The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Keckeisen: King of 184 lbs.

Keckeisen makes his entrance for his championship match on Saturday.

After three years of falling short of an NCAA wrestling national championship, Parker Keckeisen finally sits atop the podium. 

Keckeisen etched his name in the University of Northern Iowa’s record book, becoming the 23rd Panther wrestler to win an NCAA Division I national championship, the first since Drew Foster’s 2019 national title. Undeniably, Keckeisen has been one of the most dominant wrestlers in the country for the entire season. 

“That’s one of the best guys in the country,” said UNI coach Doug Schwab. “Nothing against anyone else, but that was the most dominant guy to me in the tournament.”

Keckeisen brought his unbeaten record into the NCAA finals, facing Oklahoma State’s Dustin Plott. Both Keckeisen and Plott earned four bonus-point wins on their way to the final match, setting up a match featuring an immovable object and an unstoppable force. Keckeisen struck first, scoring a takedown in the first 35 seconds of the match. He doubled down on takedowns in the opening frame, getting one right before time expired, carrying a 6-1 lead. Plott fought back, earning a pair of escapes that cut the lead to just three points. Keckeisen escaped to open the third period and kept being aggressive on his offense, securing two more takedowns. Keckeisen said it was all a part of the game plan. 

“My offense is better than his defense so I just tried to get to his legs,” Keckeisen said. “The amount of finish work I’ve done, we’ve done, is a lot, so (I) had to get to where (I was) good at.” He also amounted one minute and 11 seconds of riding time, giving him a 14-5 major decision win. 

The UNI redshirt junior added a 184 lb title to his already illustrious collegiate career, cementing himself as one of the greatest wrestlers to ever grace this campus. He capped off one of the most dominant seasons of all time, finishing with a 31-0 record and earning bonus points in all but three of them. He is the first UNI undefeated national champion since 1963, when Bill Dotson won the 137 lb. title. The best part: Keckeisen has already announced he will be back for next season. 

Keckeisen is no stranger to the bright lights. Two weeks ago, he became the first UNI wrestler to win four Big 12 individual titles. Keckeisen has also sniffed the top of the NCAA podium for the past three seasons. In 2021 and 2022, he finished in third place, losing just one match each year. Last year, Keckeisen fell in the finals to Penn State’s Aaron Brooks, who won his fourth NCAA title the match after Keckeisen won his. While Keckeisen is proud of his accomplishments, he is looking more at the big picture.

“Yeah this is cool but this is just a day on the calendar; how am I gonna be on the other 364 days?” 

The UNI Panthers sent five more wrestlers to Kansas City to compete at the three-day national tournament. 

At 133 lbs, Julian Farber earned an at-large bid and was seeded 19th. Farber matched up with Nebraska’s Jacob Van Dee, who he beat earlier this year two times. Both wrestlers were making their NCAA debut. Van Dee came out victorious with a 5-1 victory, avenging the regular season losses. Farber’s next matchup was against Indiana’s Cayden Rooks. Unfortunately, after three minutes and 17 seconds of match time, Farber had to injury default the match, ending his season. As just a redshirt sophomore, Farber looks to return for the Panthers next year and bounce back. 

At 141 lbs, #7 Cael Happel made his second appearance at the NCAA tournament. Last year, Happel went 2-2 at the tournament in Tulsa. He faced off against Vance Vombaur of Minnesota, who came into the tournament with a record of 19-11. A seven minute match wasn’t long enough to decide the outcome, pushing it to an overtime period. Vombaur secured a takedown in the extra period, earning an 8-5 win. Happel fought back from the opening round loss, earning three straight victories. He defeated Oklahoma State’s Tagen Jamison, Michigan’s Sergio Lemley, and Pittsburgh’s Cole Matthews on his way to a match that would decide All-American status. That’s where he matched up with Real Woods of Iowa, a reigning national runner-up. Woods came out on top with a 5-2 decision. There’s no doubt that Happel will be back next year and hungry for a podium spot. 

At 157 lbs, Big 12 champion and fifth seeded Ryder Downey made his NCAA debut against Jared Hill from Oklahoma. Downey took care of business, winning by a 4-1 decision. Downey took on Virginia Tech’s #12 Bryce Andonian in the second round. After a long match, Andonian ended up on top, sending Downey to the bloodround. From there, Downey earned two bonus point victories, including a 11-3 major decision of former Panther Michael Blockhus, who now wrestles for Minnesota. Yet again, a Panther took on a Hawkeye for a chance at the podium. This time, it was #6 Jared Franek. Franek was victorious in a 4-2 match, ending Downey’s season. Downey looks to next year and to build off a stellar redshirt-freshman season. 

At 165 lbs, #33 Jack Thomsen made his tournament debut after a sixth place finish at the Big 12 Championships. Thomsen defeated Lehigh’s Jake Logan by major decision, 14-3. That set a match with Keegan O’Toole from Missouri, who was the reigning NCAA champion. O’Toole took care of business in two minutes and 55 seconds. His next match up was against Indiana’s Tyler Lillard. Lillard, like O’Toole, won by fall. Thomsen made a breakthrough in UNI’s lineup late in the season, and a season ending at the national tournament is always a successful one.  

174 lbs featured #28 Jared Simma. Simma matched up with Harvard’s #5 Phillip Conigiliaro. Simma pulled off the upset, winning in dominant fashion 7-0. His second round matchup was against Tyler Eischens of North Carolina, the 21st seed. Simma earned his second victory of the tournament, winning a nailbiter 6-4. In the quarterfinals, Simma faced #5 Shane Griffith of Michigan. Griffith took the win by a single point, 8-7. Simma was sent to the backside, matching up with Army’s Benjamin Pasiuk. Simma suffered his second 1-point loss of the tournament, losing a heartbreaker, 9-8. 

At 197 lbs, Wyatt Voelker made his first appearance at the NCAA tournament. Voelker faced a tough first round matchup, facing #14 John Poznanski of Rutgers. Poznanski took the 4-2 decision to advance to the next round. Voelker fought back on the backside, earning a technical fall win over Sam Mitchell of Buffalo. Utah Valley’s Evan Bockman was Voelker’s next opponent. Voelker earned a hard fought 3-2 decision, living to see another day. Jacob Cardenas defeated Voelker in the next round, 11-2. Voelker returns for the Panthers next year, now with another year of collegiate experience under his belt. 

With the conclusion of the tournament, the 2023-24 wrestling season has officially come to an end. The good news for Panthers fans is that the future is very bright. Many of the key contributors for this year’s team also come back next year. Doug Schwab and company are in for another successful season in 2024-25. 

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