CN Wrestling Preview 2006

Soon, Cyclone legend Cael Sanderson will put his undefeated record on the line. No, I'm not talking about his 159-0 collegiate wrestling record. I'm talking about his coaching record – a career which has yet to develop statistics and currently has him 0-0.

As this Cyclone legend replaces one of the most successful collegiate wrestling coaches of all-time, expectations will remain high for the 2006-07 Iowa State wrestling team. Sanderson is faced first with replacing Bobby Douglas – a gritty veteran who always sought work in the classroom before work in the weight room.  Douglas will help Sanderson through the transition from assistant to head coach as he will oversee the team from the athletic department.

 

Sanderson's second task will be replacing 141-pound national champion Nate Gallick and 133-pounder Jesse Sundell.  Though he may not have been the most popular athlete at Iowa State last year, Nate was most likely the best.  He was untouchable and lost only once (Teyon Ware, Oklahoma - 2005 NCAA 141-pound finals) in his final two seasons.  Sundell, a four-time Iowa high school champion never lived up to the lofty expectations that were set for him.  He did, however, provide the Cyclones with more than a handful of victories and finished runner-up at last year's Midlands Championships.

 

In 2004, the Iowa State wrestling team may have had its best recruiting class ever.  They signed three top 10 wrestlers, one top 20, a "steal" from the state of Illinois, and an "under the radar" recruit that former ISU assistant Chris Bono said will be special.  These six red-shirt freshman and three seniors should fill nine of the ten starting spots for the Cyclones this season.

 

At 125-pounds, Nick Franthorpe, the "steal" from Illinois will shock Cyclone wrestling fans if he doesn't pass Ben Hanisch in the "depth chart" this season.  Franthorpe is a technician who is not overly gifted with strength or quickness.  He is technically sound and his lanky body could lead to early success if he comes into the season prepared.  Coleman Scott, a junior-to-be at Oklahoma State is a great example of what Franthorpe could be like.  Though not as highly touted as Scott, Franthorpe's frame and style is very similar.

 

Nick Gallick, the younger brother of Nate, will open his freshman campaign at 133-pounds.  Not a pinner like Sundell, Nick's wrestling style is a cross between Nate's and Sundell's.  He's a quick, technical wrestler like his brother but he's wrestles more aggressively like Sundell.  He wrestles a lot like Zach Roberson and for Cyclone fans that should be comforting.

 

Mitch Mueller will wrestle at 141-pounds and do his best to replace the country's best wrestler.  Many would think expectations for him would be low having to follow Nate Gallick, but because of his great prep career, high ranking coming out of high school, and his progress this past year, he will be expected to hit the mat and win.  Realistically, he probably won't have a stellar season like Cornell's Troy Nickerson did as a true freshman but this red-shirt freshman will compete nonetheless.  Oklahoma replaces two-time national champion Teyon Ware and Missouri replaces Chris McCormick.  Therefore, Mueller's toughest competition should be Oskaloosa native Dominick Moyer at Nebraska.

 

The Sanderson legacy continues at 149-pounds.  Cyler Sanderson, the youngest in the Sanderson wrestling clan, should pick up the slack at a weight that has been disappointing since Trent Paulson vacated the spot after his freshman campaign.  He's a bruiser, he's a tough kid, he's a Sanderson – not much more needs to be said.  He was a top 5 recruit and has been labeled by some to be the closest Sanderson to Cael's ability.  Oklahoma's Matt Storniolo will be the conference's clear cut favorite but the rest of the race appears to be wide open.

 

Obviously the success of the team will be determined by all weight classes, but the stability and consistency from 157-pounds through 184-pounds will be vital.  Trent Paulson will start for the fourth consecutive at 157-pounds and after being ranked atop the charts for most of last year.  Trent will look to improve on a fourth place finish from 2006 and be the dominant force for the Cyclones.  Trent is a mauler.  He's slightly more active on the mat than twin brother Travis but both are short, muscular wrestlers who can overpower most opponents.  With a short stature and a heavy frame, both Paulsons have very little reach and sometimes struggle in the down position against lanky, technical wrestlers.  Trent looks to pin first, score second which has kept lesser wrestlers in close matches with him.  His favorite move appears to be an inside trip where he takes his opponent straight to his back.  With Sanderson at the helm, look for Trent to become more calculating and more aggressive – taking better shots that score points.

