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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Second on the depth chart to third on the national podium.
It's hard to fathom Northern Iowa freshman Parker Keckeisen lost a wrestle-off to start the year, especially since he lost just one match after he stepped in as the 184-pound starter.
'There is a mental choice in there that I was either going to back off or keep going,' Keckeisen said. 'It took me a couple days but I was like, 'No, Parker, you've got to keep going.' I got an opportunity and we rolled with it. It worked out pretty well.'
The results were good for a third-place finish at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday at Enterprise Center. Keckeisen capped the season with a 20-1 mark, beating Rutgers' No. 6 John Poznanski, 5-4, in the medal round.
UNI Coach Doug Schwab shared a blunt message to anyone who didn't like Keckeisen's style.
'If you don't enjoy watching him wrestle then you don't like wrestling, to me,' Schwab said. 'You hate wrestling. I know I love watching him compete and how he goes about things.'
Keckeisen became the 11th Panther freshman to earn D-I All-American honors. He was the top freshman medalist since Bill Weick (first at 157) and Jim Harmon (second at 147) were finalists in 1952.
'It's cool,' Keckeisen said. 'It builds momentum for people back home and recruits coming in, so we can get UNI to be one of those top-dog programs, which we will be in a couple years, next year.'
UNI was one of the first programs to recruit Keckeisen out of Glendale, Wis. More schools expressed interest when he won two state titles for Nicolet High School, but he was won over by the culture and support for the Panthers program.
'(UNI assistant coach Lee) Roper saw me,' Keckeisen said earlier this season. 'I was a late bloomer in high school. He saw something in me early on. I thought that was pretty cool and he must know how to develop me. With Doug's emphasis on being a good person with being a good wrestler, too.'
Keckeisen was one of six UNI qualifiers. He was the lone Panther to reach the podium, helping them to a top-20 team finish. They all return and this experience can be a springboard.
'You can see a light in all of our guys that were here,' Schwab said. 'OK, let's ride. I know they'll be ready to do it. He's leading the way.'
Iowa clinches in consolations
Iowa claimed its 24th NCAA team title and first since 2010 hours before its three finalists even took the mat. The Hawkeyes posted a 6-1 mark in consolation matches to clinch the championship by Saturday afternoon.
'Our team came out and we faced some adversity,' Iowa's third-place heavyweight Tony Cassioppi said, 'but to still pull it out and scoring as many points as we are, wrestling as hard as we are, that's awesome.'
Austin DeSanto (133), Jacob Warner (197) and Cassioppi opened the round with consolation semifinal victories. DeSanto added a technical fall and Cassioppi recorded a major decisions for bonus points.
'For me, team race-wise, it was just scoring points for our team,' DeSanto said. 'If we need the major, get the major. If we need the tech, get the tech, a pin get the pin, but wrestling tough.'
DeSanto won his third-place bout, Kaleb Young was seventh at 157. When Penn State failed to earn pins in its last two medal matches and Cassioppi toppled Arizona State's No. 3 Cohlton Schultz for third, the team race was settled.
'I feel good,' Cassioppi said. 'It's the next best thing I could get. It's not what I want to be. I don't want to be third place. I want to be first place.
'After that loss in the semis, I had to just refocus on getting the next best thing and climbing that podium.'
It is the highest number of medalists and top-three finishers (5) since 2010. Iowa has had at least five All-Americans in each of the last eight seasons and 13 times under Brands.
'There are waves,' Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. 'We won six out of seven. Those first three matches were huge.
'Those were hard matches. They rose to the occasion.'
Ethan Lofthouse's influence on Utah Valley
For the first time in school history, Utah Valley had two wrestlers earn All-America honors. Second-seeded Demetrius Romero reached the semifinals at 174 to join 125-pounder Taylor LaMont in the top six of their respective weights.
Romero noted the impact of former Iowa wrestler Ethen Lofthouse, who is an associate head coach for the Wolverines. Romero is motivated by Lofthouse's encouragement from his corner.
'I'm very close with him,' Romero said. 'He's been like a father figure to me in some ways.
'He's always just helped me build and pointed out the rights and wrongs. Being a younger guy coming to college, you have your hiccups when you're trying to get better. He's always putting me on the right path and that's what a father figure does. So, he's always been like a father figure/big brother for me and that's what really drove me.'
Romero finished the season 19-3 and placed sixth.
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