Northern Iowa wrestling practices were shorter and crisper this week. The time to grind has past.
Now, it’s time to transition from preparation for performance.
“I feel our guys are ready,” UNI Coach Doug Schwab said during his weekly news conference Monday. “There comes a point there is a date on the calendar where you just have to be ready. There’s no more work to be done. It’s just stepping on the line and being ready to roll. That’s where I feel our guys are at.”
The 12th-ranked Panthers will open the postseason with the 2020 Big 12 Wrestling Championships on Saturday and Sunday at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. UNI will look to improve last year’s third-place finish.
“We’ll have 10 guys ready and prepared to score as many points as we can,” Schwab said. “I think we have seven guys that qualified a spot, but I know if you win the tournament you’ll go to the national tournament.”
The conference received 54 automatic NCAA berths. Eight Panthers are seeded in the top eight and seven of them have a chance to secure bids by wrestling to their seeds or better. UNI had seven national qualifiers in 2017 and 2014, which is tied for the most in Schwab’s 10 seasons as head coach.
UNI seniors Bryce Steiert (174) and Taylor Lujan at 184 pounds are seeded first. The two top seeds is second only to Oklahoma State’s No. 1 trio. Lujan is attempting to win his second straight conference crown, winning at 174 last season.
Second-seeded 125-pounder Jay Schwarm leads NCAA Division I with 14 pins. Lujan and Steiert also have the ability to post regular bonus points. Schwab noted that bonus points could neutralize the points from another team’s champion. He said they have a goal for how many bonus points they want to tally.
“We’ll be going to put guys away and score a whole bunch of points,” Schwab said. “The best way for us to win that team title.”
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Freshman Michael Blockhus and senior All-American Max Thomsen are No. 3 seeds at 141 and 149. Heavyweight Carter Isley is seeded fourth. Jack Skudlarczyk is seventh at 133 and Austin Yant (165) rounds out the seeded Panthers.
“Every year I’m going to say the same thing,” Schwab said. “This is the best team I’ve taken to this point, because it’s still up for grabs. We still have 10 opportunities to win titles at every weight class. They’re going to decide that in how they compete, how many points they score.
“We want to go win the Big 12 tournament,” Schwab added. “We haven’t done that, yet.”
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