U wrestler Zach Sanders: A heavy dose of desire

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 18, 2012 - 6:57 AM

Zach Sanders wrestles large in the sport's lightest weight class, setting his sights on a title and overcoming a stubborn nemesis from Iowa.

hide

Zach Sanders, standing near an image of himself embossed on a wall of the team’s workout room, has worked hard to become one of the nation’s best at 125 pounds.

Photo: MARLIN LEVISON, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson always will remember Zach Sanders' dedication to his sport.

A couple of years ago on the team van, Sanders was watching a video on his cellphone of a Russian in an international match when an older wrestler approached. He wanted to know what Sanders was watching -- and when informed, he said Sanders was crazy and needed to expand his world view.

Robinson saw it differently.

"The guy who made that comment was never an All-American," Robinson said. "Zach is going to be a four-time All-American."

The Gophers have had only six before.

Actually Sanders, a fifth-year senior, wants more than another top-eight finish at the NCAA championships in mid-March. He came to the University of Minnesota to win a national title for himself and his team. He has yet to achieve either goal. But Sanders appears close to his individual goal. He is 23-1 and ranked No. 2 nationally at 125 pounds.

"There is still an empty spot there that I am working to fill," Sanders said with a little laugh. He was revealing his sensitive side.

Squarely in his path is a boulder, No. 1-rated Matt McDonough of Iowa. The two will wrestle Sunday when the Gophers face the Hawkeyes in the semifinals of the National Duals in Stillwater, Okla. Sanders is 0-1 against McDonough this season, 0-5 over three seasons. The two could also cross paths again in the Big Ten and NCAA meets.

"I don't really know him," Sanders said, "but he is probably making me a better wrestler."

McDonough beat Sanders 7-1 in a Jan. 29 dual meet that host Iowa won by two points.

"[McDonough] controlled me, and he scored all the points," Sanders said. "I have to stick to a game plan and just keep working and wrestle a smarter and harder match. There is no science, no secrets."

McDonough is 5-7 -- 3 1/2 inches taller than Sanders. He won an individual NCAA title as a freshman and was the national runner-up last season at college wrestling's lightest weight. He is 25-1 as a junior, riding a 17-match winning streak.

"McDonough is a lot like Zach," Robinson said. "He is driven to be a national champion, driven to train. Their styles are a little different. McDonough has a longer body, which gives him an advantage in leverage. It will be two titans colliding. So far, McDonough gets the edge, but don't count out Zach."

Sanders said he watches every match he has, takes notes, then adjusts. In preparing for McDonough, he also visualizes himself winning. McDonough relishes going against opponents like Sanders.

"You've got to wrestle tough opponents hard because they're going to fight back with everything they got," McDonough said after his last victory over Sanders. "I love that challenge. If I could wrestle a guy like that every single match, then I would."

Usually, beating an opponent is routine for Sanders. He was a five-time state champion -- like his older brother Eric -- at Wabasha-Kellogg High School, located a little less than 100 miles southeast of the Twin Cities. Their father, Ron, coached them.

"A lot of college coaches and fans tell me they like watching Zach because he does a lot of stuff," Ron Sanders said. "I told him when he was young, 'You can't be a one-trick pony. You have to have a variety of techniques.'"

Sanders has six different takedown moves, a skill set that has helped him place sixth once and fifth twice in NCAA meets.

He needed all his wrestling moxie on Jan. 13 in Champaign, Ill. The Illini's Jesse Delgado took a 9-2 lead on him after the first period. Sanders won 14-13. Delgado is rated No. 6 and has the lone upset over McDonough this season.

"Guys might take a run at [Zach], might score some points," Robinson said, "but there are not many people better than him in a seven-minute match."

Or more passionate about wrestling. One year, when a much younger Zach was competing at 45 pounds, his five-month season ended with the state freestyle tournament in Rochester. On the way home, Ron Sanders remembers his young son saying, "I wish wrestling was starting tomorrow."

