ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The range of emotions can be defeating at the NCAA Division I wrestling championships.
Northern Iowa head coach Doug Schwab went through all of them Friday night at the Scottrade Center as his Panthers fought for positions in the national finals in addition to All-America spots on Saturday night’s podium.
In the end, Schwab was just proud of the end results, win or lose, and UNI had both.
Redshirt freshman Max Thomsen from La Porte City fell short of becoming the Panthers’ first national finalist since 2005 when Missouri’s Lavion Mayes scored with three seconds left to pull out a 4-2 victory in the 149-pound semifinals, while sophomore Drew Foster gave UNI its second All-American with a series of wins in the 184-pound field.
“What a great competitor,” Schwab said of Thomsen.
“He has built himself into an All-American and you can’t take that away from him ever,” added Schwab of Foster, from Burlington. “Those two are great stories and you want kids like that.”
After an excellently executed 5-1 victory over Kenny Theobold of Rutgers in the quarterfinals, Thomsen was trying to become UNI’s first freshman finalist since Jim Harmon and Bill Weick each made the national finals in 1952. He wrestled another strong match, his fourth against Mayes.
Neither wrestler scored in the first period, and Mayes took a 1-0 lead in the second on an escape with 1:32 left in the period. In the third, Thomsen scored a reversal with 1:09 left to take a 2-1 lead, only to see Mayes escape 15 seconds later to tie it 2-all.
It looked like the match would head to sudden victory when Mayes exploded, got Thomsen’s right foot and was able to turn the corner for two points with three seconds left in the match. Schwab challenged the call, but the takedown was upheld.
“I think I let it play into his game too much,” Thomsen said afterward. “Too much space ... that guy is good in space and that is why he is in the finals and I’m not.”
Thomsen will wrestle Micah Jordan of Ohio State Saturday morning in the consolation semifinals and with a win would advance to the third-place match.
“I’m grateful because there are a lot of people out there that would love to be in my shoes even though I came up short of my goal,” Thomsen said.
Schwab had no trouble finding superlatives in talking about his super frosh.
“Man, he made an incredible jump this year,” Schwab said. “If you look at where he was a year ago, he has gotten better in every position and that is fun to see guys make that kind of jump and it was built on his back and the work he has done.
“He’s really close to being an incredibly dangerous man. I don’t think he is anywhere near tapping his potential and that is exciting.”
After losing to fourth-seeded Nolan Boyd of Oklahoma State, 11-7, in the quarterfinals, Foster had to regroup to face North Carolina State’s Michael Macchiavello in the blood round. In that match, trailing 1-0, Foster scored with 23 seconds left in the second period to take a 2-1 lead and registered an escape in the third for a 3-1 victory to earn All-American honors.
Later, the Mediapolis native led twice but dropped an 8-6 decision to defending national champions Myles Martin of Ohio State to drop into the seventh-place match.
“Yeah it does (feel awesome), getting one of my goals out of the way,” Foster said.
Schwab said it is an incredible story of a kid who was never a state champion as a prep who built himself into the wrestler he has become.
“I think that is a valuable lesson for some of those kids out there,” Schwab said of Foster. “Should I go Division I because I’m not sure I can do it. But coming out (of high school), Randy (UNI assistant coach Pugh) saw something in him the whole time and when you have somebody that believes in you, that makes a huge difference.”
Sophomore Bryce Steiert lost in the blood round to fall one win short of All-American honors for the second consecutive season.
Earlier in the day, Dylan Peters at 125, Josh Alber at 133 and Taylor Lujan at 174 lost and were eliminated.
Peters, UNI’s lone senior, lost his opening match Friday, 9-6, to Buffalo’s Kyle Akins and saw his spectacular career come to a close.
The 33rd two-time All-American in UNI history battled shoulder and knee ailments the entire 2016-17 season that limited him to just 18 matches, counting his four NCAA tournament matches this weekend.
“Things are fresh,” Schwab said of Peters. “He has been the heart of the program the last five years. He helped put our program on the map. Some of those things ... the little pieces of heart you get ripped out at this tournament you see them all over the hallways. It is pretty gut-wrenching, but he has nothing to hang his head about and he had an incredible career.”
UNI currently sits in 17th place with 23.5 points, five more than it scored last year in New York City and will return both of its All-Americans and six of its qualifiers. The six returning qualifiers are the most the Panthers will return since 2009.