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.

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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

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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.

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NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland 3 Bottom 11th Inning
Kansas City 2
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: C. Bassitt 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado - WP: T. Matzek 2 FINAL
Arizona - LP: V. Nuno 0
Chicago Cubs 1 Top 9th Inning
St. Louis 13
Los Angeles 1 Bottom 9th Inning
San Diego 1
Milwaukee 0 Top 8th Inning
San Francisco 3
Oakland 0 Top 8th Inning
LA Angels 2
Washington 3 Top 8th Inning
Seattle 0
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
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Houston 7
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Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
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UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 FINAL
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 37 4th Qtr 3:20
Oklahoma State 24
(14) Wisconsin 24 3rd Qtr 11:53
(13) LSU 7
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
South Dakota 3 2nd Qtr 13:25
(3) Oregon 21
(25) Washington 14 2nd Qtr 11:42
Hawaii 10
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
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BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
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(1) Florida State
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Boise State
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Hawaii
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Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 1 2nd Half
San Jose 1
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Vancouver FC 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
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Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
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Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
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Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77
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