CEDAR FALLS — The advice from the coach and the veteran were nearly identical.
When the Mid-American Conference wrestling championships start Saturday at the McLeod Center, four Northern Iowa wrestlers will making their post-season debuts for the Panthers.
Although NCAA qualifying spots are on the line, UNI head coach Doug Schwab doesn’t feel that group — Max Thomsen (149), Paden Moore (157), Taylor Lujan (174) and Jacob Holschlag (197) — are feeling any extra pressure.
“Don’t treat it any differently,” two-time all-American Dylan Peters said. “Just wrestle how you have been wrestling.”
Schwab went further to say this isn’t the first time any of these individuals has been in this situation.
“What we have done with those guys all year is worry about them getting better,” Schwab said. “(We tell them) don’t build up the moment or situation and I think they have done a good job of that.
“What is the difference of getting ready for this or districts? It is the same thing, really. Sure it is at a higher level, but really it is the same thing as you are preparing for a bigger event.”
Thirty-seven automatic bids to the NCAA championships set for March 16-18 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
UNI has earned seven of those automatic bids (125, 133, 149, 165, 174, 84 and 197) which means the Panthers could qualify its most wrestlers under Schwab since it qualified seven in 2015.
“You can see in our guys eyes they are ready to go,” Schwab said. “Our guys are ready to go and now it is just time for them to go perform. The work is done. We have a plan for certain opponents, but really it is about what we do.”
Three Panthers were given the No. 1 pre-seed — Josh Alber at 133, Lujan at 174 and Drew Foster at 184. Additionally, Bryce Steiert is seeded second at 165 and Thomsen is seeded third at 149 as is JJ Everard at 285.
Schwab says every weight class will have some great battles, but four jump out 125, 133 , 149 and 197 where the MAC has five or more automatic qualifying spots up for grabs.
Probably the most hotly contested of the bunch will come at 149 where Thomsen, ranked eighth-nationally, is seeded third behind fourth-ranked Lavion Mayes and 10th-ranked Justin Oliver. Northern Illinois’ Steve Bleise is ranked 11th nationally.
“It is great for our conference to have that kind of depth at a weight,” Schwab said. “That is what we’d like to have at every weight class.”
“It is another great opportunity for me and another opportunity for me to show people that I belong and I’m one of the top guys in the country,” Thomsen added.
Favored or not, seeded high or low, Peters says just one thing is more important than everything else.
“We went down to Mizzou and responded to the task,” Peters said. “There were a lot of matches we weren’t favored and won. When it comes to NCAA time you are going to be seeing a lot of the same thing and it doesn’t matter if you are favored or not favored.
“It matters who steps up to the line ready to go.”
Many fans are wondering just how healthy Peters is right now. Peters, who ranks third in among all Division I active wrestlers in career pins with 37, has wrestled just three times since Jan. 8 and only 11 times all season.
Schwab said the only thing people need to know about Peters could be answered about how he missed most of last year with a torn ACL and then earned all-American status in New York City on the same bad knee.
“One thing man ... he is a competitor,” Schwab said. “I want to see that fire in his eyes and I saw it this weekend. I saw fire. I tell you what that is one guy whgen you see fire in his eyes you want to get out of his way. I have no doubt you are going to see the best Dylan Peters than you have seen all year.”
Peters may have extra fire in his eyes come Saturday after the three-time MAC championship finalist was seeded just sixth.
Five returning all-Americans will be in the field, including Olympic bronze medalist J’Den Cox of Missouri at 197. Also back are Lavion Mayes of Missouri at 149, Daniel Lewis of Missouri at 165, Peters at 125 and Justin Oliver of Central Michigan at 149.