Missouri’s Barker to test flawless Sanderson

Zac Reicks

Imagine being perfect for the last four years.

Never failing, never losing, never having your opponent’s arm lifted in victory.

ISU wrestler Cael Sanderson knows exactly how that feels.

Sanderson hasn’t lost in 148 career matches as a collegiate wrestler.

The senior has won three NCAA championships at 184 pounds, been named the NCAA Outstanding Wrestler three years in a row and is attempting to become the first wrestler in NCAA history to finish his career both undefeated and with four NCAA individual championships.

One of the few remaining speed bumps on his road to the national title is Missouri sophomore Scott Barker. The 197-pound sophomore is 16-1 on the season and ranked sixth in the country in his weight class.

The quiet, unassuming Barker uses a combination of muscle and technique to overpower his opponents and is one of the few grapplers who could end Sanderson’s reign as college’s top wrestler.

“I know he’s going to be tough and strong and ready for the match,” Sanderson said. “Strong guys don’t give me trouble though. It’s the guys that are a combination of strength and technique. I think that’s what this guy is.”

Missouri head coach Brian Smith led his team to their highest ranking in school history this week when they hit the polls at No. 9.

Smith has watched Barker improve since his freshman campaign as a undersized heavyweight who still managed to go 15-10 despite weighing 208 pounds.

“Confidence is a big factor with Scott [Barker] as well as the rest of the team,” Smith said. “He cut down from 208 to 197 [pounds] and with five percent body fat has maintained all of his muscle as well as his quickness.”

Despite that confidence, Smith said Barker chooses to worry about himself rather than who he will be wrestling.

“He doesn’t say much about his ability and just maintains his focus,” he said. “About 95 percent of the time he doesn’t know who he is wrestling and hasn’t said two words about Cael.”

Cyclone head coach Bobby Douglas has been there for every one of Sanderson’s wins and is aware of what Barker will try to do to gain victory.

“There are a couple of situations Barker will try to create,” Douglas said. “He will attack the double leg [takedown] and go for the cradle as well.”

However, Douglas also knows that this isn’t anything new for Sanderson.

“Cael [Sanderson] respects Barker like all his opponents,” Douglas said. “He is very focused on his wrestling and is trained well to score points and go after the win.”

Barker declined comment on his upcoming match with Sanderson.

Sanderson has had few close matches in his four seasons at Iowa State. Three years ago, he defeated West Virginia’s Vertus Jones 6-5 in the NWCA All-Star meet but avenged that close win with a dominating 19-6 triumph in the NCCA final.

The only other close call was in Sanderson’s sophomore year when he garnered a 4-3 win over Minnesota freshman Damien Hahn in the finals of the Omaha Open.

With only two of his 148 matches being close, the odds are definitely in Sanderson’s favor to continue his unparalleled winning streak.

But if Barker thinks that he is not being taken seriously, he is dead wrong.

“Obviously, I can’t overlook him and I can’t overlook anybody,” Sanderson said. “I need to be as ready as I can for Thursday.”

Overlooking someone can lead to defeat, and defeat is something that Sanderson has yet to realize. Whether or not the thought of losing has crossed his mind is something Sanderson is reluctant to talk about.

“I don’t think about the possibility of losing,” Sanderson said. “I just focus on wrestling well, not winning or losing. I just have fun and hope to do well in the match.”

Smith has coached Missouri to many firsts in his fourth year at Missouri. The Tigers have beaten their first Big Ten school, won their first tournament and for the first time, have beaten a school ranked in the top 10.

Tonight at 7 p.m. Barker will try to claim the biggest coup for Smith and the team as he attempts to do the impossible and hand Sanderson the first loss of his career.