CEDAR FALLS — Jacob Holschlag’s season ended before it even began a year ago.
He was a returning All-American for Northern Iowa, but a torn anterior cruciate ligament sidelined him for the entire 2018-20 campaign. The injury was tough to handle and rehab had its usual ups and downs.
“I was pretty sad for a while, but I’m surrounded by some incredible people who really helped me out (and) helped me get through it,” said Holschlag, a redshirt junior who placed fifth at 197 pounds in 2018. “Sometimes it was like picking me up and sometimes it was like, ‘You’re kind of being a baby here. Figure it out. It’s not the end of the world.’ It was hard but we got through it. I really believe I’m better because of it.”
Holschlag claimed to be healthy, despite a foot injury six weeks ago, and ready to re-enter the Panthers’ lineup this season. He is one of three All-Americans in the lineup and one of six Panthers with NCAA tournament experience on the current roster.
“I’m back to 100 percent now,” Holschlag said at UNI’s annual wrestling media day Monday at West Gym. “I’m ready to roll.”
UNI Coach Doug Schwab seemed a little less certain about Holschlag’s status, noting the setback might delay his return. He said Holschlag won’t miss a step when he toes the line again.
“You know the gritty, tough competitor he is,” Schwab said. “He’ll be ready. He’ll be ready when it’s most important.
“If it comes to where he can’t wrestle until the Big 12s, then he can’t wrestle until the Big 12s. ... I know that he will be ready to have an impact on the 197-pound weight class.”
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Despite the disappointment of not being able to compete or even roll around on the mat, Holschlag found ways to improve. He said he had to find an edge, addressing other areas like sleeping habits and nutrition since he couldn’t wrestle.
“There are a thousand ways to get better and sometimes it’s not about being on the mat,” Holschlag said. “There are different techniques, there are different things you can do off the mat to make you a better wrestler. We got better that way. Things you can control outside of wrestling.”
One of the unorthodox methods was hand-fighting sessions. He would sit face-to-face in chairs with coaches or teammates, working on moving people without his legs. Some of the sessions were long, hard scraps. Others focused on technique. He just liked being physical again.
“It felt good,” Holschlag said. “You don’t get to get your hands on guys, so it felt good to be able to get your hands on a guy. Get that warrior out.”
Holschlag’s 2018 national tournament was highlighted by the fact that he was an undersized 197-pounder, moving up from 184 during the season. He weighed in at 193 on the final day of the tournament. His ability to bulk up to 220 before the season and walking around at 207 now has been the silver lining.
“Sometimes it’s hard to look at an injury as a good thing, but for me and our guys I try to tell them to look at adversity as an opportunity,” Schwab said. “For him, I don’t think he’d be a full-sized 197-pounder without that. He was able to lift. He was able to do some things that he wouldn’t have done because he would have been on the mat so much. He loves to be on the mat.”
Holschlag said he will wear a brace as a precautionary measure, but said it won’t have an impact on his performance.
“I’ll wear a knee brace just to be safe,” Holschlag said. “I’ll be just fine with or without it. It’s not really going to affect me a whole lot.”
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Steiert, Lujan move up
Seniors Bryce Steiert and Taylor Lujan are each moving up a weight this season. Steiert, a three-time national qualifier who placed eighth at 165 last season, will move to 174, while Lujan, also a three-time national qualifier, will bump to 184.
Lujan has wrestled at 174 each of the last three seasons, winning 84 matches and reaching the national quarterfinals the last two years.
“I’ve been wrestling a lot of the same guys for the past few years,” Lujan said. “I feel like I need something different and I feel like it’s the best weight for me to win a national title.”
He said the summer was focused on getting better and bigger. He has been a fan favorite and plans to maintain his fun, energetic and funky style, even with the added size.
“I think there is a small adjustment,” Lujan said. “It’s a little different weight.”
Steiert recalled making previous jumps, growing from 113 to 160 in high school. He also started his college career at 157, making the move to 165 as a sophomore.
“I think my body is prepared,” Steiert said. “I think my mind is prepared. I just have to let my body be a tool.”
Some college wrestling programs will begin their seasons later this week. UNI will begin competition Nov. 10 at Iowa State’s Harold Nichols Open.
The Panthers' first dual will be Nov. 17 at Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.
UNI opens its home dual schedule against Nebraska Nov. 24.
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