CEDAR FALLS — When Jay Schwarm prepares for his national tournament debut, he will warm up his body and visualize the upcoming match.
The Northern Iowa sophomore also will have tracks from Travis Scott pumping through his earphones and keeping him relaxed as he walks the mats, floor and the connected tunnels.
“The biggest thing for me is my perspective,” Schwarm said. “Maintain a good perspective and realize this is an opportunity. I mean none of this is promised and it’s just an opportunity, so stay loose, jamming out before matches, listening to some tunes and just really having fun is all I’m trying to do.”
The approach has worked for the Panthers’ 125-pounder in his first season as a full-time starter. Schwarm is one of six UNI qualifiers for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, beginning Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Schwarm (25-10) is seeded 16th and wrestles Michigan’s Drew Mattin (19-12) in the first round.
“I like it,” Schwarm said about his draw. “Obviously, I didn’t beat enough guys to earn a higher seed. On paper, I’m not supposed to be that guy that makes it through to All-American or winning, but I look at it kind of like party crashing.
“They may not want me in the party but I’m trying to crash it.”
The two-time state champion from Bettendorf used to share the ultra-intense, tough-guy facade common among other wrestlers. The attitude was exhaustive and even affected him in competition. He realized he thrived when he remained more chill than charged.
“I think stressing and worrying, trying to be tough doesn’t help me at all,” said Schwarm, who prefers rap music before bouts and spends his free time hanging out with teammates. “It just makes me more tired. I think most of those images people portray themselves as is kind of a fake front. I’m just trying to be real to myself. Just put the best me out there, I guess.”
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UNI Coach Doug Schwab has a different taste in music, but he shares the same thoughts on what is best for Schwarm. He acknowledged Schwarm’s “different perspective,” but praised his work ethic and performance in matches.
Others just need to be serious constantly, but Schwarm is not one of them, according to Schwab.
“He has to be enjoying it and having fun with the sport,” Schwab said. “When he does that he goes out and scores points.
“The thing about Schwarm is he is always ready to wrestle. I can’t think of a match since I’ve coached him he hasn’t been out there ready to let it fly.”
Everything became clear last season as Schwarm cracked the lineup for injured two-time All-American Dylan Peters and ended with a 15-10 record. UNI assistant coach Lee Roper provided the guiding light when he noticed Schwarm get upset and emotional during practice.
“I think last year I was struggling with that and being tough on myself,” Schwarm said. “Roper was like, ‘Why are you acting that? You don’t act like that outside of the room so why would you try to be a different person on the mat.’ That stuck with me.
“I’m the same person on and off the mat. That’s how I wrestle.”
Schwarm has three victories over ranked opponents this season, beating 2016 All-American Ryan Millhof, of Arizona State, and placing second to Lehigh’s defending NCAA champ Darian Cruz at the Southern Scuffle.
“I can beat anyone and hang with anyone on any given day,” said Schwarm, who could face Cruz again in the second round. “I wrestled the guy who won it last year and wrestled everything in between. All I’m trying to do is put the best me out there.”
Schwab also described Schwarm as an exciting wrestler, who has 15 pins this season including two in a fourth-place finish at the Big 12 Championships in Tulsa, Okla. He said Schwarm wrestles through positions, finding creative ways to score.
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“If it’s on top or a scramble or from his feet, I think that’s when he’s at his best,” Schwab said. “I love having that guy leading off for us, because I can tell you some time within that match he will have that guy on his back some way, shape or form.”
UNI has five seeded wrestlers, including All-Americans Max Thomsen (149) and 184-pounder Drew Foster, who placed fifth and seventh last year. Big 12 Champion Taylor Lujan (174) is seeded seventh with a 28-5 mark. Foster, who also won a conference title, is eighth, while Thomsen is ninth. Josh Alber (141) is also seeded ninth for the Panthers. Jacob Holschlag is in the 197 bracket.
Schwarm is the only Panther without NCAA tournament experience.
“Nobody is going to be overwhelmed or surprised by anything that comes their way,” Schwab said. “I know these guys are ready to make their mark, individually and as a program. The three days in Cleveland are going to be a lot of fun for me as a coach being able to watch these guys compete and let it go.”
Schwarm’s view of success will hinge on his effort. He will be happy if he wrestles his best and have as much fun as possible.
“Just take it in and enjoy it all,” Schwarm said. “Like I said, it’s an opportunity and at the end of the day I’ve got my friends, teammates and my family, so I really can’t lose as long as I give it my all.”
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