116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Austin Yant avoided injury for most of his wrestling career.
He broke a finger as a junior at Waverly-Shell Rock, but that was the extent of it before this season, which included more setbacks and challenges than any other year. The condensed season was cut shorter for Northern Iowa's 165-pounder, who wrestled one match before the Big 12 Championships.
'I've always been that guy who has been really fortunate and blessed to not have any injuries,” Yant said. 'It was kind of new to me. Thankfully, (Panthers assistant Lee) Roper kept me on track. He kept my mind sharp. I was working out with Jacob Holschlag, who sadly has been cursed with injury after injury, and being with him every day helped keep my mind sharp.
'That's all you can do at a time like that. Just keep your mind sharp and keep working out. Come back when I can come back. Don't rush it.”
Yant returned just in time to earn an automatic bid for his first berth to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. The national tournament begins Thursday with the finals set for Saturday night.
'I'm super excited,” Yant said. 'I used to watch that tournament with my brother (UNI teammate Evan Yant) whenever it was on ESPN, while we were growing up. We used to wrestle in the living room when it was going on. The fact that I'll be out there now is pretty cool. I can't wait.”
The entire year has been anything but smooth. To start, the pandemic prevented the Panthers from using facilities in the West Gym. They had to make adjustments, so they worked out in a garage at a teammate's house.
A small 10-by-8-foot mat was rolled out on the floor surrounded by regular outdoor equipment.
'There'd be guys rolling around in there from 8 in the morning until 8 at night,” Yant said. 'There were gardening tools and shovels and stuff in there. There was even a heating element that was old and hanging down. You had to duck so you didn't hit your head.
'Just find a way to get better. You might end up on the concrete a little bit.”
Inconvenience turned to interruption with the season. Yant didn't get to wrestle-off initially due to injury. He won an exhibition the first weekend of competition and suffered a skin condition. Once that cured up, he got hurt again and was out until the national qualifier.
'When you have a six-, seven-week season, a multiple-week ding, it takes you out of a big chunk of the competitions,” UNI Coach Doug Schwab said. 'He competed well for us last year. The guy has put a ton of work in.”
Everything he has experienced has helped strengthen his appreciation for a sport he's loved for years. The tough days are better just being able to roll around instead of alternative workouts, watching his teammates scrap without him.
'On the days when things might not be going your way in the wrestling room and you're getting beat up maybe, it's so much better to be wrestling than riding the bike or doing different workouts where you have to duplicate wrestling instead of doing it,” Yant said. 'It is a humbling thing. I need to not take for granted being on the mat. At first, I don't take for granted I'm in a wrestling room again. I don't have to dodge a lawnmower and shovels on the wall.”
Yant secured a spot in the national field with a fifth-place finish at the conference tournament, going 3-2.
'Yant, for being hurt all year and placing,” Schwab said, 'I thought (he) had a really good tournament.”
He was hyped up to compete again and Roper had to settle him down before his first match, reminding him the competition was easier than facing former Panthers Drew Foster and Taylor Lujan in practice.
'It just all worked out,” Yant said about qualifying. 'It was a good, brief moment in the tunnel, talking to Roper and giving him a hug. We made it. It was a little deep breath and on to the next thing. On to St. Louis and getting on the podium.”
Yant (4-2) is the 33rd seed and faces Hofstra's No. 32 Ricky Stamm (7-2). The winner takes on Iowa's top-seeded Alex Marinelli.
'All this week is sharpening some edges,” Yant said. 'Doug keeps saying the hay is in the barn. All that work has been done.
'Around this time of year, it's less wrestling and more of a fist fight. That's all it is. It's a great time of year. It's the end of the season.”
Yant is one of six Panthers in the field. Brody Teske (125), Triston Lara at 149 and 184-pounder Parker Keckeisen were automatic qualifiers. Teske and Keckeisen were Big 12 champions. Heavyweight Carter Isley and 174-pounder Lance Runyon received at-large bids.
Keckeisen (15-0) leads the way as a No. 4 seed. Teske (12-1) is fifth. Isley is the 15th seed with a 9-5 mark.
'Six guys going to the national tournament can score a heck of a lot of points,” Schwab said. 'That's what we plan on doing.”
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