CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa wrestling is set to appear on its biggest stage since becoming an affiliate member of the Big 12 Conference.
Saturday at 3 p.m. on ESPNU the Panthers will take on fifth-ranked Oklahoma State at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla.
For Drew Foster, one of UNI’s two returning All-Americans this season, he echoes the thoughts of head coach Doug Schwab when it comes to the opportunity to take on the Cowboys.
“We’re excited. We’re expecting to pull of the upset — the win that we’re not supposed to have,” Foster said. “Just getting in that atmosphere too is going to be awesome because you’ve got knowledgeable fans. They’ll probably get a little bit rowdy too. I’m guessing they’re going to think everything is stalling.”
The redshirt junior was a darkhorse at last year’s NCAA Championships, where he finished seventh after being seeded 12th. So far this season he’s compiled a record of 19-4 and 7-1 in duals, and has seen the best the country has to offer when he dropped a major decision to No. 1 Bo Nickal of Penn State in early January at the Southern Scuffle.
“I think I gave him too much respect when it came to the wrestling portion because I kept my distance too much, I wasn’t really committing to all my shots,” Foster said. “Just to know that I was getting in on him, maybe I wasn’t finishing, but just to know that it helps put my confidence (up). Show that I can roll around with the best guy at my weight class.”
Armed with the knowledge and confidence that came from his match with No. 1, Foster hasn’t lost since. However, an interesting wrinkle is at work as the Cowboys have two potential starters listed at 184 pounds in Andrew Mardsen and No. 24 Keegan Moore, brother of Foster’s teammate Paden Moore.
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“I’m friends with Keegan, so I think it’d be cool to wrestle him,” Foster said. “Wouldn’t want to lose that because then I’ll probably get talked trash to from Paden.”
Schwab routinely talks about momentum and building as the season progresses. So, while Foster’s understated demeanor doesn’t mirror his head coach’s, it shouldn’t be misjudged. The All-American has overcome early-season struggles and built in the way Schwab desires throughout a season.
The Burlington native wants to become a national champion before his time at UNI is over, but he’s focused on nothing besides the Cowboys at the present time. Whether it’s Moore or Mardsen that joins him on the mat Saturday in Stillwater, Panthers fans should anticipate an aggressive gameplan.
“For me personally — blowing matches away,” Foster said. “When I get a lead early, not just riding everyone. Maybe cutting them. Getting more takedowns. Pushing the pace. Trying to get those major decisions, or tech falls, or pins.”