Three champs lead ISU to second place

Zac Reicks

ALBANY, N.Y. – It was the perfect end to a near perfect tournament for the ISU wrestling team.

Entering the 197 pound finals match of the 2002 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, the Cyclones were 2.5 points out of an improbable second place finish in the overall team standings.

Wins by newly crowned national champions Aaron Holker and Joe Heskett had put Iowa State in a position to shock the nation and finish much higher than anyone thought possible.

Luckily for Iowa State, their last remaining wrestler of the finals just happened to be 158-0, three-time national champion Cael Sanderson.

The Cyclone senior went on to clinch second place for Iowa State by defeating second-ranked Jon Trenge of Lehigh University 12-4, and secured his spot in NCAA wrestling history by becoming the first collegiate to ever complete a career undefeated, with four straight national titles.

Sanderson finished atop the ISU wins list with 159, nine more than Mike Land.

“It’s a great day for Iowa State,” ISU assistant coach Chris Bono said. “We were in no place to take second in the country, but these guys did not believe that. We needed a semi-miracle to take second and we got it.”

Both 149 pound Billy Maldonado (6th place) and 133 pound Zach Roberson (7th place) contributed valuable team points for the Cyclones and each garnered All-American honors for themselves as well.

Heskett and Holker each won their first national championship as Holker defeated Eric Larkin 10-5 in the 141 pound finals and Heskett earned a decision over Matt Lackey of Illinois 4-2 to finally get his title.

Heskett used a double-leg takedown with only four seconds remaining in the third period to secure the win.

The four time All-American had finished third as a freshmen and runner-up both his sophomore and junior years before capping off his career off with a win over Lackey.

His 143 wins makes him third all-time at Iowa State.

“It’s great for more than just winning,” Heskett said. “There has been a lot of anticipation leading up to this moment, and a lot of disappointments in the past. The way the team performed and the national title almost made it worth the wait – well,. not really.”

The Cyclone wrestlers continually looked in better shape than other individuals and utilized their superior conditioning to help win matches late in the third period.

While they didn’t always appear on the top of their game in times during the regular season, they put everything together in order to make a run at second place.

“We are a Bobby Douglas trained team,” Bono said. “We try to peak for the NCAA tournament, because this is the one that counts and that everyone remembers. We just all came together.”

The other two qualifiers for the Cyclones, senior heavyweight Mark Knauer and 174 pound freshmen Nick Passolano saw their bids to become All-Americans fall short in the consolation rounds.

Both however, earned the praise and respect of their teammates and coaches for their ability to score team points and give it their all on the mat.

“Our team is exceptional, our team is the driving factor for me this year. This is the best team that I’ve ever been on and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” Heskett said. “Mark Knauer is a warrior. Nick Passolano, a freshmen, is a warrior. I have more pride in those guys than anybody.”

Now the Cyclones can take pride in being the second best team in the nation.