West Delaware wrestler Wyatt Voelker, a state and national champ, commits to Northern Iowa
Wyatt Voelker had three things to do on Tuesday.
First, eat breakfast at iHop.
Second, watch the West Delaware volleyball team win its quarterfinal match against Unity Christian in Cedar Rapids (they did, three sets to one).
Third, announce his college commitment — to the Northern Iowa wrestling program.
Yes, Voelker, West Delaware’s star senior wrestler, told the Des Moines Register that he is now a member of the Panther Train. He picked Northern Iowa over Iowa State, Iowa and North Carolina, among others. He projects at 197 pounds.
“I’m fired up,” Voelker said in an interview with the Register Tuesday morning. “I decided yesterday and I let the coaches know, and they were fired up, too.
“I called (Northern Iowa coach Doug Schwab), and I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone so fired up and ready. He was ready to run through a brick wall.”
Voelker is now the fourth member of the Panthers’ 2022 recruiting class, joining North Butler’s Chet Buss, Don Bosco’s Garrett Funk and Alabama star Cory Land. Voelker, Land and Buss are all considered top-150 prospects nationally in the 2022 class by MatScouts — Land is No. 19 overall, Voelker is No. 53 and Buss is No. 136.
In Voelker, the Panthers are getting a still-rising upper-weight star who has established himself as one of the best big men in the country. He is ranked No. 9 in the nation at 195 by MatScouts.
In three years at West Delaware, he has compiled a 119-13 overall record. He’s a three-time state medalist in Class 2A, at 170 as a freshman and twice at 195. Last season, he went 38-0 and won a state title, and led the Hawks to a team championship.
In the past year alone, he won a Junior Greco-Roman national title, took second at the Junior folkstyle national tournament, eighth at the Junior men’s freestyle national tournament, and fourth at the Junior Greco world team trials. He was also a member of the Iowa team that won the Junior freestyle national duals in June.
Coaches from all over drooled over his tremendous potential, and Voelker heard from more than a dozen schools during his recruiting process. He quickly narrowed it to four: the Hawkeyes, Panthers, Cyclones and North Carolina. Each delivered a unique pitch.
North Carolina offered a unique out-of-state opportunity. Voelker’s Big Game Wrestling Club teammates, Hunter Garvin and Robert Avila Jr., both from Iowa City West, recently committed to Stanford and Virginia, respectively. Plus, former Iowa wrestler Tony Ramos is the Tar Heels’ associate head coach, making the offer more intriguing.
The Hawkeyes and Cyclones both offered chances to join the flagship in-state schools. Iowa, of course, is the defending NCAA team champion, and Iowa State has been building toward the top of the Big 12 and closing in on the top-10 nationally since Kevin Dresser arrived five years ago.
But the Panthers, yet another elite-level Division I program in Iowa, ultimately won out. Voelker said his relationship with Schwab and the rest of the Northern Iowa coaching staff was one of the major deciding factors.
“I kept talking to my coaches, and they asked me — what are your ultimate goals and what are you looking for?” Voelker said. “I wanted a coaching staff that’s going to love me, treat me like a person, and train me to win national, world and Olympic titles.
“It was Northern Iowa the whole time. It’s a perfect fit. I feel like I can be myself with them, grow as a person, as a wrestler, and be the best version of me.”
It helps, too, that Northern Iowa has some high-level training partners for their heavier weights.
Drew Foster, a 2019 NCAA champion at 184 pounds, and Taylor Lujan, a recent U.S. Senior men’s freestyle national champ, are both still in Cedar Falls as members of the Panther Wrestling Club RTC. Even more, Parker Keckeisen, an All-American last year at 184 pounds, has four more years at Northern Iowa.
The Panthers have also built their program with predominantly in-state talent, which was something Voelker liked, too. Of the 34 wrestlers currently on Northern Iowa’s roster for the 2021-22 season, 23 are Iowa natives. At least three more will join as part of the Panthers’ 2022 recruiting class, in Buss, Funk and now Voelker.
“It’s awesome,” Voelker said. “We’re trying to grow the state as Iowa boys, and Northern Iowa is a team with a bunch of Iowa boys. I’m ready to go win national titles with those guys.”
Voelker is the 16th in-state wrestler from Iowa's 2022 senior class to commit to a Division I program. Of the 16, 11 are staying in-state. Voelker, Funk and Buss are all going to Cedar Falls, Crestwood’s Carter Fousek is headed to Iowa State, and the other seven are going to be Hawkeyes:
- Waverly-Shell Rock’s Aiden Riggins;
- Des Moines Lincoln’s Mickey Griffith;
- Bettendorf’s Bradley Hill;
- Southeast Polk’s Carter and Carson Martin;
- Mason City’s Jace Rhodes;
- and West Lyon’s Easton Fleshman.
The other five are all going out-of-state: Garvin to Stanford, Avila and Waukee Northwest’s Griffin Gammell are both going to Virginia, and Dowling Catholic twin brothers Jacob and Evan Frost are both headed to the Ivy League’s Columbia.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.