Today we continue our preview of Division I teams in the state with the first half of UNI’s projected lineup. As you’ll see this one has no conference outlook at any of the weights yet, because I’ll be doing a team by team breakdown of each MAC school for Takedown Wrestling, and then I’ll have a separate post about how UNI stacks up against the rest of the MAC.
A couple of things I would like to note, this a preview of who I think will start for the Panthers on their first day of competition, not necessarily who I think will end up there at the end of the year, unless I say otherwise below. Competition, injuries, and match-ups are just a few things that obviously influence who wrestles on any given night. I also don’t really believe that Head Coach Doug Schwab will start any true freshman this year. I believe they’ll all redshirt, and be in the hunt for starting jobs next year. Although this year’s circumstances are different than last years, thinking specifically of the 133 pound spot, I don’t think Schwab risks the physical and mental health of his young guys. On with the preview!
Credentials: 2014 NCAA All-American 6th (125), 2014 MAC Champion, 23-7 record as a sophomore, 2015 MAC Runner-up, 2015 NCAA Qualifier.
Peters looks to have the lightest weight shored up, despite his disappointing early exit from the NCAA Championships last year. Peters was thought by some to be the best chance for Schwab’s first four-time All-American, but with a tough draw last year at nationals that was not to be. It will be interesting at least to see how Peters’ handles bouncing back from falling far short of where he wanted to be at the beginning of the year, and what he has done in the off-season to make it happen. Last years 133-pound stand in, Leighton Gaul, will probably return to his more natural weight, but while I expect Gaul to continue to push Peters, I don’t think he can take the spot away from him.
133: Josh Alber (Redshirt Freshman)
Credentials: 22-5 as a true freshman, won Buena Vista and Grand View Opens, took 2nd at UNI and Joe Parisi Open.
Challenger: Leighton Gaul (Sophomore), Hunter Washburn
This was Leighton Gaul’s position for most of the year last year, as senior Levi Wolfensperger suffered a season-ending injury and the Panthers had to fill the spot. Gaul was the pick to go for the Panthers and had a rough year bumping up a weight, going 8-18 on the season, and I expect to see him down at his natural weight for the rest of career. Freshman Josh Alber looks to take it over, something that some fans wanted to see a year ago. Alber had about as good a year as one can have without wrestling in the starting lineup, highlighted by avenging a 3-2 loss against Missouri’s Zach Synon, 7-4, at the UNI Open last December. He also wrestled at The Midlands, going 1-2 in Evanston, Illinois, with the win coming against NDSU’s Hunter Weber. Alber lost to Rutgers Anthony Giraldo,10-1, a match that will probably take place again early next season and will be a good barometer of where Alber is with his development. Hunter Washburn will look to start right away, but will have his hands full in pushing Alber out of the top spot, especially with Alber’s year of experience coming into the season.
141: Jake Hodges (Sophomore)
Credentials: 12-16 as a redshirt freshman, competed in all but five duals last year, 4th place at MAC Championships (one win away from NCAA auto-birth).
Challenger: Tyler Willers, Trevor Jauch, Hunter Washburn
This weight saw a bit of a rotation last year, as Tyler Willers saw starting action early in the year for the Panthers, splitting time between 133 and 141 pounds. However Willers went 0-2 in duals early in the year and 0-3 in duals overall, so Hodges was put in the lineup starting with the third dual of the year against Cornell. Hodges had a bit of a disappointing year, especially after going undefeated his senior year of high school, but had a fantastic showing at the MAC Championships, and was one win away from going to the NCAA’s. Hodges avenged a loss to Kent State’s Tyler Small with a win by pinfall over the #4 seed, after losing to him by major decision a month earlier.
The other name at this weight is Trevor Jauch, who transferred in from Missouri in 2013. The Crystal Lake, Illinois native wrestled unattached for the Panthers last year, but only posted a 5-1 record on the year, taking third at the University of Central Missouri open. While at Missouri Jauch saw action in three duals, taking a 2-1 record. This weight is a weaker one for UNI, but with the year of experience under his belt I expect Hodges to grab the weight and not let go. This is also the first weight where we might see a true freshman break through and start for the Panthers in Hunter Washburn. Washburn was 2nd in the Iowa State Tournament at 138 pounds for Alburnett this past year, and will be looking to make waves right away.
149: Gunnar Wolfensperger (Junior)
Credentials: 17-12 as a sophomore, competed in all but five duals last year, took second at the Buena Vista Open.
Challenger: Zach Witte, Tyler Patten, Max Thomsen
The Panthers have eight men at 149, by far the most of any weight on the squad. Last year we expected to see Wolfensperger come out and take control of the weight class, but Witte actually got the initial start, but following a loss to Purdue’s Alex Griffin was pulled out of the starting lineup for all but one more dual. Wolfensperger is a fairly consistent wrestler, but has yet to really get a signature win over anybody. For the most part he has beaten the opponents he’s “supposed” to beat, but that might not be good enough this year, especially with Thomsen on the roster now. If Wolfensperger does win the spot in early November this year, it wouldn’t surprise me to see 149-by-committee for a few duals, especially with the tough schedule in January and February. I don’t see Schwab pulling the redshirt off of Thomsen to put him in the rotation.
Thomsen comes in as the top recruit for UNI, taking first place at the State Tournament last year for Union and coming in with a lot of freestyle experience against the nation’s best. This will be the best opportunity for Schwab to pull the trigger on a true freshman and let him go against some of the MAC’s best competition. I cannot recall any true freshmen to start under Schwab yet, and if Wolfensperger struggles early in the year expect fans to want to see Thomsen in the lineup. With a true wrestle off happening this year though Thomsen will certainly get his chance, and while I think he has a shot at making the top spot, I think Wolfensperger will get it.
157: Jarrett Jensen (Senior)
Credentials: 21-13 his junior year, 6th at the MAC Championships (one win away from an NCAA auto-birth), academic All-MAC team.
Challenger: Bryce Steiert
This was my biggest miss of last year, as I named 157 UNI’s weakest weight, and it actually turned out to be one of their strongest. Jensen took a hold of the starting spot and never let go, wrestling in all but one dual for the Panthers all year. Jensen’s biggest win came over then-ranked #4 Ian Miller of Kent State to ignite the Panthers to a win over the Golden Flashes. There was a certain amount of controversy around Jensen not getting an at-large at the NCAA tournament last year, and you can be he’ll be gunning for that first-time birth later in 2016. I don’t realistically see anybody taking Jensen’s spot from him, but another incoming freshman might be able to push the senior. Steiert won the state title for Waverly-Shell Rock, and like Thomsen, will push for the starting spot right away. With Jensen having a very good year last year, and this being his senior year, I expect that we’ll see him hold the job down all year and push for the NCAA tournament birth that he did not get last year.
Think I’m way off? Completely agree with me (unlikely)? Drop me a note below or a comment on Twitter, I’m @Nic_Ryder. I’ll have complete coverage of UNI’s media day, scheduled for November 4th, and then for the rest of the year!