2018-19 Season Preview: Northern Iowa Panthers

Bryce Steiert panthers

Bryce Steiert is returning to the lineup for the Panthers. Photo: Mark Lundy Lutte Lens

UNI is coming off its first season in the Big 12 Conference, where it captured second place at the conference tournament. The Panthers return everybody who started regularly last season and they add in a bunch of guys who weren’t there, or at least, weren’t available, last season.

The top of that list is Bryce Steiert. The 165 pounder is back after redshirting last year, wrestling only a few times, but notably in two tournaments – winning the UNI Open and placing second to Vincenzo Joseph at the Southern Scuffle.

The now redshirt junior has two more years to achieve what has eluded him so far – conference and national awards at those tournaments. Steiert finished second in back to back years in the MAC, and is a combined 5-4 in two NCAA appearances. Expectations are sky high for Steiert, as he took down Chance Marsteller, the fourth-place finisher at the NCAA tournament a year ago, in the semifinal of the Southern Scuffle last year.

In addition to Steiert the Panthers add several freshmen and the redshirt sophomore Keegan Moore from Oklahoma State. Moore joins the Panthers after having lost to Drew Foster in the Big 12 championship match last March, and will probably sit behind the All-American this season, but he definitely adds much needed depth to UNI’s 184 pound weight class. Moore is the brother of former Panther Cooper Moore and current Panther, Paden.

Other than those new faces the rest of the lineup remains largely unchanged. Lets go through them!

125
Starter Jay Schwarm (Jr)
Depth Jack Skudlarczyk (Fr), Tanner Rohweder (Jr), Jay Schipper (Fr)
Redshirting Kyle Biscoglia (Fr)

Jay Schwarm has had his hands around the 125 spot for the better part of over a year and half. Two years ago he was the backup, but regular starter, when Dylan Peters was out with injury. Last year the spot was entirely his and he posted a 25-12 record and was an NCAA qualifier. He finished in fourth place at the Big 12 tournament, going 3-1 on the backside of the bracket after falling to the three seed, Zeke Moisey, on the front side.

Schwarm is known to be funky – sometimes, a little too funky. He’s gotten caught in some dangerous situations, most notably last season in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, where he was caught and pinned by Michigan’s Drew Mattin. The lead dog for the Panthers in most duals, hopefully Schwarm can be a little bit smarter with his abilities and get the team off to good starts more often than not this season.

There’s not a ton of depth at the lowest weight for the Panthers. Jack Skudlarczyk would probably be the likely backup after redshirting last season. Skudlarczyk is a three-time state champion from Texas, and was a Fargo All-American in 2015 and 2016. He went 14-5 last year wrestling in open tournaments.

133
Starter Jack Wagner (So)
Depth Darren Eades (Sr)
Redshirting? Drew Bennett (True Fr)

133 pounds sees UNI’s biggest challenge of the year, as sophomore Jack Wagner looks to improve on his 7-19 record from a year ago. The former Hawkeye transferred to UNI during the summer of 2017 and wrestled right away for the Cedar Falls school as Rudy Yates, now no longer with the team, was struggling making weight.

As his record indicates, Wagner really struggled last season. He often was much smaller than his 133 pound opponents, and Panther fans should hope that he has bulked up at least a little bit in the off season. One positive for Wagner from last year was that he was always aggressive early in matches. He would often take the first shot against opponents, but finishing and creating more action that is his own will be the keys to a successful season in 2018-19.

As far as depth goes until a few days ago Wagner and Eades were the only two 133 pounders on the roster – Drew Bennett, the Fort Dodge native, was originally added to the UNI roster at 125 pounds. Whether or not this was an oversight or a new direction for Bennett is really unknown, but it does open up the possibility that Bennett could step in if the program needs him to, even as a true freshman.

141
Starter Josh Alber (Sr)
Depth Jake Koethe (Sr), Triston Lara (Fr)
Redshirting Michael Blockhus (Fr)

The first of two seniors on the starting line for UNI, Josh Alber will attempt to break through this season and get to that upper echelon of 141 pounders – the three-time NCAA qualifier has yet to find the podium in March. During the regular season he put up solid numbers, going 8-3 in duals, 4-1 in the Big 12, finishing second at the Cliff Keen Invitational and third at both the Southern Scuffle and the Big 12 Championship.

