Student of the sport: Kennedy's Ben Sarasin excels on the mat and in the classroom

Top-ranked 170-pound senior looks for third state medal

Cedar Rapids Kennedy's Ben Sarasin works on pinning Iowa City High's Dominic Waikel in a 170-pound match at Kennedy on Jan. 18, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Kennedy's Ben Sarasin works on pinning Iowa City High's Dominic Waikel in a 170-pound match at Kennedy on Jan. 18, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Practice is a time for wrestlers to ask questions and learn from their coaches.

For Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Ben Sarasin, whose mind is as sharp as his patented double-leg, those queries aren’t limited to holds and technique.

Take his exchange with Cougars assistant coach Nick LeClere, for instance. As they drilled, Sarasin began to pepper LeClere with questions from his AP Economics class that LeClere teaches.

“We had a hard concept in AP class that we were working on,” LeClere said. “We were getting to go and probably 10 minutes into drilling and he’s like, ‘So, coach, this AP Econ stuff we were working on today ...’ and then he starts asking me about it. I’m like, 'I don’t know. You’re putting me on the spot. My mind is not thinking that way. You shouldn’t be either.'”

Sarasin admitted his mind drifts occasionally during breaks in practice.

“It’s kind of strange,” Sarasin said. “Usually, everybody is all wrestling all the time. I am very focused in the room typically, but sometimes my mind can drift a little bit.

“LeClere is right there. I’m drilling with him. Might as well run a question by the teacher, if I have the opportunity.”

Sarasin has epitomized the dichotomy associated with being a student-athlete. To go along with his 4.125 grade-point average and 34 ACT score, the top-ranked 170-pound senior boasts a perfect record this season entering the state wrestling tournament Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

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Sarasin is a two-time state medalist, placing third last season and fourth as a sophomore. He is one of only three unbeaten wrestlers in Class 3A, owning a 36-0 mark.

“The way I look at it all the rankings, predictions and past accomplishments are outside noise,” Sarasin said. “What I really need to focus on is just wrestling and doing the best I can.”

Sarasin’s passion to learn and love for wrestling began to coexist in Kindergarten. His description of his younger self sounds like the melding of World of Warcraft characters. Think physical warriors with inquisitive minds that soak up knowledge like a dry sponge.

The fact that he used to read books in between matches at tournaments to take his mind off competition comes as no surprise. Although, it still is a source of good-natured ribbing from teammates.

“In elementary school, I was a little bit of a geek or nerd, I guess,” Sarasin said with a laugh. “I’ve been a wrestler since I was younger, too. I’ve always balanced that geek and wrestler. It’s a strange little mix.”

Similarities exist between wrestling and studying. Both demand much effort to do it right.

“There are things that come easy, but a lot of it is working and having a hunger to learn more and get better,” Sarasin said. “It’s a lot like wrestling in that way. It doesn’t just come to you. You have to work for it. I study a lot. I do all my homework. I try my best.”

Sarasin has been able to switch his headgear for his thinking cap and vice versa without skipping a beat. He is instinctual on the mat and intellectual off it.

“He switches gears really well,” Kennedy Coach Dennis Hynek said. “In the practice room, he’ll go really hard and give maximum effort. The same applies to competition. Then, he goes to the classroom and switches right back to his academics.”

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His parents, Dan Sarasin and Amanda Colehour, supported his thirst for knowledge from an early age. The elder Sarasin is an oral surgeon and used to wrestle at the University of Iowa. Father and son could relate easily.

“My parents have always encouraged me to be a good student,” Sarasin said. “I can talk to (my dad) about wrestling. At the end of the day, he’s a guy I can sit down and talk about school and what I’m learning.”

Sarasin’s achievements attracted NCAA Division I programs, including Northern Iowa, University of Pennsylvania and Brown University. He took visits to Brown and Penn. Academics was the biggest factor in his decision, turning down an opportunity to compete at college wrestling’s highest level.

University of Chicago was closer to home and offered the desired mix of strong academics and a chance to wrestle, even though it is an NCAA Division III school.

“Wrestling Division I hasn’t been a huge goal for me,” Sarasin said. “I know there are a lot of guys like that. It’s not something that has been a top priority for me and my life. I’m perfectly content with being a D-III wrestler. There is a lot of great competition.”

Sarasin said he loves his AP U.S. Government class, along with LeClere’s AP economics course and Political Science. He is interested in a possible Social Science major. Sarasin shatters the dumb jock and wrestler stereotype.

“He is very self-aware and takes pride in that,” Hynek said. “He’s just a healthy young kid who really has things figured out. He puts things into perspective.

“He’s going to be able to go through a good college. I think he has a shot going for a national championship down the road as well as getting one heck of a degree.”

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Sarasin still has work to do, opening with Ankeny Centennial’s Nic Leo (19-9). Sarasin has improved from a year ago when his only two losses were to Ames three-time state champion Marcus Coleman. He has diversified his offensive attack from his feet and developed as a mat wrestler.

“I have different things I can go for now,” Sarasin said. “I feel more comfortable on my feet, going for different shots. On the mat, I feel I can escape from anybody.”

Sarasin is attempting to capture Kennedy’s 11th individual state title and the first since Cruse Aarhus won the 103-pound title in 2007. The goal is to bring back a gold medal.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to get it, so that’s the mindset,” Sarasin said. “Control what I can control. Hopefully, the result goes the way I want it to go.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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