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No. 1 of a kind: UNI’s Parker Keckeisen enters NCAA Wrestling Championships as No. 1 seed in search of first title
184-pound Keckeisen is UNI’s first No. 1 seed since Taylor Lujan in 2020
CEDAR FALLS — Parker Keckeisen isn’t concerned with any number attached to his name.
He will let others judge or apply a computer-generated algorithm to project how he compares to the field.
Northern Iowa’s two-time All-American is focused on having fun and competing against the nation’s best wrestlers.
“It shouldn’t matter,” Keckeisen said. “We talked about consistency, trying to make practice and NCAAs similar.
“The number on your name is someone else’s opinion about where you are. This tournament is an opportunity to go prove that I am that best guy and all of us prove, as a team, we’re one of the best teams in the country.”
Keckeisen earned the No. 1 seed at 184 pounds at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Thursday through Saturday at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. He is one of seven Panthers to qualify for the national tournament and will attempt to improve back-to-back third-place finishes.
Keckeisen (22-1) will face the winner of George Washington’s No. 32 Jha’Quan Anderson (25-14) and West Virginia’s No. 33 Anthony Carman (17-13) in the first round.
“In a sense, it’s just a number,” Keckeisen said of his seed. “Pressure is also a privilege. We get to go out there and show what we do every day here in the room and try to make it the same. We’ve wrestled in the BOK Center (Big 12 Championships site) a lot. Go make it our arena.”
The top seed could place a target on his back or boost to overcome a stacked weight. Penn State’s two-time NCAA champion Aaron Brooks is the No. 3 seed and North Carolina State’s NCAA finalist and second-seeded Trent Hidlay is a two-time All-American and 2022 U23 U.S. World Team member. The top-10 seeds are filled with national qualifiers and All-Americans.
“I think it’s cool,” Keckeisen said about the tough bracket. “I think it’d be cooler to win it, though. You want to compete against the best guys. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it. This is an opportunity to show off our skills.”
Keckeisen has the potential to become UNI’s 10th three-time NCAA D-I All-American. He also became the first Panther to win three Big 12 titles, extending the 184-pound conference title streak that started with UNI’s last national champion, Drew Foster and Taylor Lujan, who was the Panthers’ last No. 1 seed at the national tournament.
Keckeisen recalled a text to Foster, who won the 184 crown in 2019. Foster encouraged him to improve the success of him and Lujan, who was top-seeded at 184 before the NCAA tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“When you think of 184, I want you to think of UNI,” Keckeisen said. “I think we all want to think of UNI and continue to carry that torch and the next person that gets it, they’re going to carry that torch even farther.”
UNI Coach Doug Schwab said the time of Keckeisen hoping he can compete with the elite is long gone. He has established himself as one of the best regardless of size. The seed doesn’t validate his work, but his effort and results do.
“He’s really trusted himself,” Schwab said. “He’s there. He is one of the best guys in the country in any weight class.”
Keckeisen has forged style in aggression and tenacity. Confidence allows him to force the action against any foe. His full-throttle, score-from-any-position attack wears down opponents and gives him a chance to win any match as long as there are ticks left on the clock. Keckeisen strives to be relentless for the entire 420 seconds. Something many can’t match.
“Wrestling the whole time makes it a blast,” Keckeisen said. “Seven minutes is so short of a time for the amount of time we put in the room. So, how can I go out there and make the most of it?”
Schwab was known for his motor on the mat and he has wrestled and coached wrestlers with similar ability to break opponents. Schwab steered clear of comparisons before mentioning former Iowa Hawkeye teammate and two-time NCAA champion Mark Ironside.
“When you start putting yourself in those comparisons that’s pretty high praise and pretty damn good company,” Schwab said. “To me, he’s kind of in his own, right now. Tell me in college wrestling right now who attacks more and puts himself underneath a guy more, who’s more relentless and who has more of a variety of attacks. I’d like to know the list and if he’s not on top of the list he is pretty damn close.
“He’s kind of setting his own precedent as far as I’m concerned. He’s especially doing it for this team.”
UNI at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships
Where: BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.
When: Thursday through Saturday
Coach: Doug Schwab (13th season)
Qualifiers (7): Kyle Biscoglia (133), Cael Happel (141), Colin Realbuto (149), Derek Holschlag (157), Austin Yant (165), Parker Keckeisen (184), Tyrell Gordon (Hwt.) Returning All-Americans: Keckeisen (third at 184) Team ranking: 22nd by Flowrestling
2022 team finish: Tied for 20th
Best team finish under Schwab: Tied for 13th in 2019
Last NCAA champion: Drew Foster (184) in 2019
Last All-American: Keckeisen (third at 184) in 2022