The Cliff Keen Pre-Season Nationals is one of the largest pre-season tournaments in the USA. Every year, 1,500 high school wrestlers from around the country converge on Cedar Falls, Iowa at the University of Northern Iowa UNI-Dome. All have the same goal…. to knock off any pre-season rust and hopefully become an All-American.
The tournament is chocked full of state champions and ranked wrestlers so earning wins there is no easy task. This year wrestlers from 40 states were in attendance….many ranked by various wrestling publications.
Blackman had 5 wrestlers attend the tournament. Freshman Brooks Sacharczyk, Sophomore Landon Fowler, Juniors Daniel Bradford and Ryan Heath, and Senior Matthew Sells all endured the 9 ½ hour car ride to Cedar Falls. The trip is about 660 miles from Murfreesboro and there is not much to see once you get out of St. Louis…unless you like corn fields.
Friday night, after arriving at UNI, the guys weighed in, chugged a couple of Gatorades and hurried out of there hoping to find a great place to eat! Dinner was pasta and pizza at The Other Place, a Cedar Falls favorite and hangout for local college students. (I recommend the pizza by the way)
By 8am on Saturday morning everyone was inside the dome and getting ready for the day’s wrestling. It’s a pretty cool place to have a wrestling tournament. The floor was turf football field with wrestling mats on top and a large video board on one side of the arena. The dome is the home of the UNI Panthers football and basketball teams. The seating is high and wide on both sides of the arena and the place holds about 16,000 people.
Daniel Bradford got the morning started off with the first match for Blackman, earning a hard-fought 4-2 decision over a guy from Iowa. The match times at the tournament were abbreviated for time sake and as a result, there were many close matches decided only by a few points. Championship round bouts were 2-1-1 (meaning 2 minute 1st period, and 1 minute 2nd and 3rd periods). Consolation rounds were 1-1-1 so even worse. Brackets were split into two groups: 9th & 10th grade (juniors) and 11th & 12th grade (seniors).
Yes – That’s right. We got finished with the tournament 13 hours later. Pretty typical day in the life of a wrestler! If the matches were longer, this would have to be a two-day tournament. We were glad to get it done in one day. All in all, our guys performed very well and met our expectations.
Daniel Bradford went 3-2
Brooks Sacharczyk went 2-2
Ryan Heath went 0-2
Landon Fowler went 3-2 (7th place All-American)
Matthew Sells went 4-2 (7th place All-American)
**Cameron Henderson from Smyrna also traveled with Blackman and he went 3-2 on the day.
That’s a great showing for TN wrestlers!!
Noteworthy matches: Bradford had a great 1-0 victory over Gillette (2x team MVP) in the consolation rounds. Brooks gets a huge win over Georgia stud Aldrich 5-4. Ryan Heath had a tough draw and battled a bracket full of studs all while wrestling nearly 8 pounds under weight. Fowler fell in the championship round to tournament champ Christensen from IL and bounced back to 7th with a big overtime win over Paar from Wisconsin. Sells nearly knocked off 4th ranked Wohlabaugh from Florida and had to settle for 7th in the senior bracket winning one match in overtime and another in double overtime.
All in all there were no easy wins to be found in Cedar Falls!!!
The next morning before returning home, Coach Eric and the guys decided to stop by Iowa City on the way home to visit the home of the legendary Iowa Hawks. There are not many places in the world that were more instrumental to the sport of wrestling and the Carver-Hawkeye Arena is certainly awe-inspiring! The guys got an up close look at the Iowa wrestling room and were able to take in the sights and smells of what it must be like when Tom Brands is in there drilling his guys!
For most wrestlers, visiting this special place is surely a once in a lifetime experience!! All in all, a great trip, great experiences, and lifetime memories were made!
Want to see the pictures? Go HERE
NEXT UP FOR BLACKMAN: Preseason Tournaments in Tullahoma (11/12) and at Blackman (11/19)