ISU wrestlers prepared for national meet

Jeff Stell

The ISU wrestling team isn’t listed among the favorites to win the NCAA tournament title, but the Cyclones are out to prove themselves.

The Cyclones will send nine wrestlers to next week’s NCAA tournament, starting Thursday at Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. The Cyclones enter the tournament as the fourth ranked team in the nation.

Oklahoma State and Minnesota both qualified wrestlers at all 10 lineup spots, and Iowa is the six-time defending national champ. The Cyclones are coming off a third place finish at the Big 12 Conference and are being excluded from that previous trio as threats to win the title.

“Honestly, I think we have as good a chance as Iowa, Oklahoma State or Minnesota,” said ISU 157-pound national qualifier Cole Sanderson. “This year there’s no pressure so we won’t be hesitant or passive, or careful is maybe a better word. We’re going out there full guns, nothing to lose, and I think if we wrestle that way, we can beat every team down there.”

Leading the list of Cyclone qualifiers is two-time 184-pound national champ Cael Sanderson, who owns a career record of 114-0. The Cyclones also boast a pair of two-time All-Americans in Joe Heskett (165) and Zach Thompson (197).

National qualifiers Matt Azevedo (133), Billy Maldonado (149), Cole Sanderson (157), Perry Parks (174) and heavyweight Mark Knauer all have experience wrestling in the national tournament.

Last season, the Cyclones lost by just 6.5 points to the Hawkeyes after Iowa rallied in the consolation round with three wrestlers coming back to place third. The Cyclones will need a strong consolation effort to have a chance at the top spot.

“That’s always a huge factor because you can only have so many guys in the finals,” Cole Sanderson said. “We have some big guns, but you got to have guys want to fight back after they lose because some guys just decide to go home.”

Going into the national tournament, the Cyclones will have had almost two whole weeks off to get ready for the tournament.

“We’ve trained for this since spring so I think we’ll be ready,” Thompson said. “We’ve put in a lot of work and our confidence level is where it needs to be. I think we’ll wrestle well.”