Buzz on Sanderson starts a week early

Jeremy Gustafson

The Big 12 Championship meet isn’t until March 9, but the buzz is starting already.

Cael Sanderson will be vying for his fourth consecutive Big 12 title, and then from March 21-23 will go for his fourth NCAA title and will attempt to finish his career undefeated, a feat never before done.

“I believe that it could become a [media] circus. We will make him aware of that,” ISU head coach Bobby Douglas said Thursday. “It’s my job to keep him focused on the mission ahead.”

The always outspoken Sanderson shrugged off the pressure, but said he wouldn’t mind if ended.

“Well if I could decide how it would end, I guess it would be all right if it were over,” said the 197-pounder. “But I love competing and I love big tournaments, so I’m looking forward to that part of it. I’m not real worried about the pressure so much as I am just wrestling well and having a good time and just trying to do what I can do.”

At 152-0 for his career, what Sanderson has been doing so far is just fine. He has already beat Big 12 opponents William Gruenwald of Oklahoma State and Tom Grossman of Oklahoma, the host school of the conference tournament.

He also has two victories over the second-ranked wrestler at 197 pounds, Jon Trenge of Lehigh. Sanderson won 16-5 and 6-1, but noted that Trenge showed much improvement the second time around.

“He did a real nice job. He obviously had watched a lot of tape and was obviously just trying to keep the score real low, and I just wasn’t doing what I needed to score,” Sanderson said. “I needed to put two and three shots together and just be a little more aggressive, a little smarter.”

But to say that Sanderson is the only story would be false. Cyclone 165-pounder Joe Heskett’s quest for a national title will also take center stage.

The title has been within Heskett’s grasp, but he has failed to take the crown finishing third in the NCAA championships in 1998-99 and runner-up in both 1999-2000 and 2000-01. He has two Big 12 titles.

“He knows that this is his last opportunity,” Douglas said.

Sanderson will also be rooting for his long-time teammate.

“It’s been real frustrating the past three years, for him especially, but for all of us, just to know he’s capable of winning and just haven’t not wrestled his best in finals,” Sanderson said. “He just needs to just wrestle how he does during the season and he’s going to be just fine.”

Both wrestlers have meant a lot to Douglas over the years.

“Those two have been outstanding individuals and they both have a tremendous future ahead,” Douglas said.

While both will garner attention in the coming weeks, it’s Sanderson who everyone will be watching. He has captivated fans so much that Douglas said the media won’t be a distraction as much as autograph-seeking kids. Douglas said Sanderson always honors the requests.

“Kids love him, people love him,” Douglas said. “I mean, they’re naming their babies after him.”