Thorn and Nebraska’s sixth-ranked Chad Red.

All-Americans Max Thomsen (149) and Drew Foster (184) placed, although it was below their seeds. Fan favorite Taylor Lujan, who has an exciting style of wrestling, matched Thomsen’s fourth-place finish. Lujan lost two matches by a total of five points, taking an early semifinal lead before falling to ASU’s Zahid Valencia, 9-6. Jay Schwarm was seeded 10th and placed fifth with a win over All-American and No. 6 Ryan Milhof at 125.

UNI Coach Doug Schwab had plenty to be proud of, but he also received a strong performance from 197-pounder Jacob Holschlag. The redshirt sophomore, who was teammates with Thomsen at Union Community, placed fourth. Holschlag has grown into the spot, moving up during last season to fill a void after the emergence of Foster at 184.

Holschlag was unseeded and placed fourth, opening with two victories and winning five straight consolation matches. Among his wins were a 9-2 decision over in-state rival Iowa State’s Sam Colbray and a pin of Wisconsin’s No. 18 Hunter Ritter.

“I think our team did a pretty good job of representing UNI wrestling this weekend,” Schwab said in his weekly news conference. “It was really a mini-national tournament. A lot of our guys figured out we can wrestle with the best guys in the country and that we are the best guys in the country.”

Holschlag apparently has been limited and has only wrestled a handful of practices the last month, according to Schwab. He finished 7-2 over the two-day event.

“The kid is gritty, tough (and) really to me that’s what UNI wrestling is about,” Schwab said. “A small-town Iowa boy who wasn’t really highly-heralded coming out. He was a couple-time state champion. I know we were happy when we got him, and he continues to show and improve. I think he showed he’s one of the better 197-pouders in the country.”

Deuce Rachal's bad choice

I think everyone is familiar about what not to do when your team is up by five points and you’re facing a former Greco-Roman Junior World Team member, especially when he has a penchant for pins.

Even Iowa heavyweight Sam Stoll seemed surprised by the throw attempt on the edge of the mat by Illinois’ Deuce Rachal. Stoll sunk his hips and caught Rachal on his back for his third straight fall and fourth in his 5-0 start. The 6-foot-3, 265-pounder strolled back to the mat with an 18-17 victory, helping seventh-ranked Iowa avoid the upset by No. 15 Illinois.

“I’m dumbfounded,” Stoll told media after the dual. “I thought he’d at least make me work.

“It’s like my mom told me a lot … Life’s hard. It’s harder when you’re stupid.”

Another upset denied

Iowa wasn’t the only national power to thwart an upset attempt.

Top-ranked Penn State trailed Lehigh, 15-0, after just three matches, but escaped with a 23-19 victory Sunday, taking the last four matches. Three of the final four decisions were by one point in front of a Lehigh-record crowd of 9.896 at the PPL Center in Allentown, Penn.

Independence tournament

The Independence Invitational has become a spectacle in Iowa prep wrestling. The two-day tournament has expanded to 31 teams. It has Cliff Keen and The Predicament as sponsors. Talking to coaches and parents after competition, which includes teams from the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, Minnesota and across Eastern Iowa, they all said they like the format.

Pool competition is held Friday and then wrestlers are placed in brackets according to their results, facing wrestlers of similar caliber Saturday.

The tournament got over with Fort Dodge winning the team title. Finals matches were stacked with future college wrestlers. Trackwrestling.com writer Andy Hamilton estimated about a dozen NCAA Division-I recruits were in the field. The event has turned into the early season jewel of the area wrestling slate.

Martin's the man

Cornell’s ninth-ranked Josh Martin was the only Ram to go 3-0 at the Candlewood Suites Duals on Saturday hosted University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

The senior 141-pounder earned wins against Elmhurst (Ill.), No. 2 Augsburg (Minn.) and UW-La Crosse, improving to 11-1 this season. Cornell went 1-2 and hosts top-ranked Wartburg Friday.

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

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