Every minute of every match continues to provide Jay Schwarm with an opportunity to learn.
The Northern Iowa sophomore from Bettendorf has worked his way into the top 15 in the NCAA Division I wrestling rankings at 125 pounds, building a 17-4 record that includes a team-leading 10 falls.
His work this season has included four matches against competitors ranked in the top 10 nationally and the chance last week to wrestle against the defending national champion in his weight class.
Schwarm pinned his way to the finals at 125 at the Southern Scuffle, needing less than a minute to end quarterfinal and semifinal matches before dropping an 11-4 decision to defending NCAA champ Darian Cruz of Lehigh in the finals of a tournament which saw UNI finish second to top-rated Penn State.
For Schwarm, the match was another chance to grow and gain an understanding that he can be in the mix in a weight class that is viewed as wide open at the national level.
“With every match, I’m learning where I’m at, what I’m doing well and what I need to work on to become the best wrestler I can become,’’ Schwarm said.
“I’ve never been big on setting goals because I feel like that limits you. The idea is to continue to work to get better with every match without putting a cap on what I can accomplish. In the end, that will lead me to where I belong.’’
That approach is helping Schwarm grow.
He senses improved technique, a greater level of consistency and a stronger body to go with a stronger mental edge as he competes this season.
Schwarm has already surpassed his victory total from a year ago, when he went 15-10 as a redshirt freshman. The year concluded with his first win over a rated opponent, a 5-1 victory over Rock Island native Barlow McGhee of Missouri that avenged an earlier 13-5 defeat.
“I came out of the season knowing that I needed to be more confident in myself and my abilities,’’ Schwarm said. “I gained a better understanding of the mindset that it takes to compete at this level and that is something that benefits me now.’’
He spent the summer concentrating on making strength gains and refining his technique.
“From what I experienced last season, I had a good idea where I needed to improve and what it was going to take to get me there,’’ Schwarm said. “I needed to grow as a wrestler and as a competitor and the time I spent working this summer has helped me figure a lot of that out.’’
That started with a lot of detail work.
“If you chip, chip away at all the little stuff, the big stuff has a way of taking care of itself,’’ he said.
Schwarm benefits from being part of a Panthers’ program making steady progress at the national level as well.
Northern Iowa was rated 11th in last week’s National Wrestling Coaches Association poll, second to Oklahoma State among Big 12 programs in the most recent rankings.
“One of the reasons I came to UNI was to be part of a growing program. To be here and watch the talent level and the culture of the program grow has been awesome,’’ Schwarm said. “The expectations have changed and the results are showing each and every week. The exciting part is how much more there is out there for us as a team.’’
Schwarm includes himself in that equation, believing he has plenty of work still to accomplish.
A fifth-place finish at 125 at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, a December tournament where he split four matches against rated opponents, and his runner-up effort at the Southern Scuffle earlier this month, have provided Schwarm with a foundation to build on.
He looks at his match against Lehigh’s Cruz in the finals in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as an example.
“I went in with the mindset that I was going to beat the guy and instead, he beat me up and while the outcome wasn’t what I wanted, I’m learning every day from it,’’ Schwarm said. “He taught me about being disciplined, he exposed some weaknesses that will help me later. I’m learning from it.’’
As Northern Iowa works toward the Virginia Duals this week and ultimately, toward a first-ever appearance in the Big 12 Championships in March as a new affiliate member of the conference, Schwarm looks forward to putting what he has learned to use.
“It’s always about building on each of the experiences you have and making those lessons work for you,’’ Schwarm said. “This year, 125 is a competitive weight class and I’m working every day to see where it leads me, where I fit in.’’