Jan. 9, 2005
By Scott Howard-Cooper -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, January 9, 2005
DAVIS, Calif. - College wrestling becomes a big deal in Northern California
tonight because Iowa is facing UC Davis at The Pavilion, and college
wrestling is a big deal anywhere Iowa goes.
The Hawkeyes' visit makes it a regional event as much as a
dual meet. Other schools have called or e-mailed Aggies coaches
to say they plan to attend.
Davis officials were hoping to break the arena's attendance
record of 7,926 (set Jan. 23, 1999, in basketball against Chico
State), but because of an updated seating configuration, that
can't be challenged.
That's how it is with Iowa, the most recognizable name in the
sport. That's especially how it is in the interest generated by
a rare West Coast appearance, to face a program that doesn't compare
in profile or performance, at that.
"Anyone would be excited to have Iowa come wrestle on
their campus," Aggies coach Lennie Zalesky said. "For
UC Davis, it's monumental."
He should know.
Zalesky competed at Iowa and lived the passion of the sport
in that state and around the Big Ten Conference. He knows it is
not unusual for the Hawkeyes to draw 10,000 fans at home, or a
few thousand more for marquee matchups. One of those - a Feb.
22, 1992, meet against Iowa State - attracted 15,291.
When they went to Minnesota in 2002, an NCAA-record 15,646
watched the dual meet held at Target Center, the home of the NBA's
The reason Iowa would come to Davis, without its expenses paid
for or any gate guarantee, as sometimes happens, is just as prominent:
"(Lennie is) older than me, so he beat me up a lot,"
Jim said. "I owe him."
The oldest of the three Zalesky brothers coaches the Aggies;
the middle brother heads the Hawkeyes. Part of the payback will
be Iowa beating Davis, barring an upset more monumental than the
appearance on campus. The greater meaning will be the Aggies gaining
the experience and the exposure.
"That's one of your jobs at the University of Iowa wrestling
program," Jim said. "You're promoting the sport everywhere
It is a goodwill visit as much as anything. Lennie Zalesky
is encouraged that some of his entrants in the 10 weight classes
can be competitive and maybe even win. But this is Iowa, in a
familiar role because of its stature, arriving as ambassadors.
"We're doing a favor," Jim said of coming to California
on a tight schedule and at a cost to his own program. "But
it's doing a favor to people we respect."
Davis, while far from prominent in the sport, does have credibility.
Two current Aggies, Derek Moore and Brandon Bear, were NCAA
qualifiers last season, and Moore finished second in the 133-pound
division Dec. 19 at a tournament in Reno that included quality
opponents. Davis has been Division I since 1993-94, at the same
time most other programs at the school were Division II, and competing
in the modified Pacific-10 Conference with Arizona State, Boise
State, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal State Bakersfield, Cal State
Fullerton, Oregon, Oregon State, Portland State and Stanford.
Iowa, though, is the monolith. The Hawkeyes have 20 NCAA team
titles, 15 more than anyone else, in the last 31 seasons. They've
had 203 All-Americans in that time, 41 more than anyone else.
Their 60 national champions bests the closest challenger by 25.
Lennie Zalesky, in his fourth season at Davis, was part of
four team titles in Iowa City, won three Big Ten titles and finished
second in the nation twice.
Jim Zalesky, inducted in the Hall of Fame last June, won three
NCAA crowns while competing at 158 pounds and was undefeated as
a junior and senior, and Amateur Wrestling News named him Wrestler
of the Decade for the 1980s.
In his first seven seasons as Iowa coach, Zalesky oversaw a
program that produced 10 NCAA individual champions and 20 Big
Ten champions. Finishing second in the country in 2004 came amid
nine national titles in 14 seasons, a tradition started by legendary
coach Dan Gable.
Lennie Zalesky said the Aggies will not be psyched out to face
a fabled opponent.
"I think they look at it more like this," he said.
"They're 10 hunters, and they're going after the 70-inch
moose. They want to bag it and put it on the wall."
The more-realistic goal is to claim a couple of divisions.
At the same time, the Aggies expect an infusion of excitement.
No official wrestling attendance records are kept, but the 1,517
fans who came for a combined women's gymnastics-wrestling program
on Jan. 16, 2004, is believed to be the Davis standard. That is
expected to be surpassed today.