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Facing the best
CEDAR RAPIDS - John Oostendorp's coaching philosophy has been one of the biggest reasons Coe has ascended to new heights in NCAA Division III college wrestling.
Oostendorp, in his 10th season as the Kohawks' head coach, subscribes to the ideal that his team should strive to be the nation's best college wrestling program, regardless of division. The Kohawks go from striving to be the best to wrestling the absolute best when they head to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to face the three-time defending NCAA Division I national champion University of Iowa Hawkeyes in the Iowa City Duals on Friday. Competition begins at 2 p.m. with the Coe vs. Iowa meet at 6 p.m.
"You limit yourself if you look at yourself as a certain level of a program," Oostendorp said. "We're a wrestling program. Our kids that come here you get some decorated young men and they have high goals at the highest level. We want to challenge them and give them that opportunity."
The Kohawks have logged wins over opponents from other divisions, including wins over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (44-3) and Division-II program UNC-Pembroke (28-10) at this event last year. Coe has added Air Force Academy to its schedule, travelling to Colorado Springs, Colo., in December.
"I like to continue that type of mindset," Oostendorp said. "I think we have the type of kids who want that type of challenge.
"Obviously, there are great teams in Division III that challenge us, but I think we can grow as a program by looking at ourselves as just a wrestling program and not a certain level."
The key is bolstering the roster with athletes that share the same mentality and willing to work in order to try and meet those expectations.
"Still the No. 1 thing is to find the young men to fit into your program," Oostendorp said. "I think we have great assistant coaches and a lot of young men that are hungry and motivated to help continue to developm the program."
Don't confuse the ideal with an ill-conceived notion that the Kohawks will knock-off elite programs with scholarship athletes, even though Coe was competitive in a handful of matches last year with Dale Handley earning a win at 157 pounds. No matter who the opponent is aim is the same. The emphasis is on battling hard the entire match and giving your best.
"They're a great program," said Oostendorp, who was teammates with Iowa coaches Tom and Terry Brands from 1990-92, contributing to two straight NCAA titles in '91 and '92. "You see what they do to other Big Ten schools down there at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It's a great challenge, but we'll always focus on our fight and effort."
Coe has six wrestlers returning with national tournament experience, including 125-pound champ Clayton Rush and All-Americans Nick LeClere, who was fourth at 165, and Seth Rehn, who placed seventh at 174. Sophomores Chris LeClere and Drew Hinschberger and Handley, a junior, qualified for last year's national meet.
"We have a mix of younger guys and older guys," Oostendorp said. "The best thing I've noticed about this team is the get the most out of every practice. They come in with the right frame of mind."
Iowa wrestles Iowa Central at 4 p.m., kicking off the dual season for a new-look Hawkeye team that has eight new starters from last season. Matt McDonough, who won the 125-pound NCAA title as a red-shirt freshman, returns along with national qualifier Jake Kerr. Grant Gambrall (184), Luke Lofthouse (197) and heavyweight Blake Rasing all saw varsity action last year.
The seventh-ranked Hawkeyes will look to extend their school-record 61-dual winning streak and 25 straight at home.
"There's a lot of excitement that is going into this season because of that turnover, and when you're talking about excitement, it's not always about having a high-powered team coming back," Tom Brands said at the team's media day news conference earlier this month. "Actually the fans are contrary to that. They want to see the new guys on the mat, so to speak."