Iowa State Wrestlers Get Second Chance on Mats
Despite having wrestled since kindergarten, Alex Nielsen never got the chance to don a singlet at the Division I level.
However, the junior in accounting from Albert Lea, Minn., got a none-too-shabby supplemental experience Saturday in the ISU wrestling club's first-annual wrestling tournament at State Gym.
Iowa State, whose club team competes at the Division II level of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association since it already has an NCAA Division I wrestling program, hosted its first-ever event in its second year of competition.
"It was a really big step in establishing ourselves on campus as a legitimate sports club," said club president and coach Zach Byrnes, senior in agricultural engineering. "We're right in the middle of people who are active and working out — you might have some old wrestlers lifting that will say, 'Oh, there's a [club] wrestling team?'"
Four other schools also competed — Northwest Missouri State, Wayne State, Wichita State and Winona State.
All of those schools compete at the Division I level of NCWA, which means their schools' athletics departments sponsor the sport but do not officially operate it. This is akin to the hockey team at Iowa State, which receives sponsorship to compete at the Division I level of the ACHA but is not operated by the school itself.
Nielsen was one of nine ISU students who got to compete in the tournament Saturday, which took place in West Gym — the newest addition of State Gym.
Having run into injury troubles in high school, Nielsen turned down the few offers he got from Division III schools to instead focus on academics at Iowa State. Although wrestling is not as much of a time commitment for him, Nielsen said he still felt the need to continue his involvement in the sport.
"I love the competition, it's just I'm fueled from high school to keep going because I kind of didn't really have my shot at state when I was a senior," Nielsen said. "I had a concussion in my section in individual tournament, so I got screwed out of that."
Much like Nielsen, numerous students on the ISU wrestling club team received offers to wrestle in college — mostly at the Division II or III level.
"It's a huge time commitment to wrestle in college," said Logan Gushiken, sophomore in kinesiology. "I wanted to focus on school and stuff, so I decided against it."
Ryan Kooiker, junior in animal ecology, chose a different route out of high school after placing second at 160 pounds in 1A at state in 2008 as a senior at Collins-Maxwell-Baxter High School.
"I told everybody I was going to the Air Force right out of high school," Kooiker said when asked if he was highly recruited to wrestle.
Kooiker missed the NCWA national tournament last season because he was deployed to serve overseas. Now that Kooiker is back at Iowa State, he's taken to the mats with hopes of getting called up to try out for the ISU wrestling team.
Kooiker went undefeated in Saturday's action, pinning all three of his opponents en route to a first-place finish at 184 pounds.
Among the newest members to the club is Juwan Parrish, a freshman in pre-business who transferred from Iowa to begin his first semester at Iowa State.
While scouting opportunities to continue competing, Parrish emailed ISU wrestling coach Kevin Jackson, who directed him to Byrnes for admission to the club team.
Despite having placed fifth at 145 pounds in 2A for Creston High School last February, Parrish did not get any looks from colleges to wrestle because of his late success in the sport.
"I didn't make it to state until my senior year, and I placed at state," Parrish said. "By that time, [it was] just too late. If you want to get recruited in high school for wrestling, you've got to place at state sophomore or junior year."
The ISU wrestling club began competing last season and offers optional practices of live wrestling.
These practices, however, do not hone in on technical or tactical skills of the sport because of the club's varying level of commitment from its members.
"We drill for about 20 minutes to warm up, then we typically do about 30 minutes of live wrestling with partners in groups to get us really in shape; then we spend about 10 to 20 minutes conditioning at the end of practice," said Ben Smith, sophomore in animal science. "That's our typical practice for us, it's mainly live wrestling."
For students like Nielsen, Parrish and Gushiken, getting a chance to wrestle outside of high school without the commitment of being a full-time student-athlete provides benefits both noticeable and latent.
"A lot of high school wrestlers realize that there's not a future in college wrestling that will make them money, so they go to school to get their degree," Byrnes said. "This provides an opportunity to keep wrestling while you're doing that."