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West Liberty senior Bryce Esmoil will try and defend his state championship this winter at 195 pounds in Class 2A. The Northern Iowa recruit is ranked among the top 20 wrestlers in the country at his weight by InterMat.

Andy Abeyta, Quad-City Times

Bryce Esmoil has another major decision to add to his wrestling career. 

The West Liberty senior announced his commitment to the University of Northern Iowa on Twitter Sunday night, not long after returning home from his first official visit to the Panthers' campus over the weekend. 

Other schools on Esmoil's radar included the University of Iowa, South Dakota State University, Coe College and Grand View University. 

"UNI kind of had the edge," Esmoil said. "I've been on a couple visits, just really fell in love with the campus, the coaches there and the kids who are going to be on the team the next couple of years." 

Another factor in the decision was Randy Pugh, a Columbus Community high school graduate and 16-year assistant wrestling coach at Northern Iowa who is also Esmoil's cousin. 

Esmoil ended West Liberty's 17-year state title drought last February when he cruised to a 15-0 technical fall victory over Woodward-Granger's Cody Fisher in the Class 2A 195-pound championship at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. He finished the season with a 42-2 record after reeling off 35 consecutive victories. 

The senior has progressed each year of high school, finishing seventh as a freshman at the state tournament, third as a sophomore and first as a junior. 

The goal this year, once he is done playing football for the Comets, is to not only repeat as state champion but help lead West Liberty to a team title.

Next year, Esmoil expects to continue to wrestle at 195 pounds. But instead of competing in the River Valley Conference, he will get tested with Big 12 competition after Northern Iowa joined Fresno State as the latest additions to the conference for the 2017-18 season. 

The Big 12 features some of the best competition in the country including Oklahoma State, which finished third at the 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships. Northern Iowa finished 18th and had two All-Americans in Max Thomsen, a redshirt sophomore, and Drew Foster, a redshirt junior. 

"I just thought it would be kind of fun to go down to Oklahoma State and wrestle against some of those guys, and Oklahoma," Esmoil said. "And then at the national level, I'll also get to wrestle some of the guys at Big 10 and ACC schools."

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Sports Reporter