Six Panthers claim titles in season opener

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Six Panthers claim titles in season opener

TONI FORTMANN

TONI FORTMANN

TONI FORTMANN

PATRICK HANSEN, Sports Writer

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The UNI wrestling team, better known as the Panther Train, returned this week for the first time since national champion Drew Foster won it all six months ago.

Returning three All-Americans and three NCAA qualifiers, the Panthers opened up their season with a bang at the Harold Nichols Open at Iowa State University on Sunday, Nov. 10. Six Panther wrestlers claimed the title in their weight group on the day with five more finishing in second place.

“We had some gritty wins yesterday, but, to me, grit is, ‘Okay, you get knocked down, how do you respond to that?,’” head coach Doug Schwab said.  “I’m already seeing guys in.  I’m already seeing how guys are going to respond.  We’re in this for the long haul.” 

Champions included redshirt freshman Michael Blockhus who defeated fellow Panther Triston Lara to win the 141-pound weight class.  Redshirt senior Max Thomsen took down an All-American in Jarrett Degen out of Iowa State to be crowned at 149.

“That’s what you want to see is a little bit of that assassin, where nothing gets to you man.Nothing,” Schwab said about.Thomsen’s title.  “It doesn’t matter what happens, I’ll still get to you and I’ll find a way.”

Bryce Steiert asserted his dominance on the 174-pound weight class to take the top spot along with Taylor Lujan, who won the crown at 184.

With the addition of six freshmen this season, the senior Lujan had some words of advice.

“I think bring guys along and showing them they’re not alone,” Lujan said.  “There is a standard to live by here, we’re not going to let you get by with being mediocre.”

In the freshman/sophomore division, freshman Lance Runyon won the 165-pound class, and fellow freshman Parker Keckeisen took the 184-pound class.

Now that the Panther Train crowned a national champion for the first time since 2000, the goal this season is to bring back a team title.

“Bringing a team title back to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to the University of Northern Iowa, senior Jacob Holschlag said.  “We’re like, what, one of eight teams in the entire country that have ever won a Division  One title. It would be great to bring that back.  I think we have the horsepower to do it.”

However, to get to that point Coach Schwab emphasized the grind of every day to get better.

“We, as a group, will continue to move forward and only get better,” Schwab said.  “I’m a tough grader and they want me to be a tough grader, but for the first tournament out, I saw a lot of good things and I know a lot of our guys are only going to continue to improve moving forward.”

The next match for the Panther Train will be on Sunday, Nov. 17 as the Purple and Gold will travel to the Chicagoland area to take on Northwestern.  The Panthers will return home to the West Gym on Nov. 24 to face off against Nebraska.

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