Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Project 1 : UNI Wrestling

"You can run on for a long time. Run on for a long time. Run on for a long time. Sooner or later God'll cut you down. Sooner or later God'll cut you down...."

Amidst the sound of Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down", enters the starting lineup for the Panthers. One by one they jog across the mat, shake hands with the opponent, and return to their bench. Enter coach Doug Schwab as he makes his way to center mat to shake hands with the visiting coach and official before he, too, makes his way to the bench. Now entering his 4th year as the Panther's head coach, these are all his boys, and he's about to show the nation what they can do. 

The 2013-2014 wrestling season is underway. 

The season may have kicked off two weeks prior to tonight, but this is the real deal, this is the first home meet. A chance for everyone at home to see what Coach Schwab has been so excited about all summer. And to top it all off, it's against a "big boy" school from a "big boy" conference: Wisconsin. 

The dual starts off at the 165 pound weight class, and Northern Iowa's Cooper Moore easily handles the first home match of the season defeating his opponent in a major decision 13-2. The rout is on. There are some close matches within the next three weight classes, but UNI wrestlers all walk away with their hand raised in victory with one wrestler, returning All-American Ryan Loder, picking up his 100th career victory. 

UNI drops it's first match at the heavyweight class as Wisconsin's Connor Medbery, ranked 6th in the nation, quite literally escapes with, and holds on to a win against UNI sophomore Blaize Cabell, 2-0. With the match score now at 13-3, the wrestlers of the 125 weight class step onto the mat. For UNI, that spot is reserved for highly touted redshirt freshman Dylan Peters, and he quickly shows the crowd why. Peters, entering the match claiming the number eight ranking in the country, pins his man with thirty-two seconds left in the first period. 

This spurns UNI on to winning the next four matches before Jarrett Jensen would fall to 6th ranked Isaac Jordan, which is nothing to hang your head about seeing as Jordan finished the season 24-4 overall. At the end of the match, Jensen and his teammates could stand tall as they had handily defeated the Badgers of Wisconsin 29-9. 

So THIS is why Coach Schwab has been excited all summer. The team has "bought in" to his way of doing things: "Expect to win. Score and attack. Above all, compete."

Coach Schwab's way of doing things started an hour north of Cedar Falls in Osage, Iowa, where he grew up with his two older brothers; both of which would go on to wrestle at the collegiate level and become All-Americans for Northern Iowa. Doug took a different route and ended up wrestling for Iowa, one of the premiere wrestling schools and teams in the nation. During his time as a Hawkeye, he was a three-time All-American and Big Ten champion. He also won the 1999 NCAA championship at 141 pounds in an excitingly fast paced match. After finishing his career with 130 total victories - ranking him 10th all time in Iowa's historic program - he represented the United States in the 2008 Summer Olympics. 

Upon graduation, Schwab joined on as an assistant coach to wrestling great Tom Brands at Virginia Tech. From there, he returned to Iowa and became an assistant coach for the University of Iowa wrestling team from 2006-2010. It was then that the opportunity to fulfill his dream arose. 

Coaches Doug Schwab(left) and brother Mark 
"It's always been my dream, ever since I started wrestling, to be a coach. Not just any coach, but a head coach and be able to run my own program, to see what I can do," says Schwab as he sits behind his large, well polished wooden desk. Although, that desk is by far and away the fancies thing in his office. Everything about the room screams wrestler: multiple pairs of wrestling shoes, workout clothes everywhere, a very large and comfortable couch, room dividers set in a ramshackle way giving the illusion of a wall between he and his assistant coaches' offices, a white board with the year's pin count on it, and a seemingly endless supply of Mt. Dew. You can tell, he loves everything about it. 

"UNI has its own history here, as I'm well familiar with after watching my brothers come through here. Now that one coaches with me, it's all the better to be able to add to this tradition." 

The tradition he speaks of so fondly is embodied in the northern most hallway of the West Gym. There, pictures and plaques plaster the wall. Past All-Americans, former National Champions, even former Olympic Champions are embodied upon the walls as you walk down the hall. Inside the wooden double-doors on the north wall, there is the Bill Koll Wrestling Room. The room is named for William "Bill" Koll who is a 3 time NCAA champion, among a plethora of other accomplishments. Inside the wrestling room itself hangs a sign spanning the width of the room displaying Northern Iowa's past NCAA Champions. In the corners of the sign, it lists UNI Olympians, and the years they have been the team National Champion, 1950, 1975, 1978. Some might go so far to say they're due. 

His office is stationed in the West Gym, where all of the Panther's home meets are located, even the larger ones such as Oklahoma, Missouri, and in state rival Iowa State. "There's a definite advantage to the West Gym," says Schwab "the fans are right on top of you, so it gets louder than some larger arenas. When it comes to big meets like the Iowa State one, sure it would be cool to have it in the McLeod Center, but I actually prefer the West Gym. I would rather have a full capacity West Gym at 3,000 screaming fans right on top of the match than a half full McLeod Center." Well, can't say there would be much disagreement there. "Plus, the guys are familiar with it. There's a place to warm up, there's the wrestling locker room with all of their stuff already in their, and it's that comfort level here that actually helps them perform better." 

Speaking of performing better, the Panthers check in midway through the season ranked 5th nationally as a team, their highest ranking since 2005. Not too shabby for a first time head coach. "I credit a lot of that to the hard work of the athletes and coaches." In the 4 years Coach Schwab has been at UNI, there have been exactly zero coaching changes. That is almost unheard of anymore, and that is an astounding model of consistency, a key factor to any successful team. 

He will never say it, but a large part of it also comes from his and his assistants' ability to recruit high school athletes to the team. Dylan Peters, mentioned prior as a highly touted redshirt freshman, was being recruited by both Iowa and Minnesota as well as UNI. He chose Coach Schwab over the two national powerhouses. If that doesn't qualify as going toe to toe with the big boys on the recruiting trail, then nothing will. 

So what's the ultimate goal here coach? Where do you see this program heading? "I want to be the top in the country, I want nothing more than to bring that back here. And I think we can do it. I can't see myself stopping until we do, anyways." 

Well, it would seem the Panthers are definitely on the right track. They finished the regular dual season undefeated with a perfect 13-0 record - the first time that has happened in nearly 60 years for Northern Iowa - and are sending 7 wrestlers to the NCAA tournament with 5 ranked within the top 15 of their respective weight class. One wrestler, senior Joe Colon, is the number one seed in the 133 lb. weight class. 

Coach Schwab and all 38 of his wrestlers are gearing up for the long hall and they only have one message: they are here, and they are here to stay. 

Slideshow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2k1XrJoyIA
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKHcgdezPLU

**Basic Team Scoring Rules for Collegiate Wrestling**

3 Points - decision
4 points - major decision
5 points - technical fall (winning by 15 or more)
6 points - Pin (or forfeit)

More in depth rules available here.

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