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Iowa All-American Jacob Warner brings fresh mental approach to NWCA All-Star Classic
197-pounder is off to 3-0 start with pin and 2 major decisions
Jacob Warner wrestled with his own mind during the summer.
He endured thoughts of disappointment from a loss on college wrestling’s biggest stage — that nagging sting of not capitalizing on the big moment and having to settle for an NCAA runner-up finish.
That’s something many wrestlers would have accepted.
“I struggled a lot this summer just thinking I blew the biggest match of my life,” Iowa’s four-time All-America 197-pounder said. “I screwed up. In talking to (Iowa associate head coach) Terry (Brands), getting second and getting seventh isn’t any different. I didn’t get on top of the podium.
“That’s one thing I’ve tried to wrap my mind around it. No matter what you’re not on top of the podium. I had to rethink how I thought and think I didn’t screw up. I didn’t blow it. I’ve blown it every year. I’ve screwed it up every year. Luckily, that’s brought it down to make my mind more at ease.”
Experience has reshaped his mental approach. He is off to a 3-0 start with a pin, major decision and technical fall in the first week of competition. Warner will participate in the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic on Tuesday in Austin, Texas, joining teammate Tony Cassioppi, the Iowa State duo of David Carr and Kysen Terukina, Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen and Iowa Wesleyan’s Adaugo Nwachukwu.
Warner will face Missouri’s Rocky Elam in the first college match between the returning All-Americans.
“It’s another match,” Warner said. “I spent the last five years, getting too nervous for matches, so I’m not doing that anymore. I’m not super worried about it.”
Warner has employed a different approach in his sixth year with the Hawkeyes. He has learned to focus and not freak out before matches. The 23-year-old avoids getting too amped up and nervous too early like the 18-year-old version.
Warner has a better perspective.
“When it comes to the all-star meet, I’ll get there, do my business and move on from that,” Warner said. “It’s November. It’s not March, but it’s an important one to win still.
“It’s more so like I’m a veteran. I know what I’m doing now. I don’t have to worry about my ability. I know my ability. I trust my ability.”
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said Warner has displayed a free spirit and fun attitude. Maybe Warner is trying to loosen up and soak in his final campaign as a Hawkeye.
“He’s always been that way and (I) always liked him that way,” Brands said. “Those are good qualities. Those are actually good memories for me when I think of Jacob Warner.”
A change in approach on the mat between the Big Ten Championships helped elevate Warner at last season’s national tournament. They figured out how he needed to wrestle to win, whether it was from applying pressure, attacking or riding.
“A lot of it was I used to wrestle on the fly,” Warner said. “I didn’t have a great game plan, but I think one thing this summer I started to figure out where I’m really good at and what needs to happen for me to be on top of that podium. In years past, I was just wrestling to wrestle.”
Interestingly, Warner made Iowa’s trip to New York for two days of duals. He made his first trip to the Empire State. Mark off another first in Texas, but he will have some familiar local faces cheering for him.
“I’ve never been to Austin either,” Warner said. “I actually have a lot of high school teammates that live in Austin now, so that will be cool.
“I like wrestling. I like going and competing. I like being able to go to new places. That’s one thing this sport has allowed me to do is travel. I’m super grateful for. I like doing it.”
Like many of their events, Cassioppi will follow Warner to the mat. He will take on Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet at heavyweight in the penultimate bout of the night. A battle of national champions is the main event, pitting Penn State’s Carter Starocci and Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis at 174.
Carr, a two-time All-American and 2021 NCAA champion, will take on Princeton’s Quincy Monday. Their respective fathers, Nate Carr and Kenny Monday, were rivals and NCAA champions for Iowa State and Oklahoma State, respectively. This is the first meeting between the younger competitors.
Terukina will take on Minnesota’s Patrick McKee at 125.
Second-ranked Keckeisen will face two-time NCAA champion and No. 1-ranked Aaron Brooks at 184. Brooks won a regular-season match between the two in Florida last season and also won their national semifinal meeting in 2021.
Nwachukwu will compete in one of four women’s matches. She will wrestle McKendree’s Alara Boyd. Nwachukwu is an NAIA national champion and won a bronze medal at the U20 World Championships in August.
This year marks a return of the All-Star Classic after a four-year hiatus. The event had been a marquee competition, pitting two of the top wrestlers at their weight in a dual format for many decades. It has bounced around the schedule, being at the end of the season, in January and even as an opening competition for wrestlers.
Sometimes it has been hard to get the top wrestlers to commit, but new Name, Image and Likeness policies are a new factor.
“I think the NIL stuff with it, I don’t know if anybody is aware of that, but I think that makes a difference,” Brands said. “And, I think the promoters are no dummies. With the way college athletics is right now there’s ways to get the best talent at one place. There’s a way to do that where they can put some money in their pocket through the NIL framework.
“Not that it’s not a good event anyway. It does get the best talent there. At least it gives you the best chance to get the best talent there.”