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Parity party at National Duals

Parity party at National Duals
By Eric Peterson
For The Gazette

AMES - Here's what we know about the college wrestling scene with half a season left before the NCAA meet: no one has any idea how it'll end.

So far it's been a game of musical chairs atop the rankings. Minnesota, Iowa State and Iowa have spent time at No. 1. Each has lost a home dual meet while holding the top spot, the Hawkeyes being the latest victim with a loss Saturday to
Oklahoma State.

Penn State is No. 1 heading into this weekend's National Duals tournament at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. ISU's Cael Sanderson is one of a handful of coaches believing his team realistically can win the two-day event.

``We have as good a chance as anybody,'' he said.

In recent years it's been Oklahoma State and Minnesota dominating medal stands. There's parity in the sport now, which is creating interest in places other than Stillwater, Iowa City and around the Midwest.

``I don't remember anything like this since I've been involved with college wrestling,'' Sanderson said. ``It's good for the sport. There's a lot of excitement. A lot of fans think their program is coming to the top.''

ISU's first-round opponent Saturday is unseeded Hofstra. The Cyclones (7-1) are seeded third.

Sophomore Cyler Sanderson likes his team's chances to advance deep into the touranment.

``We've got a good draw,'' said ISU's 157-pounder. ``It'll be tough the whole way, but we've got a great team and will be fighting for (the title) like anybody else.''

Sanderson (17-1) likes the unpredictability.

``It's kinda fun. There's not a super dominant team,'' he said. ``There's a lot of real solid teams this year. The top five or six, everybody's beating each other.''

The Cowboys - ranked No. 3 - are the only team ranked in Intermat's top 10 not participating this weekend. If seeds hold to form, ISU would face Michigan in the quarterfinals and Iowa in the semifinals.

It's a rematch the Cyclones would like. Iowa beat ISU, 20-13, last month at Hilton Coliseum.

``It would be fun to wrestle them again,'' said top-ranked 184-pounder Jake Varner. ``That dual doesn't really mean a whole lot, other than bragging rights. Nobody remembers that 20 years from now. I'd rather win an NCAA title.''

Varner, last year's NCAA runner-up, is 12-0 and top-ranked at his weight. The sophomore is as focused as ever.

``I don't think about being ranked No. 1, I don't think about who I'm wrestling and who's ranked or whatever,'' Varner said. ``I just think about wrestling.''

Of course, rankings mean little at this point in the season. The Cyclones would like to be No. 1 in March when they travel to St. Louis for the NCAA Championships.

May the best team win, whoever it is.

``It's going to come down to who wants it the most and who is going to fight for it the hardest,'' Cyler Sanderson said. ``It'll make for an interesting and exciting national tournament.''