For the first time since any of the current Beaver wrestlers were born, there will be a fresh face on the Buena Vista University wrestling sideline. Mark Schwab, a former assistant coach at the University of Minnesota, has been tabbed to take over the program for Al Baxter, who retired last season after 26 years with the blue and gold. With intense enthusiasm and a new way to approach the year, Schwab has the Beavers eagerly preparing for the upcoming season.
"I am really excited to be here," Schwab recently said. "The wrestlers are getting exposed to new things and I really think they are buying in to what we are trying to do as a program."
What Schwab is hoping to accomplish is to get the athletes to believe in themselves and to consistently give a maximum effort. Helping him get the message across are assistant coaches Sevond Cole and Pat Willsbacher, each of whom are Buena Vista graduates who have earned All-America honors. Former Beaver standout Chris Gubbles has also aided the team in its early season practices. Schwab is grateful for the supporting cast surrounding him.
"Their knowledge of the program has been an extremely valuable asset. We all want to bring out the best in each of our athletes. Our goal is to set the bar for effort and attitude in the Iowa Conference," the rookie head coach reported. "That has nothing to do with numbers or talent."
While there is talent on a roster that returns four wrestlers that competed at last season's conference championship, the lack of numbers will be a concern for the 2004-05 squad. Just 13 players dot a roster that boasts nine letterwinners from last year's club that placed fifth at the conference meet and tied for 25th at the NCAA III national meet. Many of the top returnees from a year ago are in the upper and lower weight classes leaving much to be proven in the middle weights.
Leading the charge is senior Adam Buthe (Sergeant Bluff, Iowa), who is the lone returning wrestler that placed higher than fourth at the conference meet a year ago. Buthe, a heavyweight and national championship qualifier, posted a record of 26-10 and placed second at the conference meet. Sophomore Wade Hammen returns for his second year in the program at 197. He tallied five pins while compiling a record of 9-6. Senior Michael Irvin is expected to drop down to 184 after competing at 197 a season ago. Irvin was 12-10 last year and placed fourth at the conference meet. Both Hammen and Irvin are members of the BVU football team and will be welcome additions to the wrestling squad once the football season has been completed. Sophomore Rolando Zamago (Britt, Iowa) and senior Shane Hunter (Waverly, Iowa) will provide depth at 197 and 184 pounds.
Senior Joe Honts (Fruitland, Iowa) at 125 and sophomore Nick Rotella (Omaha, Neb.) at 133 give the Beavers varsity starting experience at the two smallest weight classes. Honts posted a record of 19-15 in 2003-04 while Rotella tallied a mark of 20-14. At 141, freshman Matt Hanson (West Concord, Minn.) brings a high level of intensity into the program that Schwab appreciates. Hanson was a three-time state qualifier and won over 100 matches in high school. Fellow freshman Jacob Johnston (Wichita, Kan.) and senior Andy Dick (Whitefish Bay, Wis.) are battling at 149. Johnston was a two-time state qualifier in Kansas while Dick is a fifth-year senior with valuable experience. Juniors Kyle Kriz (Dysart, Iowa) at 149 and Nick Bretz (St. Louis, Mo.) at 165 have shown a real commitment in the off season to improving their strength and conditioning for the upcoming year in which both will be expected to fill starting roles. Kriz, Johnston, or Dick could move up to 157, depending on who emerges at 149. Junior Bobby Flaherty (Bettendorf, Iowa), who went 5-8 last season, is the most tested wrestler at 174. Newcomer Joshua Murray (Des Moines, Iowa) will push him for a lineup spot. Murray recorded the most takedowns on his prep team a year ago.
Schwab stresses that the Beavers, like any other wrestling squad he has helped coach in the past, need to continue working on their technique in order to have a successful season. Come the first weekend in March, he would like to see that hard work pay off and have Buena Vista wrestlers displaying their skills on a national stage.
"My goal for this season is to have four All-Americans," Schwab commented. "Looking at our team today, I am not sure who those wrestlers will be because I feel many of them have that kind of potential. If individuals continue to develop and take care of business, the team finish in the conference and at nationals will take care of itself."
Buena Vista begins the season ranked 23rd in the Adidas-Brute Preseason Poll. Four other conference schools, including defending national champion Wartburg, are ranked ahead of the Beavers.
"The Iowa Conference is raising the bar for everybody in the country," Schwab contended. "The competition in the conference is bringing out the best in every program. That makes the conference increasingly challenging. Make no mistake, I am here to build these guys up and to win. I like the fact that we will be going against the best on a weekly basis."
The Beavers open the campaign on November 11 by traveling to Briar Cliff. Two days later, the team will take part in the Iowa Central Open, a meet Schwab thinks will be the toughest of the season since it will include most of the Iowa Conference contenders and some Division I programs. The squad's first home competition is November 17 against Northwestern.