TULSA, Okla. — Josh Alber may not be old and wise yet.
But in terms of experience at conference wrestling championships, Alber could be considered ancient at least in comparison with many of his University of Northern Iowa teammates.
The junior from Dakota, Ill., will make his third conference tournament appearance Saturday when the Panthers wrestle in their first Big 12 Conference championships along with Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Fresno State, Utah Valley, South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Wyoming, Northern Colorado and Air Force.
Alber said two things are important for he and his teammates to remember while trying to earn sports in the NCAA Division I Championships in Cleveland, Ohio, March 15-17.
“Honestly, it is the month of March that people grade you on although you’ve already put in months of hard work,” Alber said. “Because we’ve already put in the work, there is no reason not to feel prepared to go out and wrestle your best.”
Alber also said it’s helpful to listen to what eighth-year head coach Doug Schwab has been telling the 10 Panthers who will be participating.
“Trust comes from knowing I’ve put in the work to be prepared,” Alber said. “But trust also comes in believing in coach Schwab and his staff, Randy (Pugh), Lee (Roper) Brett (Robbins). If Schwab is telling us we are ready, we are prepared ... I believe him.”
Three Panthers have earned top seeds — Max Thomsen at 149, Taylor Lujan at 174 and Drew Foster at 184. Alber at 141 is seeded third behind two-time defending NCAA champion Dean Heil of Oklahoma State and three-time All-American Bryce Meredith of Wyoming. Jacob Holschlag is seeded third at 197.
The Big 12 has secured automatic NCAA qualifying spots for individuals at 125 (7), 133 (5), 141 (3), 149 (5), 157 (3), 165 (6), 174 (5), 184 (4), 197 (4) and 285 (3), meaning any individual who finishes among those automatic qualifying spots earns a trip to Cleveland.
Based on his NCAA coaches rank (19th) and RPI (14th), Panther Jay Schwarm is seeded sixth at 125, but at the minimum has earned an NCAA at-large berth regardless where he finishes.
UNI’s other four participants — Jack Wagner (133), Logan Ryan (157), Isaiah Patton (165) and Carter Isley (285) will have to either earn NCAA spots with top finishes this weekend or hope for one of the 47 at-large berths the NCAA committee gives out after all the qualifying tournaments are completed.
“Our guys are eager to compete and that is a good place to be in,” Schwab said. “They are ready and prepared and they have everything they need to get to the NCAA tournament. I have no doubt in my mind about that.”