Sacramento Bee: Get A Hold Of This - Iowa, Wrestling Power, Visits UCD

UC Davis Wrestling
UC Davis Wrestling

Jan. 9, 2005

By Scott Howard-Cooper -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, January 9, 2005

Untitled Document

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 Timberwolves.

The reason Iowa would come to Davis, without its expenses paid for or any gate guarantee, as sometimes happens, is just as prominent:

Jim Zalesky.

"(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 you go."

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.



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