Men's Sports

Three takeaways from day one of the Big 12 Wrestling Championships

TULSA — Iowa State closed day one of the Big 12 Championships on a high note with five wrestlers set to compete for titles on Sunday.

But yet, some of the biggest storylines of the day came from gritty performances of those who have had to battle their way through the back of the bracket after suffering first-round losses.

Here are my biggest takeaways from Iowa State’s day-one performances.

1 – Casey Swiderski and Paniro Johnson are the real deal

Swiderski was one of four Cyclones who received a first-round match. Unfortunately, he fell 6-3 against No. 3 Clay Carlson from South Dakota State. It was a frustrating match because much of Swiderski’s best action didn’t come until there was only a minute left and it was too late.

Whatever he did during the session break lit a fire in him. When he returned to action it was some of his best wrestling of the season.

An unseeded Swiderski found himself facing off against No. 3 Cael Happel (UNI). Happel beat Swiderski in the regular season 4-3. The freshman was able to avenge that loss and upset Happel in a gritty 8-6 win.

The Cyclones needed someone to outwrestle their seed to help them in the team race. Swiderski answered the bell.

“That’s my guy,” said Paniro Johnson. “Everybody stopped believing in him so I told him, ‘Hey you perform best when nobody believes in you anyway so let’s go.'”

Johnson had a phenomenal first day in his own right. He notched wins over Mitch Moore (OU) and Connor Realbuto (UNI) to stride his way into the finals. It was refreshing to see the freshmen secure a match and not allow it to go into overtime.

“I feel like this is where I expected myself to be and I expect myself to be on top of the podium as well,” Johnson said. “I’m here to make history. Every single match I say I don’t plan on ever losing again. I plan on winning a Big 12 title, a national title, a world title, and an Olympic title, everything. This is all part of the plan.”

He will next face off against Missouri’s Brock Mauller, who pinned Johnson in the regular season.

2. Iowa State still has a chance to wrestle for a team title and it’s because of the guys who battled in the back of the bracket

Iowa State started the tournament with Corey Cabanban, Casey Swiderski, Jasson Kraisser, and Julien Broderson finding themselves in the back of the bracket after going 0-4 in Session I.

The back of the bracket is a tough place. As Kevin Dresser likes to say, “The toughest wrestlers wrestle for third,” and these guys pulled some gritty wins to try and get that opportunity.

Johnson, Carr, Coleman, Bastida, and Schuyler all took care of business and made it to the semifinals but when it comes to the team race those aces for the team were going to need the rest of the team to outperform.

The Cyclones went 12-3 in Session II and without those wins from the four grapplers on the back side, the Cyclones would not have had a chance to stay competitive against Missouri, who pinned its way through day one. Oklahoma State consistently performs well in the tournament.

Iowa State is in second place. The Cyclones tallied 112 team points and are only trailing Missouri by 23. There are major point opportunities still on the table to keep Iowa State in contention. It’s not going to be necessarily easy because there isn’t much room for setbacks, but having a realistic chance going into day two is a really big deal.

The Cyclones will have five to Missouri’s six in the final rounds with two of the matches being head-to-head. Things could get uncomfortable for the Tigers if the Cyclones show up ready for day two.

3 – Iowa State’s growth this season has shifted the ceiling for this program

The Cyclones accomplished a lot in one day for the Dresser Era. They notched the 300th individual NCAA qualifier for the program with Jason Kraisser’s upset win over No. 3 Jarrett Jacques of Missouri, 5-2, in the consolation quarterfinals.

Carr is looking to become Iowa State’s second four-time Big 12 champion in school history and the first since 2002. He’s also only one of two wrestlers competing for a fourth title in the entire tournament.

Sending Zach Redding, Johnson, Carr, Marcus Coleman, and Sam Schuyler to the finals is the most for Dresser and the most Iowa State has had since 2015.

This program has gone from a rebuild to a program that consistently competes with the best in the country in six years with Dresser.

There’s still a lot this team has to accomplish and places they need to improve on but this season has shown tremendous growth. You can go as far as to say that Iowa State can make the argument that they are a tournament team and back it up. The expectations for Iowa State have shifted and that’s a good thing.

Jacqueline Cordova


Jacqueline graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications. She has been fortunate enough to have interned for Cyclone Fanatic for 2 and a half years before being promoted to stay on. She currently wears a lot of hats at Cyclone Fanatic: Social Media Director, Iowa State Wrestling beat reporter, and staff photographer. Jacqueline loves reading and watching trash reality TV shows when she's not watching sports. One of her favorite accomplishments is having interned for the Minnesota Vikings and during Super Bowl LII.