CEDAR FALLS — Eight pounds doesn’t sound like a lot. Eight pounds to a wrestler, however, can be a big difference.
It’s a difference between a guy going through the motions because it took every ounce of energy to lose those eight pounds or a guy who doesn’t have to cut those eight pounds and he his fresh and excited to take to the mat whether it is for practice or a competition.
Northern Iowa’s Josh Alber wasn’t always excited to take the mat in 2016-17.
Alber seldom had to cut weight growing up as he won four Illinois state championships for Dakota High School.
Things changed when Alber arrived in Cedar Falls where weight management became more of a focus. Although he was having a lot of success on the mat (22-5 during his redshirt season) and qualified for the NCAA Championships each of the last two seasons, he never felt good.
“You have to be very disciplined and it was always a big focus on weight management,” Alber said of his first three seasons. “It took me a long time to get used to it. And it got to a point where I didn’t feel strong anymore. I didn’t have much energy.”
Alber admits by the end of last season he wasn’t enjoying wrestling as much as he knew he should, so he approached UNI coaches Doug Schwab, Lee Roper and Randy Pugh with an idea. He wanted to move from 133 to 141 pounds.
“They were cool with it, said whatever you feel will make you wrestle your best is where we want you to be,” Alber said. “You still have to be disciplined with what you eat. It is not like I walk around at 141 pounds. But I feel different. I’m not always drained. I don’t have to focus on making a cut until four or five days out instead of seven or eight days in a row of going hard.
“There is a lot more peace and enjoyment.”
The results have been positive all around. Alber is 11-2 with his only two losses to second-ranked Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell, one of those in the finals of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational after Alber had beaten three straight ranked opponents, including sixth-ranked Chad Red of Nebraska and seventh-ranked Tommy Thorn of Minnesota, an All-American at 141 last March in St. Louis.
“We want guys that love the sport and enjoy the sport and whatever happens during their time here they still love the sport,” Schwab said. “Sometimes that sacrifice (cutting to a certain weight) is what you have to do, but you’ve seen him go up and you’ve seen how he has competed. It was the best thing to do.”
Schwab, who has often referred to Alber as a leader in the room the past four seasons, said Alber was not in balance a year ago.
“There were some other things that with the weight cut that started to stack on there and although he never complained, we don’t need that when a guy is competing,” Schwab said. “If a guy is excited about wrestling and his mind is in the right place, so many of those little things get taken care of, but when you want to be done, that is a tough place to be.
“Josh Alber is excited to be wrestling right now and that is a good thing for Josh Alber and a good thing for UNI wrestling.”
In addition to feeling good and competing well at 141 pounds, where Alber is currently ranked seventh, he has balance in his life.
Everybody has seen Tony and Sherry Albers’ “Josh Alber fan van” that typically carries his mom and dad, older sisters Brittany and Jenny and their families to every UNI competition.
“We were in Buffalo last year, and I look over and there are the Albers, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing in Buffalo?’” Schwab said with a smile.
Additional peace of mind came in July when Alber married his junior high sweetheart, Reid, in Cancun.
“Oh man, she makes everything a lot easier,” Alber said. “There is always someone home encouraging me where I’m not by myself thinking too much. She keeps me from having wrestling too much on my mind. It really has been a blessing and has taken a lot of stress off everything.”
Reid followed Josh to Cedar Falls and graduates in May, then will take a year off school during Josh’s senior season next year before heading to medical school.
“She followed me here and supports me in my dream, so I will follow her when she goes to med school and support her dream,” Josh said.
Meanwhile, Alber hopes to keep building on his early results.
“I wasn’t worried about the jump in weight, but not sure what it was going to be like,” Alber said. “So far this year I’ve felt stronger than everyone I’ve wrestled. Weight has not been an issue. Strength has not been an issue. I feel my conditioning is the best it’s ever been.
“I’m very strong right now.”
That is what Schwab likes to hear.
“Some people questioned the move,” Schwab said. “Some people are like a guy has to be big for his weight. No, a guy has to be strong at their weight, have good skills, be able to hold up and have his mind in the right place. That is what is most important, and right now that is the place Josh is in.”