Speaking of Vegas, that’s where Alber had arguably his biggest tournament, knocking off #6 Chad Red and #7 Tommoy Thorn on the way to second place. He would drop the title match to eventual NCAA Champion Yianni Diakomihalis. Expectations will be high for Alber’s senior season. The potential is there but can he put together an entire season for the Panthers and get to the podium in March? If he can keep focused and his energy up throughout the season, I don’t see why not. I hate this phrase, but we’ll have to see how it plays out.

As far as depth goes here it’s Alber and then a pretty big dropoff. Although Jake Koethe showed flashes of greatness in 2016-17 he’s been injury prone and hasn’t been able to stay on the mat with any consistency. The freshman Triston Lara (another Ft. Dodge guy) looks to be the man in waiting here, but he went just 9-5 last year. Losing Alber for any length of time would be a big blow.

149
Starter Max Thomsen (Jr)
Depth Hunter Washburn (Jr), Derek Holschlag (Fr)
Redshirting Gable Fox (Fr)

UNI’s first returning All-American in the lineup is Max Thomsen. The 149 pounder took home fifth place in 2017 and fell one round short of the podium last season. Thomsen was UNI’s first ever Big 12 finalist after earning the number one seed and defeating Iowa State’s Jarrett Degen to reach the finals in Tulsa.

There might have been a bit of a sophomore slump with Thomsen, where he went 28-9 overall last season compared to 31-7 his freshman year. I think the biggest question for him is how does he bounce back after a pair of losses to Oklahoma State’s Boo Lewallen in both the Big 12 and NCAA tournament, and a pair of losses to Missouri’s Grant Leeth. A little bit like Alber, if Thomsen can keep the energy going throughout the year and make adjustments where he needs to (specifically against Lewallen) there’s no reason to think he can’t earn his first conference title and get back to the podium in March.

Depth at 149 is an issue too, similar to 141 and 125, where there are big dropoffs after the starter. Hunter Washburn and Derek Holschlag (brother of UNI’s 197 pound All-American Jacob Holschlag) are probably fighting it out to be the backup, while Gable Fox is expected to redshirt.

157
Starter No idea
Depth Paden Moore (Jr), Isaiah Patton (Jr), Dan Kelly (Jr), Patrick Schoenfelder (Fr)
Redshirting Cayd Lara (Fr)

By far the biggest logjam weight is 157 pounds. Last season Both Patton and Kelly were bumped up to 165 to help fill the void left by Steiert, but this year it would appear as though both are down at the weight they’re more comfortable at. None of the first three listed above are world-beaters yet; Moore and Patton have struggled at times and Kelly doesn’t have much varsity experience.

I would probably expect the starter to come out of a Moore/Patton wrestle-off situation. They both have about the same amount of experience (Moore is 27-21 in his career, Patton 23-21), both have varsity level experience, and both have similar skill sets. It may come down to a coaches decision depending on who their competition is too.

Logan Ryan, the starter at 157 for most of last season, is no longer on the squad. And while Dan Kelly put together a nice season in 2015-16 after transferring in from Iowa State, he has yet to win a conference dual match. Patrick Schoenfelder might be a name worth taking note of, as he went 17-7 last season and could step into a starting role if needed.

165
Starter Bryce Steiert (Jr)
Depth
Redshirting

Well there’s only one name on this list and, barring injury, UNI should only need Bryce Steiert at 165 pounds this season. At this point I shouldn’t even need to go over Steiert’s history, but I will.

In 2015-16 he was the first true freshman to start at UNI since 2010, he’s been ranked nationally at either 157 or 165 since then, went 23-11 his freshman year and 22-6, including going undefeated in MAC duals, his sophomore year. He is a two-time NCAA qualifier, falling in the bloodround in the 2017 tournament. Last season he entered two tournaments as an unattached wrestler – the UNI Open and the Southern Scuffle, winning the first and runner-up in the second. On the way in Chattenooga he defeated Chance Marsteller, who took fourth at the National tournament and only lost to Vincenzo Joseph, who finished…well lets just say he did pretty well in March.

Steiert’s expectations will be sky high this season, though he’ll have to earn it. He’s only ranked as high as seventh (Flo, The Open Mat), and as low as 11th (WIN), so he has some impressing to do as far as rankings go. There probably isn’t a guy I’d bet on more than Steiert this year (except maybe Taylor Lujan) and I don’t know that there are 8 guys better than him in the country.

