Sanders in search of Olympic glory

The former Gophers wrestler is one of five wrestlers with Minnesota ties in this weekend’s Olympic trials.

Zach Sanders wrestles Wisconsin's Austin Hietpas on Jan. 22 at the Sports Pavilion. Sanders will compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team roster this weekend.

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Zach Sanders wrestles Wisconsin’s Austin Hietpas on Jan. 22 at the Sports Pavilion. Sanders will compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team roster this weekend.

Drew Claussen

Zach Sanders’ collegiate wrestling career wrapped up a little more than a month ago with what he called a disappointing third-place finish at the NCAA championships in St. Louis.

This weekend, he will hit the mat in Iowa with a trip to London on the line.

Sanders is one of six wrestlers with ties to Minnesota’s wrestling program competing this weekend in the 2012 USA Olympic Trials in Iowa City, Iowa.

Former Gophers wrestler C.P. Schlatter and his younger brother Dustin Schlatter will join Sanders, as will current Gophers Jake Kettler and Pat Smith, who both took an Olympic redshirt this season. The final participant with Minnesota wrestling ties is graduate assistant Kevin LeValley who wrestled at Bucknell.

For Sanders, the process of trying to qualify for the Olympics was a welcome opportunity after he placed third in St. Louis. Sanders said he still worked out but spent a week away from the mat after the NCAA championships before kicking it back into full gear for the Olympic trials.

He had to earn a spot to compete for the trials at a qualifier tournament March 31 and April 11 in Cedar Fall, Iowa.

“I had to qualify for the Olympic trials, so I didn’t get much practice in at all before that,” Sanders said. “Then I had to go and compete, and I guess I’ve been on the mat a little bit more now.”

Sanders said he planned for a while to try out for the Olympics, so he knew that he wasn’t done after the NCAA championships. That didn’t help ease the pain of not winning a national title.

“It burns. It probably will forever,” Sanders said. “I can’t worry about it too much right now. I mean, I’ve thought about it every day since, but the day of [the Olympic trials], I’ve just got to worry about freestyle.”

Sanders will compete in the 55-kilogram freestyle division this weekend at Carver Hawkeye Arena — a style he says differs from the college style.

“It’s a little more ‘sit back, then explode’ and score points. College is more of a grind, and the time limit’s a little longer, so you have time to get guys tired,” Sanders said. “[Olympic wrestling] is a little bit more skill orientated where you have to score when a guy’s fresh.”

Sanders might run into former collegiate foes Matt McDonough and Frank Perrelli, who are also wrestling in the 55-kilogram division. But Sanders said it was important not to focus on specific individuals.

“Everyone here was either a multiple-time NCAA All-American, NCAA champs or World Team members,” Sanders said. “You can’t worry about one guy. You’ve just kind of got to tailor yourself for the style and what works for you.

“Everyone’s tough, everyone’s a winner and everyone knows how to win in a big match. It’s all of us put together — it’s like an all-star tournament.”

Session I of the U.S. Olympic Trials start 9 a.m., Saturday, and the final session will wrap up 9 p.m., Sunday.