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UNI’s Parker Keckeisen pursues third straight Big 12 championship
CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa is approaching this weekend’s Big 12 Championships like any other wrestling meet.
Of course the Panthers are well aware of what’s on the line in Tulsa, Okla., but the seriousness of their approach is the same as it’s been all season
Coach Doug Schwab’s team is focused on controlling what it can and trusting its skills.
“We had a good week of practice and just keeping guys calm. Calm, composed,” Schwab said. “Not letting the wheels spin too much. That’s kind of what can happen a little bit this time of year. You stick to your routine as much as you can.”
UNI enters the Big 12 Championships with seven of its 10 wrestlers seeded. Tops among those Panthers is Parker Keckeisen at 184 pounds. He earned the conference’s top seed after an 18-1 season that included an 8-0 mark in Big 12 duals.
“Been there, done that. I mean, nothing’s new (for Keckeisen),” Schwab said. “You’re the man. Go out and smash guys. He’s built a reputation already. I fully expect that he is going to go out and score a whole mess of points every single match.
“He’s ready to take every title that there is in front of him.”
Keckeisen is the Big 12’s two-time defending champion at 184. Those championships have made it five straight conference titles for UNI in the weight class. Before Keckeisen, it was Taylor Lujan. Prior to Lujan it was Drew Foster. Those two previous champions — who Keckeisen said “are my brothers” — have played a large role in the Wisconsin native’s success.
“Taking the torch and running it farther, right? That’s what Drew wanted, that’s what Taylor wanted,” Keckeisen said. “Drew kind of makes me relax a bit. He’s always making me smile. Taylor — I was an usher at Taylor’s wedding — that dude, we’ve put a lot of work in together. They know it’s their job too to help me, and help the team, carry the torch farther.”
Keckeisen will begin his pursuit of a program-record third Big 12 championship against Wyoming’s Quayin Short on Saturday. He understands he’s the guy in his weight class with the target on his back, but his years of experience have taught him that less can sometimes be more.
“More mature and (I) trust in myself more,” Keckeisen said of his experience. “My saying this year is ‘don’t tie my shoes too tight.’ I know I needed to apply that to my practices and to matches.
“It just means relax, and not let the match come to you, but trust your skills more. Trusting going around the wall, not just trusting running through the wall.”
The 2023 Big 12 Championships prelims and quarterfinals begin at 10 a.m. Saturday. Finals begin at 8 p.m. on Sunday (ESPNU).