CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa will have a little different look this wrestling season.
At first glance, outsiders may not be too enamored with the sight without last season’s seniors. Panthers Coach Doug Schwab said it is a nice-looking group to him.
“Everyone doesn’t think a whole lot about us or think that we’re going to be very dang good or think that we’re (not) going to have guys that are going to be scoring a whole lot of points at the national tournament,” Schwab said. “I just smile and laugh and go back to work. We’re going to get that opportunity in front of us.”
UNI sits 23rd in the National Wrestling Coaches Association dual rankings, returning just three starters from last year’s team that went 8-4 and finished third in the Big 12 Championships. The Panthers open the season Sunday, wrestling North Dakota State and South Dakota State at Brookings, S.D.
Heavyweight Carter Isley will be the lone starter from last season in the lineup this weekend. Schwab is excited to watch them compete.
“Yeah, we’ve got a lot of new faces,” Schwab said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t had a whole lot of matches, but, man, they’re great wrestlers. They’re prepared.”
In addition to Isley, Jake Skudlarczyk (133) qualified for the 2020 NCAA Championships that were canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns. Austin Yant saw action last season at 165, while Tyrell Gordon is expected to step back in at 197, starting two seasons ago as a true freshman.
Schwab said this group is battle-tested, showing their mettle through pandemic. This group has the opportunity to show UNI can reload, instead of rebuild and achieve Schwab’s goal of being an annual contender.
“We lost a pretty good group of seniors, but for me the torch gets taken and then it gets raised,” Schwab said. “It doesn’t fall off. I’m ready to show a lot of people that don’t give us a whole lot of love right now. Obviously, we’ve got to prove that.
“That really gets me fired up. There’s a serious fire in my belly as a coach and for our team, too.”
The Panthers are ready to pounce and make their mark. They are ready to show the strides made during the irregular offseason. High energy has filled the practice room.
“It’s just a hungry, focused and gritty group,” said Isley, who was a national qualifier with a 20-10 mark last season. “We want to get out and compete right now. Kind of getting tired of trying to beat each other up. We want to beat somebody else up. You can tell everybody is ready to get out there.”
Sophomore Kyle Biscoglia will compete for the 133 spot with Skudlarczyk and get the nod for the first two duals.
He will be joined by a quartet of young Panthers from Fort Dodge, making it the first time in almost eight decades that 40 percent of a Division I lineup was from the same high school, according to Schwab.
Brody Teske will step in at 125 after transferring from Penn State in the middle of last season. Drew Bennett is at 141, while Triston Lara and Cayd Lara will be at 149 and 157, respectively. They helped lead the Dodgers to a state title in 2018.
“Putting four Dodgers in this Northern Iowa Panthers lineup is pretty special,” Teske said. “You look back at the way we were raised, the way we were brought up and everyone is backing us. Everyone that was back home is supporting us from day 1.”
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UNI will also add Keegan Moore to the lineup at 184. He was an NCAA qualifier at Oklahoma State in 2018. He steps into a weight that was manned by 2019 NCAA champion Drew Foster and Taylor Lujan, who was the top-ranked wrestler at the end of last season.
“This Sunday is a special moment for me,” Moore said. “I’ve worked really hard to get to this place. I’m definitely ready to show out and finally strap on that singlet. It means a lot and I’m ready to represent UNI in a fun fashion.”
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