Former Cyclones seek to represent U.S.

Zac Reicks

One year – that’s how much time has elapsed since Cael Sanderson won the 187.25-pound United States Senior National Freestyle championship.

He turned down the opportunity to represent the national team and concentrate on Iowa State team and individual goals instead.

Sanderson put that year to good use, as he capped off an undefeated collegiate career by going 159-0 with four national championships.

Now, college wrestling’s most decorated athlete turns his attention to the 2002 World Team Trials held this weekend in St. Paul, Minn.

The defending champion at 187.25, Sanderson hasn’t wrestled a competitive match since winning the U.S. trials in April and is hoping his two months of training have paid off.

“The layoff gives you a lot of time to question yourself and get down on yourself,” Sanderson said. “Now it’s just wrestling your best that counts. Every time you step on the mat, it is against world-class competition and you have to be ready.”

Sanderson will have a definite advantage when it comes time to defend his crown. Under the current format, a challenger has to win his mini-tournament on Friday and Saturday and then defeat the defending champion best two out of three on Sunday to garner a spot.

“Winning the nationals is a huge advantage because you only have to wrestle a few matches,” Sanderson said. “I only wrestle on Sunday, and it will be the winner of about 10 guys who will have been going at it all weekend.”

A few of those wrestlers going through the grueling qualifying stages are former ISU Cyclones Eric Akin (ranked second at 132 pounds), Chris Bono (ranked third at 145.4 pounds), and 2002 NCAA national champion Joe Heskett (ranked eighth at 163 pounds).

Bono was recently named NWCA Assistant Coach of the Year for the 2001-2002 season. He was instrumental in guiding the Cyclones to their second-place finish at the national championships in Albany, N.Y. in only his fifth season as a coach for Iowa State.

“It’s a great honor,” Bono said. “It would not have happened if I didn’t have such a great support staff and tremendous wrestlers.”

Winning this weekend’s event qualifies wrestlers for the 2002 Freestyle World Championships in Teheran, Iran on Sept. 4-7.