Robinson can understand.

"Great people devote a great amount of time to what they love to do, and that's Zach Sanders," Robinson said. "He doesn't want to play soccer like the other guys do to break the monotony. He prefers to focus on wrestling."

However this season ends, Sanders intends to keep wrestling the next four years. He hopes to be on the U.S. freestyle team for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

"We'll keep him around here as a graduate assistant," Robinson said. "He has a great work ethic, and that is infectious."

  • related content

  • Chart: Zach Sanders' story

    Friday February 17, 2012

    Zach Sanders, a 125-pound senior, has won 125 matches in his Gophers career, but one wrestler he has never defeated...

  • COLLEGE WRESTLING NATIONAL DUALS FINAL FOUR • SUNDAY • STILLWATER, OKLA.

    Semifinals

    • No. 3 Gophers (12-3) vs. No. 4 Iowa (13-3), 2 p.m.

    • No. 5 Illinois (16-2) vs. No. 1 Oklahoma State (15-0), 2 p.m.

    • Championship and third-place matches, 6 p.m.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Portland 0 Postponed
Brooklyn 0
Sacramento 0 Postponed
New York 0
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
New Orleans 99
Minnesota 84 FINAL
Oklahoma City 92
Orlando 94 FINAL
Memphis 103
Boston 99 FINAL
Utah 90
Denver 94 4th Qtr 1:07
LA Clippers 96
Army 68 FINAL
American Univ 66
Wright State 64 FINAL
Detroit 53
Syracuse 83 FINAL
North Carolina 93
Cleveland State 56 FINAL
Oakland 59
Delaware State 54 FINAL
NC Central 55
High Point 63 FINAL
Presbyterian 54
Howard 45 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 42
Coppin State 84 FINAL
NC A&T 71
Nicholls 51 FINAL
Northwestern St 80
Hampton 56 FINAL
SC State 65
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Campbell 78
MD-Eastern Shore 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Stephen F Austin 82 FINAL
Lamar 65
Central Arkansas 67 FINAL
New Orleans 87
Norfolk State 70 FINAL
Savannah State 54
TX A&M-CC 70 FINAL
SE Louisiana 61
Sam Houston St 80 FINAL
Abilene Christian 63
McNeese State 84 FINAL
Incarnate Word 86
Milwaukee 48 FINAL
Valparaiso 73
Alcorn State 66 FINAL
Alabama A&M 78
Southern U 59 FINAL
Alabama State 63
Prairie View 68 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 105
Texas 86 FINAL
Iowa State 89
Texas Southern 85 FINAL
Miss Valley St 84
Long Island 85 FINAL
Bryant 88
Central Conn St 51 FINAL
St Francis-NY 49
Fairleigh Dickinson 0 Postponed
Sacred Heart 0
St Francis-PA 87 FINAL
Wagner 74
Delaware State 59 FINAL
NC Central 66
Howard 53 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 61
Coppin State 49 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 88 FINAL
SC State 53
Norfolk State 54 FINAL
Savannah State 56
MD-Eastern Shore 54 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Angelo State 55 FINAL
Abilene Christian 70
Samford 32 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 49
Prairie View 83 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 66
Alcorn State 58 FINAL
Alabama A&M 55
Southern U 53 FINAL
Alabama State 49
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 52
(12) Texas A&M 61 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 79
Robert Morris 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 44
East Tenn St 72 FINAL
Mercer 70
Wofford 56 FINAL
Furman 58
Morehead St 64 FINAL
Tenn Tech 54
Illinois 57 FINAL
Michigan 70
Quinnipiac 0 Postponed
Manhattan 0
Saint Peters 0 Postponed
Rider 0
(18) Miss State 59 FINAL
Auburn 48
(15) Nebraska 72 FINAL
(20) Iowa 78
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Do you favor the plan for expanded athletic facilities at the U of M?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close