116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DETROIT — After a crushing quarterfinal loss, Northern Iowa All-American Parker Keckeisen was processing his stunning defeat inside his hotel room when there was a knock on the door.
Outside was Panthers head coach Doug Schwab, and Schwab had a story to tell Keckeisen.
“Doug told me one of the proudest moments of his career, I think it was his junior year because he won as a sophomore, but he came back and got third, lost in the quarters,” Keckeisen related. “He was very proud of that, and he talked about there was no fricking way he wasn’t going to come back and take third. He shared that story, and I kind of felt the same way that I have to go take it.”
It didn’t go perfectly, but Keckeisen rallied to beat Nebraska’s Taylor Venz, 7-5 after trailing 4-1, in the blood round to become UNI’s 35th two-time All-American.
Then, in the consolation quarterfinals, he built an early lead against Cornell’s Jonathan Loew before holding on for a 7-6 victory.
Keckeisen, third a year ago at 184, will face North Carolina State’s Trent Hidlay in a consolation semifinal Saturday morning.
“That blood-round match was not my best effort, but I got the job done,” Keckeisen said. “I think a lot of weight came off my shoulders…the blood round is not a fun round, it kind of sucks. But a lot of fun came out and it was going out there and have fun. I did.”
Schwab had no doubt Keckeisen would rebound.
“Those weren’t perfect matches by any means, but he got his hand raised twice,” Schwab said.
During the opening session Friday, UNI learned how little the margin of error is in the championships.
Coming off a strong opening day that saw the Panthers in sixth in the team standings and with six wrestlers fighting for the chance to become all-Americans, UNI was hurting after the day’s first session.
Keckeisen was the last man standing for the Panthers, and he was hurting too.
Keckeisen lost for just the second time this season, 6-5, in the 184-pound quarterfinals to Cal Poly’s Bernie Truax. Four other UNI wrestlers lost in the match before the All-American round.
“It is a tough-assed tournament,” Schwab said. “Margins are small. They are always small. You’ve got to figure out how to put them in your favor more, more and more.
“The thing is … you see these hallways, and I don’t think there is a coach walking around here that feels good. That tells you how brutal this sport is but how it also forges you, grows you as a person. Even deep down if it tears your heart out, we still love it.”
The session started off well for the Panthers.
Brody Teske beat Penn State all-American Drew Hildebrandt, 8-4, as UNI won four of five consolation second-round matches. Colin Relabuto beat Duke’s Josh Finesilver at 149, Austin Yant topped North Dakota State’s Luke Weber, 3-2, at 165, and Lance Runyon rolled passed Nick Incontera of Penn at 174, 8-2.
Then things turned for the worse.
Keckeisen, third at 184 last year, made two semi-strategic errors against Truax, an All-American at 174 in 2021, who used his length and flexibility to slow down Keckeisen.
Truax caught Keckeisen reaching on a long takedown attempt off the opening whistle and took an early 2-0 lead. Keckeisen battled back, scored his own takedown and the match was tied 3-all after 1. In the second, once again Keckeisen reached a bit too far and Truax countered to score.
“He took enough risks,” Schwab said. “Parker got to his legs, but he split every time. Usually, Parker is able to get tight, change direction and finish. There were probably four or five times he (Truax) split, and his other foot is almost to the other darn mat. That is a hard thing to pull back.”
In the third, Keckeisen cut Truax to give the Cal Poly wrestler a 6-5 lead, then with just under a minute left in the match, Keckeisen got to a Traux leg and then reached and grabbed the opposite ankle with a toe in bounds. The two remained that way for 10 or 15 seconds until Truax was able to pull Keckeisen out with under 35 to go.
Schwab chose not to challenge the no-call.
After Keckeisen’s loss, one by one, UNI’s remaining consolation wrestlers went down.
Teske lost to returning All-American Patrick McKee of Minnesota, 7-0. Realbuto lost to another returning All-American Jonathan Millner of Appalachian State, 4-0. Yant was beat by Harvard’s Philip Conigliaro, 7-2, and Runyon was pinned by eighth-seed Michael O’Malley of Drexel.
“Man, we are always going to be bigger than our results,” Schwab said. “But this is fresh, and it hurts right now. It is painful. This is just a tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough tournament, and there is no way around it. You can be prepared in every possible way and even then, it doesn’t guarantee you anything as we saw this morning.
“It hurts. It frickin’ hurts.”
UNI will return all eight of its qualifiers next season. All eight won at least won a match this weekend, and five of them won two.