Concluding our feature on the University of the Ozarks, Head Wrestling Coach/Assistant A.D. Leroy Gardner breaks down his team, his school, their diversity and their success.
Your student body is high school sized with less than 1,000 students but it has attendees from over two dozen countries and offers 21 sports. How does the Presbyterian influence help in growing this diversity?
“I think the Presbyterians have a long history of welcoming and a pioneering spirit. I think that has shaped both the existence of this University and the spirit and culture here too. Three of our values that I think really bring to light both why and how we have the diversity we do have are service, justice and hospitality. We really have a space and place for people to grow and discover themselves, their values, and in their faith.”
Tell us who are some of your best wrestlers and which of them have pleasantly surprised the most so far.
“I think firstly the team overall; not so much suprising as grateful to see the maturity they’ve demonstrated. We had a busy Fall and will probably schedule differently in the future but the team has risen to the occasion. I think a suprise is Gabe Brandenburg, a freshman from Missouri. We knew he could become good but I think you never really know until they compete. He demonstrated some real grit in our first event down in Little Rock and that was impressive. I think we count immensely on Nathan Rankin, Jaylen York, Ndayambaje John and Kade McMahon with their experience and leadership. Nathan is the most decorated wrestler we’ve had, but I think that is not the most remarkable thing about him. He just is 100% committed to being his best in all he does, always. I enjoy every time he goes out. Some of the new additions that have been welcome are Jake Dado and Daniel Benoit. They both bring great wrestling experience with them but also really hold themselves to a high standard of human performance overall. Daniel has sworn in to become a Marine and Jake will do so shortly. They will both enter the USMC Platoon Leadership Course to become Officers of Marines upon graduation. Joaquin Bautista is making his way down to his weight class so we will be glad to see him there good to go. Freshman Cruz Partain has stepped into college wrestling with both feet at 197 and he is better each time he competes. It is a trial by fire a bit for young athletes in college and I have been impressed with his courage and heart. We have also added to the big man slot with Ka’Ron Lewis. He is coming back to health and has been working hard. I can highlight a lot of names but two I will end with are Airamis Mendoza and John Ward; two freshmen also committed to the process of becoming great.”
There’s a unique feature length story residing behind the fact that the highly decorated Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University is Suzanna Gardner, your wife. Would you or she share some of the details of how this relationship came to be and what it means for the athletes?
“Suzanna is a World Class Athlete. She has a 3rd Dan in Judo. She was the first woman to medal at the Asian Championships in Judo for her former home, Uzbekhistan. She was on their National team since she was 12 or 13. After her career was over she moved into Strength and Conditioning. In Katy, TX, we owned a 3,000 square foot facility for five years. Suzanna was our Director of Training and did all aspects of training for athletes of all types, non-athletes, senior citizens and more. When we came here she worked with our wrestling team since the beginning and a couple of other sports. The position was established and now she works with all our student-athletes in all our sports. I think the really exceptional piece is the combination of her level of understanding [being a high-performance athlete], her knowledge of combat and weight class driven sports and her attention to detail. She runs a very tight ship and ensures safety for our student-athletes first. Lastly I have seen the response from our Womens teams. It’s really impactful having someone who has achieved highly and works to be a role model for them while helping them become their best without limits. Really impactful.”
Where do you send your visitors for good food?
“My favorite in town is La Chiquita. It’s family owned and operated with wonderful food and great people.”
Last words, your words….why University of the Ozarks?
“Come find out are my last words, come find out why here. It’s a special place for special people. Everything we do here is making history.”
THANK YOU, Coach Gardner, Coach Trout, and SID Josh Peppas.
University of the Ozarks Schedule
Dec 18th Gator Boot Duals, Nashville UW-Eau Claire/Elmhurst/Concordia
Dec 29-30 Citrus Invite/Ft. Lauderdale
Jan 8 Carl Albert/Poteau, Oklahoma
Jan 15 Cliff Keen-Mike Duroe Invitational/Mt. Vernon, Iowa
Jan 29 Pete Wilson-Wheaton University Invitational/Wheaton, Illinois.
Feb 5 Southeast Conference Championships/Danville, Virginia
Feb 25-26 NCAA DIII Regionals/Dubuque, Iowa
Mar 11-12 National Championships/Cedar Rapids, Iowa
The Boyz are back in Town
Imagine, if you will, a small farm town situated in the center of rural America. Life there long has revolved around the land, the school yard and the church. A hard and rewarding lifestyle that lends itself to the hardest and most rewarding of sports. A town where two young men tested their mettle and rose to the top of their sport and, ultimately, their chosen professions. Now after decades of absence those two men and the warriors they lead find themselves on a collision course for mat supremacy in the very heart of……. . ….The Wrestling Zone.  Tony Ersland and the undefeated Purdue Boilermakers are matched against Kevin Dresser and the Iowa State Cyclones. In the Humboldt, Iowa, High School gym. Where both Dresser and Ersland won State championships wearing the colors of the Humboldt Wildcats. Where 1,000 or so [depending on how persuadable the Fire Marshall is] Midwest wrestling fanatics get to cheer on two of their favorite sons leading two of the best teams in wrestling against each other. A 2020, pandemic-postponed party rescheduled for Sunday the 19th, with multiple matchups between highly ranked athletes. Attending would be highly recommended had the event not sold out, through a lottery, sometime back. FloWrestling will livestream. Enjoy!
One Pool,Two Pool,Red Pool,Blue Pool
Though roster details and final matches haven’t been decided yet, it’s a certainty that North Florida is set to host some serious dual meet action this Monday and Tuesday the 20th and 21st. The Collegiate Duals were NEVER intended to settle who’s the Champ of D1 wrestling teams. They ARE going to provide fans with 2 full days of outstanding competition. Two teams from every D1 conference were invited. Choosing to battle it out in the beautiful Florida panhandle town of Niceville are Iowa, Penn State, Arizona State, NC State, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Cornell, Lehigh, Northern Iowa, Central Michigan, Hofstra, and Binghamton. The Bearcats get a special thank you for stepping in late when Oregon State had to cancel. Hofstra Coach Dennis Papadatos gave an informed opinion that some 35 of the competitors could very well be All Americans by seasons end and that the field in Florida will see as many as 5 eventual 2022 National Champs when all’s said and done in Detroit come the end of March.
Save a horse, ride a bus, Cowboys
By the time you read this the OK St. Cowboys will be wrapping up one heck of a road trip. John Smith’s bunch left Stillwater midweek for Colorado Springs and a Friday afternoon hoedown with Sam Barbers Air Force Falcons. Then they were set to make a 200 mile skip up to Laramie where the Winter, 7220 feet of elevation, and Mark Branchs brand of Cowboys were awaiting them. The tour concludes Monday with a stopover in Orem, to meet up with the Utah Valley Wolverines. Hope the 34 time National champs plan to fly to Chattanooga for the Scuffle if just to keep their frequent flyer miles up to snuff.
Nevada’s “other” wrestling event
Nearly 30 colleges will have some representation at this weekends Reno Tournament of Champions. A two day high school event precedes the college competition, a one day affair. American, Clarion, and Southeastern (Lakeland, FL) are making some of the longer hauls with most of the participating schools from the mid or far West.
See you sometime soon!
 A classic show from TVs Golden Age, the Twilight Zone premiered over 60 years ago. Its blend of horror, science fiction, sharp social commentary, fantasy and human drama was unmatched for decades. It remains one of the most acclaimed series of all time.