CLEVELAND – There was no hand-wringing or worry about missing the national tournament this time around.
Iowa redshirt sophomore Cash Wilcke wrestled his way into the NCAA National Wrestling Championship with a sixth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago. A year ago Wilcke was the first man left out of the 197-pound bracket and got into the national tournament when another wrestler's medical injury opened up a spot for him.
He more than proved he belonged coming up one win shy of earning All-American status for the Hawkeyes. It helped him develop a mindset that served him well this season.
“Just go out there and let it fly,” he said. “I have good offense, I have a good gas tank, I have all the tools, I just have to go out there and show it. There is no reason to hold back now, there is no reason to be nervous. I put in the work all season and I am going to go let it fly.”
He enters this year’s tournament with an 18-5 record, the No. 14 seed and a different level of confidence.
“I look at where I was at last year compared to this year and I like the improvements I have made. I feel really confident about this year,” Wilcke said. “I feel like I grew into the weight more, I thinned out a little bit and bulked up, and I am moving a lot better this year. A lot quicker, stronger.”
Wilcke began his season 13-0 before closing 5-6, but the two-time state champion from OA-BCIG finds another level on the big stage in March.
“I love this time, it is the best time of the year,” he said. “It is starting to get warmer outside. Postseason it is just the time of year when you get your mindset ready for peaking knowing that after this weekend you are not going to be on the mat for a little while. You want to go out there and give it your all because the results you have this weekend will be with you a lifetime.”
This week a year ago in St. Louis opened Wilcke’s eyes to what he is capable of if he wrestles a match where he is aggressive and with an offensive mentality.
That becomes more difficult in March where more and more matches are decided by one of two points. Wilcke is 6-2 this season in matches decided by two points or less.
“It is all mindset and confidence,” he said. “I know big guys get tired faster and even if I am getting tired I just tell myself, 'I am not tired and keep wrestling no matter what.' I have had a lot of success with close matches, especially this year. I just tell myself, 'I am getting the next points and no matter what happens in a match I am getting those next points.'”
He opens his tournament against Nebraska’s unseeded Eric Schultz (18-9) and would likely face Virginia Tech’s third-seeded Jared Haught in the next round with a win. Wilcke will have to prove himself again this weekend as he has a 5-13 career record against the rest of the 197 bracket.
Wrestling in front of thousands of fans is something Wilcke welcomes.
“It is a great environment but once you are out on the mat and the whistle blows you tune everything else out,” he said. “We are not happy with just qualifying, we are there for bigger reasons. I love our team and we have guys that are really coming on at the end of the season.”
The three-day national tournament begins Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena.