Northern Iowa coach Doug Schwab reacts after the Panthers' 19-15 win over Oklahoma State. Des Moines Register
The Northern Iowa wrestling program will have a new look in 2020-21.
The program has taken significant strides in 10 years under coach Doug Schwab. The Panthers have climbed from sneaky spoiler to top-10 contender. Five wrestlers combined for six All-American finishes the last four years. They took 13th at the 2019 NCAA Championships, their best finish under Schwab.
This season, Northern Iowa finished 8-4 in duals — including a win over Oklahoma State for the first time in 29 years — and finished third at the Big 12 tournament. Seven wrestlers reached the national tournament, tying for the most in the Schwab era.
The NCAA Championships would’ve been a chance for Northern Iowa to continue its ascent. The Panthers last finished in the top-10 at the NCAA Championships in 1992. But the spread of the novel coronavirus canceled the tournament, denying Schwab and his team the opportunity.
The next wave of Northern Iowa wrestlers will hit the mat during the 2020-21 season. This exciting young crop of wrestlers, and the guys who will follow them, will be tasked with continuing the Panthers’ upward momentum.
Here’s a look at what Northern Iowa might look like next season:
Northern Iowa is not only losing four key pieces from this year’s team, but four seniors that were key to the Panthers’ overall rise.
Jacob Schwarm, Max Thomsen, Bryce Steiert and Taylor Lujan were all key cogs in the Panther lineup whose eligibility has expired. Those four combined for 391 career wins and 15 trips to the NCAA Championships.
Thomsen (149) and Steiert (174) were both All-Americans. Schwarm (125) led the nation in pins this season, with 16 over Division I opponents. Lujan, who twice reached the bloodround at the NCAA Championships and a two-time Big 12 champ, was the 1-seed at 184 pounds for this year’s national tournament.
Paden Moore and Isaiah Patton, who both were in Northern Iowa’s postseason lineup, will graduate as well. Moore went 10-8 and finished sixth at this season’s Big 12 Championships at 157 pounds. Patton jumped in at 197 after a cycle of injuries.
That’s six total departures from the Panthers’ postseason lineup.
Despite losing a ton of firepower and experience, the Panthers have a solid foundation on which to build beginning next season.
Three of this year’s seven NCAA qualifiers will return: Jack Skudlarczyk (133), Michael Blockhus (141) and Carter Isley (285). Blockhus went 22-10 as a redshirt freshman and was the 13-seed at the national tournament. Skudlarczyk was a first-time qualifier as a redshirt sophomore. Isley went 20-10 and also reached the big dance for the first time.
Austin Yant will be back after finishing seventh at 165 at the Big 12 Championships. Jacob Holschlag, a 2018 All-American at 197, will be a senior — he received a medical hardship waiver after missing the 2018-19 season with a knee injury. (He missed virtually all of this past season with another injury.)
There’s also Keaton Geerts, who at one point was the front-runner at 157, as well as Kyle Biscoglia (125) and Drew Bennett (133), who were both used in spots and flashed potential throughout the year.
Others like Pat Schoenfelder, Keegan Moore, Noah Glaser, Triston Lara, Derek Holschlag and Bryce Esmoil are all back, as well. They will either push for starting spots or provide depth.
Here’s where many of the new faces will begin to enter the fray.
Parker Keckeisen was the centerpiece of Northern Iowa’s 2019 recruiting class and is the likely front-runner to start at 184 next season. He was the No. 30 overall recruit in the 2019 class, and nearly made the Junior men’s freestyle world team last summer.
There’s also Lance Runyon, a state champion from Southeast Polk and Junior All-American in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. He’s expected to contend for a starting role at either 165 or 174.
Keckeisen and Runyon are the two notables who redshirted this season, but others will push for spots, too. There’s Kaleb Olejniczak (149/157), a state finalist from Perry; Lucas Roland (174), a state champ from PCM; Dayton Porsch (149/157), a four-timer from Kansas; and Kyle Gollhofer (125), a four-timer from Georgia.
Tyrell Gordon is not exactly a new face, as he started at 197 in 2018-19 while Jacob Holschlag was injured, but he redshirted this past season. There’s also Brody Teske, who transferred in from Penn State and will be a factor at the lighter weights.
Northern Iowa's Parker Keckeisen hopes to grow during his redshirt season. Des Moines Register
Incoming recruiting class
The Panthers’ 2020 signing class might be one of the best in program history, and features plenty of talented wrestlers who could make an impact in future seasons.
This haul is highlighted by two of the state’s biggest high school stars, in Lisbon’s Cael Happel and West Sioux’s Adam Allard. Happel became Iowa’s 28th four-time state champion in February, and is the No. 33 overall recruit nationally. Allard won three state titles and 204 career matches. Both are Junior All-Americans in the Olympic styles.
There’s also plenty of talented nationwide talent that’s coming to Cedar Falls. There’s Ohio prep Nevan Snodgrass, the No. 39 overall 2020 recruit and an accomplished competitor nationally; Florida standout Ethan Basile, another top-100 prospect; and Georgia prep Julian Farber, another intriguing talent with high upside.
A couple more in-state wrestlers round out the new crop of Panther wrestlers, in Woodbury Central’s Wade Mitchell, a 2019 state champ who missed this season with an injury, and Nashua-Plainfield’s Jakob Whitinger, another lightweight prospect.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal