CEDAR FALLS - No more back seat. No more being considered a second-class citizen.
The University of Northern Iowa wrestlers plan to shatter any perceptions that the Panthers don't deserve the same respect given to their in-state NCAA Division I peers.
Fifth-ranked UNI gets the opportunity to make its point Saturday when it hosts No. 17 Iowa State at the West Gym, beginning at 5 p.m. The Panthers (9-0) are looking for their first win over the Cyclones (8-3) since 2004. The dual will be televised on KCRG 9.2.
"I know everyone looks at us as a little brother in Iowa," UNI 165-pound red-shirt freshman Cooper Moore said. "That's one thing we do not believe. We don't think Iowa and Iowa State are above us. We think we're right up there with them. We are proving that, too."
The chip is affixed on the Panthers shoulder. In case they needed a little more fuel to the fire, they recall the demonstrations that occurred when Iowa State put them in their place with a 23-12 win last year.
"Guys were flashing their singlets to us, showing that they were Iowa State and we should back down," UNI's sixth-ranked 125-pounder Dylan Peters said. "This year we're motivated to wrestle. (UNI Coach) Doug (Schwab) has already talked about who they are and what we need to do."
UNI is one of only three teams undefeated in the National Wrestling Coaches Association/Amateur Wrestling News/USA Today NCAA Division I Coaches Poll. The Panthers ascended the rankings thanks to consecutive wins over top-10 teams, including Oklahoma (19-17) and Mid-American Conference foe Missouri (24-10). The Sooners were ranked fourth at the time and the Tigers were seventh.
Coaches had the Panthers hungry for those victories, and now they expect those performances instead of hoping for them.
"They have prepared us for big duals," Moore said. "Those are two great teams we competed against. We were ready and excited to go out there and compete against them."
Coincidentally, the last win over the Cyclones had been the last dual win for UNI over a top-1o opponent. Not only does it impact this year's record, but a win over an in-state program might influence future recruits, helping UNI fulfill Schwab's goal of being one of the country's top programs annually. A win Saturday will show the progress from just last season.
"It will mean a lot to prove where we're at," Peters said. "We've been climbing up, beating nationally-ranked teams and now, we want to prove we're one of the best teams in Iowa."
Moore and Peters will have a big say in the outcome. Both red-shirt freshman face two of Iowa State's top wrestlers.
Moore, ranked eighth nationally, will face No. 16 and 2013 All-American Michael Moreno (20-6). Also in December, Moreno dropped Moore, 10-5. The Panther said he is more ready for rematch and likes the chance to face him in front of an electric atmosphere that the West Gym is producing.
"It will be a big match," said Moore, who owns a 20-5 mark. "I'm excited for the opportunity. ... I', just really excited to get out there and wrestle in front of a purple crowd this time."
Sixth-ranked Peters (24-4) had his hands full with Iowa State's Earl Hall Jr. (14-9) before getting a third-period fall. Hall, who is listed along with Kyle Larson as a possible starter, has proven to be a dangerous wrestler, having a flair for the big move.
"I just have to be patient with my attacks, getting my hands on him," Peters said. "He's a good counter wrestler. He's got really good re-shots, so when I go to my attacks I have to make sure I finish. Just push the pace."
At 174, Iowa State NCAA qualifier and 15th-ranked Tanner Weatherman (19-10) could face UNI's No. 19 Cody Caldwell (13-8). Another key match could be at 184 between UNI's three-time NCAA qualifier and returning All-American Ryan Loder (7-0), who is ranked sixth, and Iowa State's two-time NCAA qualifier Boaz Beard (8-3).
Schwab, who made a point this school year to hand out UNI apparel in exchange for any Iowa State or other Iowa school clothing, has not had to emphasize the importance of this dual, regardless of the rankings. The Panthers know what is at stake.
"Everyone knows what we need to do," Moore said. "Not much has to be said, so we have to go out there and take care of our business."UNI, which is also 5-0 in the MAC, will wrestle Kent State (9-8, 3-2) at West Gym on Sunday, at 1 p.m.