ROCHESTER, Minn. — There were times during this past wrestling season when Jacob Warner felt himself getting impatient.
The Iowa true freshman spent the year in redshirt, which meant his competitions were limited. He wrestled in four tournaments — the Luther Open, the Lindenwood Open, the UNI Open and the Midlands Championships — and compiled a 15-4 record.
But four tournaments for a competitor like Warner is — well, it’s not enough.
“Redshirting kind of sucks because I wanted to be in the lineup,” Warner said, “but I got to focus on me and what I needed to work on. It worked out well.”
On Saturday, Warner won both of his matches here inside the Regional Sports Center to qualify for the 2018 UWW Junior World Team. He will represent the United States at 92 kilograms (roughly 202 pounds) at the Junior World Championships, set for Sept. 17-23 in Trnava, Slovakia.
Warner was already in the finals thanks to his winning the UWW Junior national title last month. He went 4-0 and didn’t allow a single point en route to first. None of his matches there reached the second period, and only one spanned more than 70 seconds.
“Warner is good, and he’s getting better,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said ahead of this weekend. “He’s starting to move east and west along with north and south. He’s very, very strong. Deceptively strong, and it’s because he knows wrestling positions.”
Warner joined Iowa as the top-ranked 195-pounder in the country. He was a three-time state champion for Washington Community High School in central Illinois. He was a big part of why the Hawkeyes’ 2017 recruiting class was ranked No. 1 nationally. He is expected to do big things.
This past season, Warner offered small glimpses of his potential. At the Lindenwood Open, he beat Missouri Willie Miklus, a 2018 NCAA All-American at 197 pounds. Warner won via 16-7 major decision. It turned heads all over the country.
In January, a month after the Midlands, Warner competed in the Golden Grand Prix Ivan Yarygin tournament, arguably the toughest freestyle tournament in the world. He went 1-1, but Brands said it was another opportunity for growth.
“Development. How he handles constructive criticism,” Brands said when asked where Warner made the biggest strides this year. “He’s very thick-skinned. That’s a tribute to how his parents raised him, with accountability. He does respond. He doesn’t sulk. That’s how you get better.
“No matter how you talk to somebody, if it’s not something they want to hear — even if you are light in your conversation, they can internalize something and take it any way you want, and he always takes it the right way. He internalizes it and moves forward. I love his approach.”
So Warner’s performance in Vegas was not a surprise to Brands, and neither was Saturday’s showing in Minnesota. Virginia Tech’s John Borst emerged from Friday’s challenge tournament to meet Warner. The two met in the finals last month, with Warner winning 10-0.
Saturday’s results went much of the same way. Warner rolled up the first match by a 10-0 technical fall in one minute, 39 seconds. The second match reached the second period — but only for 30 seconds, as Warner won that one, 11-0.
“I knew I was ready,” Warner said. “I just felt good. I’m happy with my performance. I always make sure to be stingy. People give up stupid points at these types of tournaments, and I wasn’t trying to give up any stupid points. I think that’s why I did well.”
Next up for Warner will be another crack at a world title. He qualified for the Cadet world team in 2016 and won the bronze. He recalls leading India’s Deepak Punia 3-0, but then losing. He battled back to win twice to claim third in the wrestlebacks.
“Not trying to get bronze again,” Warner said. “That kind of sucked, but that’s a big thing I’ve learned with college, just keeping my head in matches. It’s something that I need to keep doing, just stay in the match and keep my offense going. Can’t get flustered.”
Because for a competitor like Warner — well, anything but gold is just not enough.
Moody falls to Lewis: Jeremiah Moody was the only other Hawkeye in action in the Junior competition. But Moody fell to Virginia Tech’s Mehki Lewis, two matches to none, in the best-of-three finals at 74 kilograms.
Moody reached the finals by winning a national title last month — during which, he came back to beat Lewis in the semifinals. On Saturday, Lewis ensured Moody didn’t have that chance, rolling up technical falls in both bouts.
Other Seniors go down early
- Nick Dardanes, a member of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, went down in the first round to Jayson Ness, a fellow former Minnesota Gopher. Ness beat Dardanes, 6-3, at 65 kilograms.
- Former Hawkeye All-American Nathan Burak fell in the semifinals at 97 kilograms. Ty Walz, a former Virginia Tech wrestler, beat Burak 2-1.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.