174
Starter Taylor Lujan (Jr)
Depth Carter Rohweder (Fr), Austin Yant (Fr)
Redshirting Noah Glaser (Fr)

Speaking of Lujan, here he is! The junior from Carrollton, Georgia was UNI’s first Big 12 Champion, earning his title with a 6-3 win against South Dakota State’s David Kocer. He’s a two-time conference champ (Lujan won the MAC title in 2017), and a two-time NCAA qualifier. Lujan won a conference semifinal match with Jacobe Smith (who is one of the most impressive-looking human beings I’ve ever seen in person) to make the finals, but lost to him in the bloodround of the NCAA tournament in one of the best matches of the weekend. He was third at the Southern Scuffle last season, his only loss there was to Lehigh’s All-American Jordan Kutler. Lujan went 30-7 in 2018.

Despite all that he has yet to find the All-American podium. He’s been a match or two away in each of the past two years and that has to be a driving force for him throughout this season. Lujan’s biggest competition in conference, Smith, is bumping up to 184 pounds this season, so there’s no reason to think that he can’t be UNI’s first two-time Big 12 champion. And like I said before, if I had to bet on one guy to make the podium in March, it would probably be him.

Lujan’s biggest advantage is that he’s funky. He rolls with what his opponents give him, but he’s also able to get to his offense when he needs to. Lujan should be the starter throughout the year, and can hopefully impart some of what he’s learned to the young freshmen waiting in the wings.

184
Starter Drew Foster (Sr)
Depth Justin Guilliams (So), Michael Kordek (So), Keegan Moore (So)
Redshirting

Speaking of Big 12 champions, hello Drew Foster. The second conference champion in UNI history, Foster followed up his All-American year with an identical record, going 26-6 in both seasons, but without as much success at the NCAA Tournament. Foster went just 1-2 in March, but rode a 12-match win streak into the postseason. The Panther also placed second at the Southern Scuffle, dropping the championship match to Bo Nickal.

Foster may not be a favorite to reach the podium again come next March (he’s currently only ranked as high as 9th, both by Intermat and WIN), but there’s no reason to expect anything but another solid season from the senior. One of only two men in their final year, Foster will be in the middle of the most-solid stretch of Panther lineup, and has been for a full season now.

The face to watch out for here is Keegan Moore. Schwab has shown that he’s not afraid to put other people in the lineup if they earn their spot, and Moore is capable of doing just that. The transfer from Oklahoma State started every dual last season for the Cowboys and maybe by getting his hands on Foster more often might be able to topple him.

197
Starter Jacob Holschlag (Jr)
Depth Izaak Shedenhelm (So)
Redshirting Tyrell Gordon (Fr)

The Panthers’ sole returning All-American from a year ago is 197 pounder Jacob Holschlag. The junior lost to Missouri’s (now at Iowa State) Willie Miklus in the first round of the tournament and then came all the way back, including getting a win over Miklus, for 5th place. Holschlag was one of the biggest surprises of the post-season; he had a solid year, going 15-9 during the regular season, but nobody in the country predicted that he’d be an All-American. He didn’t even weight 197 pounds at the tournament last season.

The challenge now is how does he handle expectations? Holschlag is ranked 4th in every major poll and now everyone will know what to expect from him: a heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy top game. I can’t believe that anybody would choose to go down against him, but crazier things have happened. He’ll have to deal with everybody coming at him this season, much like Foster did a year ago, and that can change a competitors mindset as the year goes on.

As far as backups go here Izaak Shedenhelm will probably sit behind Holschlag. Shedenhelm wrestled in a couple of duals last year but dropped both those matches. Tyrell Gordon, a Waterloo native, will more than likely redshirt this year.

285
Starter Carter Isley (So)
Depth
Redshirting Bryce Esmoil (Fr), John McConkey (Fr)

Expectations were very high for Carter Isley in his freshman year, as he and Frank Walsh were both coming off successful redshirt freshman seasons (Isley was 23-7 in 2016-17), but the heavyweight struggled at times against better competition. Isley took sixth at the Big 12 Tourament and did not qualify for the NCAA tournament, the first time that has happened at 285 pounds since the 2010-2011 season for UNI.

Isley seemed to struggle at times last season with opponents who were significantly bigger than he was. He’s a smaller type of heavyweight and he’ll have to find his way to finishing shots if he wants to stay competitive in the national rankings.

As far as backups go, Frank Walsh is no longer on the roster, and UNI brought in two freshman in Bryce Esmoil and John McConkey, who I would expect to redshirt.

 

 

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