By Dick Kelly
Date Posted: 2008-11-03
The long-awaited season opener is just around the corner and Iowa State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson couldnâ€™t be happier.
â€œWeâ€™re excited about the season,â€ Sanderson said Monday at ISU wrestling media day. â€œWe feel like weâ€™ve got a talented team, a team that is really focused, a team that has been working really hard and a team that has some valuable experience.â€
Sanderson has every right to be anxious for the season to begin. His team returns eight starters, six All-Americans and nine wrestlers with NCAA Tournament experience.
Returning starters include Tyler Clark (125 pounds), Nick Fanthorpe (133), Nick Gallick (141), Mitch Mueller (149), Cyler Sanderson (157), Jon Reader (165), Jake Varner (197) and David Zabriskie (285). All but Clark and Mueller earned All-American honors at the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
â€œThat gives us a real solid foundation,â€ Cael Sanderson said. â€œWeâ€™re ready to go. Everything is going well for us. Everyoneâ€™s fired up and everyoneâ€™s working hard.â€
The Cyclones received a welcome addition during the off season when Duke Burk, a two-time NCAA qualifier from Northern Illinois University transferred to ISU. Burk is contending for the starting spot at 174 pounds.
â€œHeâ€™s a great kid,â€ Sanderson said. â€œHe fit in here very well with the attitude he has and with the caliber and quality of the student-athlete we have here. He brings a lot to the table and I think in our room heâ€™s made a lot of progress already. Anytime you can add somebody like that itâ€™s definitely a positive.â€
Sanderson said Burk will sit out Friday nightâ€™s intrasquad matches because of an injury. The matches will determine the starters for the season opener Nov. 13 against Utah Valley State.
Others competing for starting spots include true freshman Andrew Long at 125, true freshman Anthony Valles at 133, redshirt freshman Dalton Jensen at 141, senior Ricky Lundell at 149, true freshman Matt Brown at 157, junior college transfer Nate Carr, Jr., at 165, redshirt freshman Mike Finch and junior Chris Pursel at 174, redshirt freshmen Jerome Ward and junior Joe Curran at 184, redshirt freshman Kyle Simonson at 197 and true freshman Eric Thompson at 285.
â€œWe have some very solid kids and theyâ€™re just getting better and better,â€ Sanderson said. â€œWeâ€™ve got great depth, weâ€™ve got guys that are challenging and have the opportunity to train with and wrestle under All-Americans. Thatâ€™s where our future champions are coming from.â€
Ward and Curran are vying at 184 pounds because Varner, a two-time NCAA runner-up, has moved to 197.
â€œHe just grew out of that weight class at 184,â€ Sanderson said. â€œHe can wrestle with anybody in the country at any weight class. Heâ€™s going to be a handful at that weight class.â€
Varner said the move to 197 was initially discussed at the 2008 NCAA Tournament and that he was all for it.
â€œItâ€™s going to be fun,â€ Varner said. â€œI donâ€™t have to worry about cutting too much weight. I get to wrestle a bunch of new guys and that will be fun. I felt (the move) would be better for me and better for the team.â€
ISU finished second to Minnesota at the 2006 NCAA Tournament and was third behind Iowa and Nebraska in 2007. The Cyclones hope to get over the hump in 2009.
â€œWe just need to get it done,â€ Sanderson said. â€œWeâ€™ve got the talent, weâ€™ve got the work ethic, we have the knowledge as a staff and these kids know theyâ€™re going to be at their best when they need to be. Weâ€™ve got to attack in every position as wrestlers and as a program. I think weâ€™re doing everything we need to to win a national championship. Itâ€™s just a matter of stepping out there and taking it.â€
â€œWe have a couple years to do some special things and look forward to it,â€ said Gallick.
The consensus among the wrestlers is that all 10 starters have the potential to become All-Americans and if that happens, the Cyclones will have their first national championship since 1987.
â€œI believe in every one of our guys,â€ Cyler Sanderson said. â€œI believe they can all be All-American and I believe they will. They all have incredible abilities, incredible skills and they all want it.â€
Cael Sanderson said he expects the Big 12 Conference to be as competitive as usual.
â€œItâ€™s real important to us as a program to win Big 12 championships,â€ Sanderson said. â€œThatâ€™s something thatâ€™s right up there next to winning an NCAA championship.â€