ST. LOUIS — Don’t make it too big and be true to yourself.
That has been the message University of Northern Iowa wrestling coach Doug Schwab has been delivering to his seven Division I national wrestling championship qualifiers in the days leading up to the start of tournament Thursday at the Scottrade Center.
“That has been it, don’t make it bigger in your head,” Schwab said. “The circle in the middle of the mat is still the same size, we still get 420 seconds to wrestle. Sure the arena is a little bigger, but don’t build it up because we know we are prepared and let’s go show it.
“That is the trick. If those guys can do that, then we are going to be okay.”
Six of the Panthers’ seven qualifiers are freshmen or sophomores. If they need somebody to follow, senior Dylan Peters is making his fourth trip to nationals, while sophomores Josh Alber (133) and Bryce Steiert (165) competed at Madison Square Garden last March.
The newcomers are freshman Max Thomsen at 149, freshman Taylor Lujan at 174, sophomore Drew Foster at 184 and freshman Jacob Holschlag at 197.
“He is so steady and you don’t see a wave of emotion,” Schwab said of Peters.
“I’m not going to set limits on any of these guys. I’m all about how I feel. It’s not like you are going into a test and hoping you are going to do well. I feel at ease. I think we are all ready for that whistle to blow on Thursday morning.”
Alber, who went 1-2 last year as a freshman, said it is a different feeling this time around.
“This team is so much more relaxed and we have so much fun,” Alber said. “The last couple of years we were tight at this time of the year, but right now we are having fun and are ready to go and this is like our treat because we have put so much work into it that we want to enjoy the championships.”
IOWA’S NINE: Five of Iowa’s nine qualifiers are seeded, including Thomas Gilman, who is the top seed at 125.
Freshman Michael Kemerer is seeded second at 157, while Sammy Brooks (3rd at 184), Cory Clark (4th at 133) and Brandon Sorensen (5th at 149) are also top-five seeds.
Topher Carton (141), Joey Gunther (165), Alex Meyer (11th at 174) and Cash Wilcke (197) have also qualified.
“I’m aware of our first-round opponents and I don’t look to further ahead,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “And our guys should not be looking to far ahead, and the way they are wired and their best wrestling has been in the past when it was about getting ready to go each and every match.
“To look ahead is silly business.”
Brands said Sorensen, the two-time All-American who was last year’s 149-pound runner-up, needs to get back to what made him a finalist last year after his third-place finish at the Big Ten tournament.
“We need to turn it on,” Brands said. “This has been an unusual year for him and we are going into this tournament the fifth seed and we have to giddy up.”
IOWA STATE’S THREE: The Cyclones qualified three wrestlers, including a pair of returning All-Americans in Earl Hall at 133 and Lelund Weatherspoon at 174.
A year ago, Weatherspoon was the only unseeded wrestler to reach the semifinals at Madison Square Garden. He enters the tournament with a 22-11 mark.
Hall could become the Cyclones’ 57th wrestler to earn All-America status three or more times. Both Hall and Weatherspoon are making their fourth NCAA appearances.
The third qualifier is Waterloo West two-time state champion Marcus Harrington at 197 pounds.