Setting standards, breaking barriers

By Matt Levins The Hawk Eye

MOUNT PLEASANT — Setting standards and breaking barriers.

That is what Iowa Wesleyan University head men's and women's wrestling coach Robert Powell is all about.

So when Iowa Wesleyan decided to bring back its wrestling program after nearly 50 years, athletics director Derek Zander knew he had found the perfect candidate to coach the programs in Powell.

After spending the last two years as an assistant coach at New England College, Powell packed his bags and headed west for an opportunity to start a program at Iowa Wesleyan and help build it from the ground up.

Powell was formally introduced as the head wrestling coach for both the men's and women's programs on Tuesday morning during a press conference at the Iowa Wesleyan University Social Hall in the Howe Student Activity Center.

Powell is ready to hit the ground running, with a full agenda ahead of him for the next year before the Tigers begin competing for the 2020-21 school year.

"We did a national search over the summer of 2019 and a very competitive search, I might add. We were able to identify a candidate who not only aligned with the vision and mission of the university, but also had a vision and mission of the wrestling program that aligned perfectly with the university," Zander said.

"I'm grateful for this opportunity. I'm happy to be here on campus and be a part of the Iowa Wesleyan community. It was a perfect fit. I was meant to be here. This program is going to go far," Powell said. "Over the past three years (Zander) has been athletic director, the programs have grown with the addition of six different sports. Now they are going to add men's and women's wrestling. He's given me the vision of where he wants to see the program grow and where he wants to see the program go as far as recruiting, budgeting, how we are going to be successful on and off the mat, what are student-athletes are going to like like in the community and in the classrooms. His vision aligns perfectly with mine as a head wrestling coach. This community, this campus, this state are rich with opportunities in wrestling. We're going to go far. We're going to do great things. I'm just so proud and happy to be a part of this."

The men's and women's wrestling teams bring to six the number of sports added at Iowa Wesleyan, an NCAA Division III school, over the last two years. Iowa Wesleyan also added men's and women's cross country and recently added men's and women's track and field.

The Tigers are members of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which currently had five members schools which offer wrestling. Zander and Powell expect that number to swell to at least eight in the next couple years, meaning the SLIAC would offer automatic qualifiers for the national tournament.

Powell has a solid background in wrestling. He started wrestling in seventh grade at the request of his football coach. He is a 2014 graduate of Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio where he received a degree in health and physical education. He went on to earn a Masters in sports and recreational management from New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire in 2019.

Powell began his coaching career as a volunteer assistant at Maysville High School in Zanesville, Ohio. He was also a volunteer assistant at Muskingum University for two years. He went on to become the head coach at Willard High School in Willard, Ohio from 2014-16. After that, he became a volunteer assistant at the high school he graduated from, Kenston High School, in Chagrin Falls, Ohio from 2016-17. He also served as a graduate assistant and New England College from 2017-19 where he was highly involved in the recruiting efforts for the program.

Powell is anxious to get the ball rolling at Iowa Wesleyan.

"I started wrestling when I was in seventh grade. I was a football player and I had a football coach and I turned in my equipment one day and he said, 'Are you playing football next year?' I said yes. He goes, 'Are you wrestling this year?' I told him I wasn't planning on it. He told me I should go out for wrestling because it would make me a better football player. That's how it started. I went to college as a two-sport athlete. I played football for a year and wrestled for four years," Powell said. "I'm very excited to get on the trail. Today is my first official day on campus. I've actually been here in Mount Pleasant since last Sunday. I already have my recruiting schedule mapped out though the months of September and October. I'm ready to get out and get the name of Iowa Wesleyan on the map. We're going to reach out to ever high school in the state of Iowa. To be successful anywhere, you have to win your backyard. We want kids from Iowa here at Iowa Wesleyan to help make us successful. I want a program that's successful on the mat, off the mat and in the classroom. I' m ready to get on the road and get started."