Zach Sanders wrestles large in the sport's lightest weight class, setting his sights on a title and overcoming a stubborn nemesis from Iowa.
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."
|Detroit||23||1st Qtr 0:44|
|San Antonio||8:00 PM|
|Arizona||0||3rd Prd 14:40|
|Toronto||0||1st Prd 7:43|
|NY Rangers||7:00 PM|
|St. Louis||9:00 PM|
|Fla Gulf Coast||67||FINAL|
|Mount St Marys||74|
|William & Mary||66|
|Utah Valley U||44||FINAL|
|East Tenn St||64||FINAL|
|Central Conn St||66||FINAL|
|SE Louisiana||69||2nd Half 0:06|
|South Dakota St||64||FINAL|
|Old Dominion||64||2nd Half 0:51|
|Texas Southern||31||2nd Half|
|Tennessee St||51||2nd Half 8:25|
|Princeton||69||2nd Half 9:50|
|Dartmouth||47||2nd Half 6:37|
|Tennessee||32||2nd Half 11:02|
|Jacksonville St||42||2nd Half 5:58|
|San Jose St||37||2nd Half 11:44|
|Florida A&M||41||2nd Half 10:00|
|Iowa||52||2nd Half 11:18|
|Loyola Marymount||37||2nd Half 11:55|
|Miss State||45||2nd Half 11:29|
|Savannah State||41||2nd Half 16:30|
|Miss Valley St||23||2nd Half|
|Alcorn State||29||2nd Half|
|Harvard||15||1st Half 11:44|
|George Washington||17||1st Half 7:54|
|Syracuse||16||1st Half 8:29|
|Tenn Tech||25||1st Half 3:13|
|UNC-Wilmington||9||1st Half 10:01|
|Stony Brook||21||1st Half 8:36|
|Northwestern||12||1st Half 6:10|
|Western Ill||15||1st Half 9:33|
|Buffalo||25||1st Half 9:45|
|Incarnate Word||13||1st Half 11:54|
|Cal State Fullerton||11||1st Half 7:51|
|Long Beach State||24|
|TX-San Antonio||14||1st Half 7:38|
|Fla Atlantic||17||1st Half 7:59|
|Richmond||18||1st Half 4:57|
|George Mason||25||1st Half 7:16|
|Austin Peay||19||1st Half 6:59|
|SE Missouri St||29|
|Ball State||9||1st Half 10:07|
|Penn||21||1st Half 5:43|
|Milwaukee||30||1st Half 8:40|
|Stetson||25||1st Half 7:45|
|USC Upstate||17||1st Half 6:28|
|Grand Canyon||15||1st Half 9:01|
|Abilene Christian||6:15 PM|
|Murray State||5||1st Half 17:10|
|Prairie View||6:30 PM|
|Coll of Charleston|
|Central Mich||7:00 PM|
|Boise State||7:00 PM|
|San Diego St|
|St Marys-CA||7:00 PM|
|Texas-El Paso||7:00 PM|
|Sam Houston St||7:00 PM|
|New Mexico St||0||Postponed|
|Stephen F Austin||7:00 PM|
|Ga Southern||7:15 PM|
|Ark-Little Rock||7:15 PM|
|Grambling St||7:30 PM|
|Northern Ariz||8:00 PM|
|UC Davis||0||1st Half|
|New Mexico||9:00 PM|
|Idaho State||9:00 PM|
|Sacramento St||9:05 PM|
|UC Riverside||9:30 PM|
|UC Irvine||10:59 PM|
|UC Santa Barbara|
|Sam Houston St||52||FINAL|
|Central Conn St||77||FINAL|
|East Tenn St||42||FINAL|
|South Dakota St||82|
|San Diego State||58||FINAL|
|Alcorn State||3:00 PM|
|Miss Valley St||54||FINAL|
|SE Missouri St||67|
|Mount St Marys||68|
|San Jose St||81|
|Stephen F Austin||69||FINAL|
|Utah Valley U||68|
|UC Santa Barbara||57||FINAL|
|Western Ky||84||2nd Half 0:50|
|Georgia Southern||26||2nd Half 8:37|
|Ark-Little Rock||42||2nd Half 3:29|
|Brown||57||2nd Half 3:31|
|USC||38||2nd Half 11:49|
|(24) California||49||2nd Half 6:18|
|(7) Oregon State||64|
|Yale||8||1st Half 11:15|
|Loyola-Maryland||15||1st Half 6:09|
|Jacksonville||8||1st Half 10:56|
|(21) Fla Gulf Coast||9|
|Long Beach St||10||1st Half 8:30|
|Cal State Fullerton||17|
|Rice||15||1st Half 12:30|
|Oklahoma St||7:00 PM|
|TX-Pan American||8:00 PM|
|New Mexico St|
|North Dakota||8:00 PM|
|Northern Colorado||9:00 PM|