CEDAR FALLS — The same song continues on repeat for Northern Iowa wrestling.
Quite frankly, the Panthers are sick of hearing that specific track again. You know the little diddy with lyrics talking about their firepower and ability to be a player among the elite programs only to remain outside at the end of the season.
“We’ve had all this potential for this time and now it’s time to put guys on the podium,” UNI junior Max Thomsen said. “It’s time to put guys on top of the stand and time to really make our mark.”
UNI has the elements for its most balanced and experienced teams in Doug Schwab’s nine seasons as head coach. The Panthers return seven wrestlers with national tournament experience and three All-Americans from a team that was 6-5 in duals and finished tied for 24th at the NCAA Championships.
UNI opens the season Saturday at Iowa State’s Harold Nichols Open.
“We say the same thing every year, man,” Schwab said. “You’re excited for the season and look forward to it.
“They’ve had enough of talking. They’ve had enough of beating up on each other and enough of the work and ‘hey, you’re right there. You’re right there.’ It’s time to knock that wall over. It’s time to really break through.”
Schwab said the focus has been on the little things throughout the offseason. The staff broke down each wrestler, emphasizing the intricate details needed to improve and set the foundation to build on for this season.
For some, it was body language, self-confidence and wrestling through scrambles, in addition to technique. For others, like accomplished wrestlers like Thomsen and Big 12 champion and two-time NCAA qualifier Taylor Lujan, it was revisiting and fortifying basics.
“We can get better every day,” Lujan said. “There’s no bad technique to learn. If I need to learn it, they must see something. I must need to improve on it. It almost fires me up, because it means I missed something. I get to go back over it again and keep on getting better.”
“We sat down and had some hard conversations with guys,” Schwab said. “You really want to get to that next step this is what it is going to take.
“Guys have taken it wholeheartedly and they’re living it, but I’m excited for these guys.”
Getting healthy was also key from some. Thomsen (149) and 184-pounder Drew Foster suffered injuries last year. Thomsen had labrum surgery in the offseason and Foster closed last season with a hurt thumb. Both missed the podium after All-American performances in 2017, placing fifth and seventh, respectively.
Thomsen said he was going to tough out the shoulder injury regardless and that it didn’t affect his results.
“It was definitely difficult,” Thomsen said. “I took it positively and I know it made me a lot better.”
Jacob Holschlag, who could be seen on crutches arriving at the West Gym, finished fifth at 197 pounds last season. UNI 141-pounder Josh Alber is a three-time NCAA qualifier, while Thomsen, Foster, Bryce Steiert (165) and Holschlag have made two national tournament appearances apiece.
They are joined by 2018 NCAA qualifier Jay Schwarm at 125 and Keegan Moore, who transferred from Oklahoma State after qualifying for the NCAA meet last season. Heavyweight Carter Isley won 23 matches as a freshman last season. UNI still is waiting for someone to emerge and take control at 133 and 157.
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The Panthers have an accomplished lineup, but need to put everything together at the end of the season, attempting to crack the top 10 at nationals for the first time since 1992.
“I think it’s time,” Lujan said. “We’re going to have a little chip on our shoulder. We have all these guys, all these tools. Why can’t we do it? It’s like screw the other teams. We’re here.”
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