Special time of year for wrestling

By Craig Sesker For the Predicament

I started covering wrestling as a Wartburg College freshman while working as a sportswriter for the student newspaper in the fall of 1984.

And I have been covering the sport ever since, including the last 30-plus years as a professional journalist.

I’ve also covered college football and basketball, and minor league baseball. I’ve covered two Rose Bowls and I’ve been in press boxes to cover pro football, basketball and baseball.

But the sport I’ve always been most passionate about covering is wrestling. That’s why I’ve spent the past 35 years writing about it.

As someone who wrestled for 10 years, I know first-hand why this sport is so special and unique. It is the most grueling and demanding sport I ever competed in. That’s why wrestlers are so euphoric after big wins and that’s also why the losses are so painful.

A tremendous amount of hard work, discipline and sacrifice is involved in becoming an elite wrestler.

And that’s what is so special about February and March. Watching high school wrestlers battle in state tournaments and seeing college wrestlers take the mat in the postseason.

Here are a few observations with the NCAA Championships coming up in Pittsburgh:

What Cael Sanderson continues to do at Penn State is nothing short of remarkable. The Big Ten is such a loaded and tough conference yet the Nittany Lions continue to be the gold standard. Penn State is looking for its eighth NCAA title in the last nine seasons. Nittany Lion seniors Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf are tremendous and highly-skilled competitors who wrestle like you are supposed to. They are dominant wrestlers who are bonus-point scoring machines. And they are fun to watch.

How much fun is it watching Iowa sophomore Alex “Bull” Marinelli? He’s a tough, gritty competitor and also a high-character guy who has emerged as a great leader for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Marinelli looked sharp in winning Big Tens and he will have to stay at that level to win a tough weight class at nationals. No doubt, he will have to go through two-time NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State to reach the top of the podium.

Kevin Dresser’s first Iowa State team only had one national qualifier, but his second team qualified in every weight class but one. What a turnaround Dresser and Co. have made in Ames. Kudos to ISU athletic director Jamie Pollard for bringing Dresser back to his home state. The Cyclones are definitely a program on the rise.

Kudos to Coach T.J. Miller and his Loras team for finishing second at the NCAA Division III tournament. Miller won a national title as a wrestler for his father, Jim, at Wartburg before coming back to Iowa to lead the Loras program. T.J. has emerged as an excellent young coach.

It was a rough national tournament for Wartburg. The top-ranked Knights finished a disappointing sixth, but they will bounce back. They had won three straight titles and seven of the last eight before this season. Wartburg’s program is too strong to not rebound from this.

These hands to the face calls obviously need to be looked at. There has to be a better way for officials to handle it and enforce it. It’s sad to see Iowa’s Spencer Lee penalized a point for that in his Big Ten finals match against Northwestern’s Sebastian Rivera. That helped send the match into overtime.

I love watching Ohio State’s Joey McKenna. He’s so strong and smooth on his feet. He has a huge future ahead on the Senior level.

I want to see a rematch between Nick Suriano of Rutgers and Austin DeSanto of Iowa at the national tournament.

I’m also interested to see how Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix and Minnesota’s Gable Steveson do in their first NCAA tournaments. They are two talented young wrestlers with tremendous upsides in college and beyond.

I like having big tournaments in places that love wrestling, but I hate seeing any fans being turned away because there aren’t enough seats. The NCAA DI tournament needs to be held in big enough venues to accommodate the fans who want to be there. Don’t turn anyone away.

I’m rooting for Iowa State’s Willie Miklus in his final NCAA tournament. It would be awesome to see a classy young man like that finish his career in style.