CEDAR FALLS — As the postseason neared, momentum had been building inside and outside of Northern Iowa wrestling room.
That continued to be the case Saturday as UNI hosted the 2017 Mid-America Conference wrestling championships at the McLeod Center.
Five Panthers, including four underclassmen, advanced to Sunday’s finals, and seven UNI wrestlers remain alive to qualify for the NCAA Division I championships.
“I’m proud of how we wrestled,” UNI head coach Doug Schwab said. “We have five guys in the finals and two guys going back for third and that is what we can do ... we want to get those guys, get a bunch of odd numbers and build for the national tournament.”
UNI’s finalists are Dylan Peters at 125, Max Thomsen at 149, Bryce Steiert at 165, Taylor Lujan at 174 and Drew Foster at 184.
Thomsen and Lujan are redshirt freshmen while Steiert and Foster are sophomores.
Thomsen, the La Porte City native, continued his impressive late season run. After edging Eastern Michigan’s Nick Barber in the quarterfinals, 3-0, Thomsen avenged one of his four losses with a 6-3 victory over Justin Oliver of Central Michigan, a returning All-American.
“Just keep getting better every single day and I know I’m going to peak at the right time just like you are seeing,” Thomsen said. “I’m happy I’m there (in the finals), but there is work to be done.”
The victory over Oliver was the second time in his last three matches that Thomsen has defeated a returning All-American. He beat Missouri’s Lavion Mayes, 9-2, on Feb. 12, to avenge another loss, and it will be Mayes who Thomsen will face in the 149 finals.
Steiert advanced to the 165 final with a 10-4 win over Sheldon Wright of Old Dominion, an opponent he beat just 3-2 a month ago.
“Stingy,” Steiert said of the victory. “You win a lot of matches when you’re stingy and then being able to take advantage of your opportunities. Last year, I probably let some points slide against guys I could’ve capitalized on and I’ve really been honing in on that.”
Lujan topped Missouri’s Dylan Wisman, 11-8, in the 174 semifinals to advance to meet Northern Illinois’ Trace Engelkes. Foster controlled his match against Missouri’s Matthew Lemanowicz, scoring a 5-2 semifinal victory to advance to face Jack Dechow of ODU in the 184 finals.
UNI nearly had a sixth finalist as top-seeded Josh Alber had a last-second takedown in the 133 semifinals waved off after review in a 3-2 loss to Buffalo’s Bryan Lantry.
Alber can still wrestle back for third, as can freshman Jacob Holschlag at 197.
“You have to give yourself a few more opportunities,” Schwab said. “It was close. They looked at it and obviously they felt they made the right call. Obviously, I’m biased.”
It wasn’t all a youth movement for UNI. Peters, the senior two-time All-American, pinned Buffalo’s Kyle Akins in his opening match for his 37th career pin, third among all active Division I wrestlers, before topping Brock Hudkins of Northern Illinois, 4-2, to reach his fourth consecutive MAC championship match.
Peters, seeded sixth because injuries have caused him to wrestle sparingly this winter, has lost his last two finals appearances after winning in 2014, but Schwab says Peters is motivated to finish strong.
“He’s got a lot of guts,” Schwab said. “A lot of heart. He is a tough kid. Everyone can tell he is not the Dylan Peters we are accustomed to, but he is still going out there and finding a way and you have to be proud of that.”
The semifinal victory also secured the former Denver-Tripoli star his fourth trip to the NCAA tournament.
UNI also had a bit of misfortune as Paden Moore was forced to injury default after suffering a concussion in a wrestleback match, and heavyweight J.J. Everard, who tore his right ACL at Ohio late in the season, went 0-2, injury defaulting his wrestleback match to be eliminated.
“J.J., he’s senior, and he earned that opportunity to go out there and I appreciate him giving himself a chance. I have no regrets with that decision,” said Schwab.
UNI trails Missouri heading into day two in the team race by 27 1/2 points. The Tigers have one more finalist than the Panthers and the teams will have head-to-head matches at 149 between Thomsen and Mayes, and at 165 between Steiert and Daniel Lewis.
Missouri separated itself from UNI with bonus points, especially in the semifinals where the Tigers recorded three pins — John Erneste at 133, Lewis at 165 and Olympic bronze medalist J’Den Cox at 197.
“Overall I thought we competed well,” Tiger head coach Brian Smith said. “Pleased and real excited that we are getting the bonus points because that makes it tough for teams to catch us if we are doing that.”
Consolation semifinals start at noon Sunday, with the finals scheduled for 2 p.m.
TEAM STANDINGS — 1. Missouri 117.5, 2 Northern Iowa 90.5, 3. Old Dominion 82.5, 4. Central Michigan 72, 5. Northern Illinois 64, 6. Buffalo 61.5, 7. Eastern Michigan 56, 8. Ohio 53, 9. Kent State 41.5.
SEMIFINALS — Shakur Laney (Ohio) dec. Noah Gonser (Eastern Michigan), 5-3, Dylan Peters (UNI) dec. Brock Hudgins (Northern Illinois) 4-2.
SEMIFINALS — Bryan Lantry (Buffalo) dec. Josh Alber 3-2, John Erneste (Missouri) pinned Anthony Tutolo (Kent St.), 3:50.
SEMIFINALS — Jaydin Eierman (MU) dec. Kevin Budock (Old Dominion) 8-2, Noah Forrider (Ohio) dec. Angel Velasquez (NIU) 6-0.
SEMIFINALS — Lavion Mayes (MU) dec. Steve Bleise (NIU) 5-2, Max Thomsen (UNI) dec. Justin Oliver (Central Michigan) 6-3.
SEMIFINALS — Joey Lavallee(MU) dec Casey Sparkman (KSU) 14-1, Colin Heffernan (CMU) dec. Zachary Carson (EMU), 7-3.
SEMIFINALS — Daniel Lewis (MU) pinned Shaun’Qae McMurtry (NIU), 2:55, Bryce Steiert (UNI) dec. Sheldon Wright (ODU) 10-4.
SEMIFINALS — Tayor Lujan (UNI) dec. Dylan Wisman (MU) 11-8, Trace Engelkes (NIU) dec. Christian Brucki (CMU) 11-9 SV.
SEMIFINALS — Drew Foster (UNI) dec. Matthew Lemanowicz (MU) 5-2, Jack Dechow (ODU) dec. Jordan Ellingwood (CMU) 3-2.
SEMIFINALS — J’Den Cox (MU) pinned Stephen Suglio (KSU), 4:06, Kevin Beazley (ODU) dec. Shawn Scott (NIU) 4-3.
SEMIFINALS — Jake Gunning (Buffalo) dec. Zack Parker (Ohio) 9-4, Gage Hutchison (EMU) dec. Austin Myers (MU) 5-2 TB2.