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Cael Happel’s first postseason victory highlights UNI’s 7-0 first round: NCAA wrestling notebook
Happel’s first postseason victory highlights Panthers’ 7-0 start
TULSA, Okla. — Cael Happel conducted his personal exorcism.
First, he reached a spot in the national tournament after being an alternate last season. Second, the University of Northern Iowa 141-pounder had to make that debut in a venue that hasn’t been home to his best postseason memories, going 0-for in two qualifiers at the BOK Center.
“It feels good to get some demons out of there,” Happel said of his 4-3 decision over Columbia’s Matt Kazimir. “Get that first match out of the way. It’s kind of the most nervous I get for the first one.”
Happel’s first postseason victory highlighted the Panthers’ perfect first session at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Thursday. UNI went 7-0 and held an early tie for fourth in the team standings.
“They did a hell of a job,” UNI Coach Doug Schwab said. “You have to find ways to win tough matches.
“You can only win all of them by winning the first one. So, it’s a really good start for our team.”
Happel lost four matches here before Thursday. Schwab said you try to separate that from the task, but it can seep into the corners of a competitor’s mind. Nerves are natural, but Happel overcame them. The drought has ended, so ride the current to the awards stand.
“OK, let the floodgates open,” Schwab said. “You’ve won one. Might as well win two, three, four and five. That’s his plan.”
One of the keys has been an ability to avoid obsessing over the competition. He made the moments too big during the Big 12 Championships, which didn’t work out well. He’s more apt to look for places to eat Saturday night than dwell on the environment during sessions and between rounds. It has worked.
“This week, I’ve tried to think about this tournament as little as possible,” Happel said. “I’m trying to take it one match at a time and not really think about this whole circus act, going on around me. Just worry about my match.”
Happel’s offensive ability from neutral propelled him. He scored takedowns in the second and third periods. His first points came after a battle on the edge, holding on to Kazimir’s leg for a long time and pulling Kazimir in by one ankle before finishing with points.
“I think Happel had that leg on the edge for about a minute and a half,” Schwab said. “That was a gritty, son-of-a-bitchin’ way to score. That’s what we have to be able to do. We have to be able to find ways.”
Happel and 157-pounder Derek Holschlag didn’t place at the Big 12 Championships held here less than two weeks earlier. They had to rely on at-large bids to qualify and both capitalized with 4-3 first-round wins. Holschlag beat Michigan State’s No. 11 Chase Saldate.
“I’m proud of how a lot of the guys left this building and how they came back,” Schwab said. “They came back in the right frame of mind and ready to win the first match and the first position. The guys did that.”
Kyle Biscoglia (133) sparked UNI’s run. He scored a pin over Oregon State’s Jason Shaner in 6:02. Parker Keckeisen added a 12-3 major decision. Colin Realbuto (149), Austin Yant (165) and heavyweight Tyrell Gordon won by decision.
“Bisco being able to get bonus points is huge,” Schwab said. “Parker getting bonus points was huge.”
Former Iowa high school wrestlers had a successful first round at the NCAA Championships. South Dakota State 197-pounder and former Alburnett two-time state champion Tanner Sloan and teammate Cade DeVos, a former Southeast Polk prep, led the way.
Seventh-seeded Sloan dropped Ohio State All-American Gavin Hoffman, 8-1, in the first round. He tallied two takedowns, including the first on neutral danger zone exposure, and added a reversal with a riding-time point to close the impressive start.
DeVos (174) pinned Central Michigan’s Alex Cramer in 2:13.
Former Bettendorf prep Jack Wagner, who made stops at the University of Iowa and UNI, is the 25th seed at 125 for North Carolina. Wagner upended Oregon State’s No. 7 Brandon Kaylor, 3-1. Minnesota’s Michael Blockhus, who wrestled at UNI, Crestwood and New Hampton, opened with a 3-2 win over Oklahoma State’s Victor Voinovich.
After qualifying tournaments, Appalachian State’s Ethan Oakley (133) and Cal Poly’s Dom Demas (149) thought their seasons were on hold. They failed to make the 33-man brackets, serving as alternates. Due to injuries, both slid into the field and both won their opening-round matches.
Oakley beat North Dakota State’s McGwire Midkiff, 5-3. Demas posted the tournament’s first technical fall with an 18-3 win over Utah Valley’s Isaiah Delgado. Demas, a former All-American for Oklahoma, is in his final season.
Both lost to top-seeded wrestlers in the first round. Oakley fell to Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young, while Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis beat Demas.