 

Travis Paulson shares nearly the same story.  A sixth-place finisher a year ago, Travis should be a top five wrestler all season.  The stage is set for a big year for the red-shirt senior from Council Bluffs.  Missouri and Oklahoma State return Matt Pell and Johny Hendricks respectively and Northern Iowa returns Nick Baima.  These four wrestlers should top the 165-pound weight class all year and Travis will have to find a way to beat the three wrestlers he's had the most problems with in seasons past.  Injuries have slowed his career with cartilage problems in his knee.  If he's healthy, he'll be dangerous.  If he's less than 100%, he'll still beat most wrestlers.  The 165-pound weight class is one of the strongest in the conference but whoever proves to be the best in the Big 12, should be the best nationally.

 

The biggest question mark for Iowa State might be at 174-pounds.  Highly-touted recruit David Bertolino has yet to convince Cyclone Country he's all he was cracked up to be.  The Ohio native was supposed to be the stud to replace Nick Passolano and he hasn't done that yet.  Though he lost in the wrestle-offs last fall, he still wrestled more dual meets than Johnston native Grant Turner.  If the Cyclones have a successful season and are only moderately successful at 174-pounds, don't be surprised to see true freshman Jon Reader enter the lineup.  Reader wrestled Trent Paulson tough last year in the finals of the Kaufman-Brand Open.  Trent walked away with a 10-6 decision but Reader, the only high school at the tournament, looked impressive.  Though former head coach Bobby Douglas refused to wrestle true freshman, time will tell if Sanderson will hold to the same principals.  If Reader sees the mat, he could be at 157, 165, or 174.  He currently wrestles freestyle at 160-pounds.

 

Four-year starter Kurt Backes will look to finish his career on a high note.  At times he's dominant (i.e. pinning Nebraska's Travis Pascoe at the 2005 Big 12 Championships) and at times he looks downright awful.  Backes's off days are probably credited to his work ethic and his training regimen.  I have yet to see a wrestler in the Cyclones' wrestling room that works as hard or as long as he.  Cutting weight and meet preparation have been so stressed that he may over train in some situations.  Working with Sanderson one-on-one over the past two seasons has shown in Backes's wrestling.  However, this year the two-time Big 12 champion should be ready to turn the corner and compete for a national championship.

 

Rounding out the "freshman phenom" group are 197-pounder Jake Varner and heavyweight Dave Zabriskie.  Varner has been said to be dominant and he should replace Joe Curran in the lineup.  Varner has that rare combination of size, speed, and technique that make heavier weight wrestler scary.  He is extremely athletic and reminds me of a more athletic version of Nebraska's B.J. Padden.  Varner will face two top five wrestlers in Oklahoma's Joel Flaggert and Padden.  He will, however, have a tune up meet against Buena Vista and three tournaments before the Cyclones face Arizona State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Northern Iowa in four consecutive weekends.

 

Dave Zabriskie is the one Bono said would be special.  He's only 5'11" but if asked to carry the team, he might try it literally before figuratively.  He's built like a truck and will provide the explosive power at heavyweight that Richard Schopf never could and former heavyweight Scott Coleman's 6'5" frame never let him utilize.  Zabriskie will compete with Matt Fields (Iowa) and Jon May (Nebraska) and the heavyweight division has been somewhat cleaned out at a national level.  Hit hard by graduation, the heavyweight field will be mowed down by Minnesota's Cole Konrad.  After that, the top 10 will be up for grabs.

 

Overall, this Cyclone team should explosive, competitive, exciting and fun to watch.  Don't get me wrong, they will go through some growing pains early, but by the time they reach the Big 12 tournament, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see nine or 10 Cyclones qualify for the national tournament.  How Coach Sanderson motivates his wrestlers and how much time they've put in over the summer will dictate what this team can do.  This could be the most talented Iowa State team since Cael and Joe Heskett wrestled together and with Cael at the helm, losing doesn't appear to be an option.  Take comfort, Cyclone fans.  I would be shocked to see this Cyclone team underachieve and falling from the top 10 (or even top 5) at the national tournament again would be a disappointment.

 

Call it lofty expectation, but this Cyclone team should be intimidating.  By mid-season, we could be hoping for a victory over Oklahoma State rather than a close match.


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