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Top college coaches flock to FargoDome to watch elite Juniors, Cadets

FARGO, N.D. - A quick glance around the FargoDome on Thursday morning made it look like some sort of college coaches convention was in town.

You had Iowa coach Tom Brands and Old Dominion's Steve Martin sitting at a table near the elevated mat in the center of the dome. American coach Mark Cody was spotted in the first row of the stands and Michigan State's Tom Minkel was down on the floor near the head table.

Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Denney was peering through a pair of binoculars as he scanned all 23 mats to watch recruits. Nebraska's Mark Manning, Lehigh's Greg Strobel, Stanford's Kerry McCoy, Navy's Bruce Burnett, Tennessee-Chattanooga's Chris Bono and Princeton's Chris Ayres are among the other coaches who have rolled into town.

With some of best young high school-age wrestlers in the country all competing under the same roof in Fargo, the ASICS/Vaughn Junior National and Accelerade Cadet National freestyle tournament is a feeding frenzy for the nation's college wrestling coaches.

"This is a great opportunity to see how these young guys compete against the toughest guys in the country," Brands said. "The impressive thing to me is when you see a graduating senior wrestling here. It is a little disappointing to see some of the blue-chippers who opt out of this thing. There is a lot of potential for barn-burner matchups that aren't going to happen because some kids don't wrestle here after their senior year.

"You would like to see a full-powered tournament with everybody here. Other than that, it is a very good tournament. A lot of these underclassmen are trying to make a name for themselves and trying to impress the coaches who are here."

More coaches are expected to roll into Fargo as the tournament heats up with the Cadet National finals Friday and the Junior National finals Saturday in Fargo. More than 1,000 wrestlers are entered in both the Cadet National and the Junior National competition.

"What a great tournament," said Denney, whose teams have won the last three NCAA Division II titles. "This tournament seems like it keeps getting stronger and the level of competition just keeps going up every year. It's amazing to see some of these wrestlers who wrestled 10 matches in Greco and then come back after just one day of rest and start competing in freestyle. Some of these kids are ironmen."

Brands has said he not only is recruiting kids to Iowa who want to be NCAA champions, but kids who want to go on to win Olympic and World titles on the international level.

"It's real important to aspire to a higher level," Brands said. "There is another level beyond college. I trained with Randy Lewis when I first came to Iowa and he was a guy who already had won a gold medal in the Olympics. We want kids with that same mentality where they want to reach that top level. That's what it's all about."

Brands said the Junior and Cadet Nationals provide kids with an opportunity to start on that path.

"This is a great, great event," Brands said. "USA Wrestling does an outstanding job with it."

One of Denney's recruits, Iowa's Jeff Rau, won a Junior National title in Greco-Roman earlier this week. Rau was competing in freestyle Thursday.

"Jeff does all the extra little things and it has all paid off for him," Denney said. "He's worked extremely hard. It's nice to see him having success against some of the best guys in the country."

Denney said this definitely is an opportunity for a wrestler to become noticed.

"If you wrestle well up here, coaches will take notice," Denney said. "This is a great opportunity for kids to perform and show what they can do."

Brands said the transition from Virginia Tech to Iowa has been smooth. He said having Dan Gable as an assistant coach already is paying off. Gable coached Iowa to 15 NCAA titles before stepping down as head coach in 1997.

"I've got good help and good people around me," Brands said. "Gable's just been phenomenal - the athletes just gravitate to him. When you have someone of his caliber and qualifications around the kids, you can't help but be excited about that. We also have Wes Hand, Mike Zadick and Doug Schwab helping us as assistant coaches. So we have a real good group of hard-working coaches who work real well together."
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