Central Preview

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A new coaching staff looks to turn things around at Central College this year. Eric VanKley returns to Iowa after spending time starting the wrestling progam at the University Great Falls and building it into an NAIA contender. He is joined by NCAA qualifier Jason Zastrow as his top assistant. With a freshman-heavy lineup, success will not come easily in the Iowa Conference, but the foundation for the future is being built now at Central College.

School: Central College
Head Coach: Eric VanKley
Years at School: 1st Season
Assistant Coaches: Jason Zastrow

2006-2007 Dual Meet Record: 0-18
2007 NCAA Place: —
2007 National Qualifying Tournament Place: 9th IIAC

Returning NCAA Qualifiers and All-Americans: —

Total Number of Returning Starters: 4

Notable Incoming Freshmen: Brandon Rose, Curtis Hobbs, Lance Jones, Kyle Ray, Kyle Martinez, Anthony Rollins, Chris Keeran, Jess Welu, Nick Merical

Projected Lineup
125: Brandon Rose-Fr
141: Curtis Hobbs-Fr, Nick Johnson-So
149: Lance Jones-Fr
157: Kyle Ray-Fr
165: Jeremiah Teeple-So, Kevin Yeoman-So
174: Josh Stutting-So
184: Kyle Martinez-Fr, Anthony Rollins-Fr
197: Chris Keeran-Fr, Jess Welu-Fr
285: Jim Siddall-So, Nick Merical-Fr

For an extended preview from Central College Sports Information, click below

Having already built a wrestling program from scratch, new Central College coach Eric Van Kley is embarking on an equally ambitious project.

Unlike his previous job at Great Falls University (Mont.), at Central Van Kley is working with a program with a powerful tradition. The Dutch have posted seven top-10 NCAA Division III team finishes, including national runner-up in 1984-85. Central wrestlers have earned all-America distinction 42 times, capturing four individual national titles while bringing home four Iowa Conference team championships.

Yet preparing for the 2007-08 season at Central, where the Dutch have faltered in recent years, feels a bit like starting over for Van Kley. At Great Falls, just three years after the program’s debut Van Kley had aggressively recruited a squad of 45 wrestlers that rocketed to first place in the NAIA West Region and placed sixth at the national tournament. At Central, Van Kley inherits the remnants of a squad that endured a 0-18 season in 2006-07 and there are no juniors or seniors going through fall workouts

“It feels exactly the same,” Van Kley said. “We’re saying much the same thing we said at Great Falls: It’s not a bad thing to be starting a program. There’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm and there’s a willingness to give new things a try. If you’ve got a lot of people who’ve been around, they’re more likely to say ‘We’ve tried that before.’

“At the same time, the challenge is you don’t have that upperclass leadership to point the way. But I couldn’t be more pleased with the attitude the guys have shown so far.”

Just two letterwinners return from last year’s team. But even though Van Kley didn’t arrive on the scene until the start of summer, he quickly assembled a squad of 15 wrestlers, and the enthusiasm he’s injected into the program is growing.

Much like a start-up program, there’s precious little experience.

Returning letterwinners include sophomore Nick Johnson, who finished eighth in the Iowa Conference at 133 pounds and sophomore Kevin Yeoman, who is moving up to 165 pounds after a season at 157.

Competing in the nationally prominent Iowa Conference, Van Kley knows the kind of overnight success his program enjoyed at Great Falls is unlikely at Central.

“Obviously the Iowa Conference is far and away the toughest conference in the country,” he said. “Our youth will make it difficult for us. But our goal this year is to just improve every week. The Iowa Conference is not getting any weaker, but we love it. We know that if we can compete in the Iowa Conference, we can compete anywhere in the country.

“We haven’t set any kind of a timeline. It may be a long process. But at the same time we’ve got a staff and a team that are excited about the challenge.”


Numbers are scarce in the lower weights. Freshman Brandon Rose of Lonedell, Mo. will likely go at 125 pounds and there’s no wrestler listed at 133.

“Brandon’s very tall with an unorthodox style,” Van Kley said. “His strongest position is on top as he showed by getting a lot of pins in high school.”


Johnson moves up a weight after placing eighth at the Iowa Conference meet last year and posting a 6-25 mark. He’ll be joined by freshman Curtis Hobbs of Grinnell.

“They have pretty similar styles,” Van Kley said. “They’re both very aggressive. They both push the pace of the match. It’s just a matter of getting them more experience.”


Van Kley envisions good things for freshman Lance Jones of St. Charles at 149 pounds.

“He was very successful in high school and is going to develop into a solid college wrestler,” Van Kley said. “He’s very strong in all three positions. I think he has a bright future.”


Sophomore Jeremiah Teeple joined the squad at the start of the second semester in January last year. He was 0-4 in limited action but is better prepared this year.

“Jeremiah’s an older student so more than anything, he gives us some maturity,” he said. “We’re short of experience, so that’s helpful. I like his attitude and his work ethic. We really enjoy having him around.”

He’ll be pushed for the 157-pound position by freshman Kyle Ray of Greenfield. He was a state placewinner for Nodaway Valley High School.

“Kyle’s real strong and very aggressive,” Van Kley said. “He’s strong from the neutral position.”


Yeoman is back and expecting improvement after enduring a 0-13 freshman campaign at 157.

“Kevin’s been extremely focused all fall,” Van Kley said. “He struggled a little over his weight last year at 157. I’ve been very pleased with his work ethic. He’s established himself as a leader.”


Sophomore Josh Stutting starts the year as the only candidate for 174 pounds, although the Dutch may pick up some help there from the football squad. That would allow Stutting to jump to 184 where he would go up against freshman Anthony Rollins of Dyersville.

“It’s going to be real competitive,” Van Kley said. “They have different styles but they both work hard and had a pretty good fall.”


Freshman Chris Keeran of Redfield will get a quick orientation into college wrestling as Central’s lone 197-pounder in the early going.

“Chris started (wrestling) late in high school, but what he lacks in experience, he makes up with effort,” Van Kley said.


Sophomore transfer Jim Siddal and freshman Nick Merical of Grinnell will take over at 285 pounds.

“They’ll both get time,” Van Kley said.

While that’s an admittedly thin lineup, Van Kley is hopeful that the Dutch will get a boost with 4-5 additional wrestlers once the football season is completed. Among the possibilities are sophomore David Zachary, who would probably compete at 174 pounds, and junior Jeremy Swafford, a likely fit at 184 pounds.

“It will be a big shot in the arm to have them join us,” Van Kley said. “They’ll be able to bring the work ethic, experience and success they’ve had in football to the team.”

The Dutch open the 2007-08 campaign with a dual at Division II Truman State (Mo.) Nov. 9. Van Kley’s home debut isn’t until a Jan. 11 dual with St. Olaf (Minn.). The Central Invitational follows on Jan. 12.

Then Central enters the Iowa Conference slugfest, a trek that will assuredly leave scars. NCAA Division III title contender Wartburg will again be a heavy favorite, but eight league schools were nationally ranked most of the past season and likely will be again.

Van Kley is confident that Central’s name will be prominent in those rankings again someday soon. Even though the Dutch have endured some disappointments in recent years, knowing that the program has a history of winning at the national level is an advantage.

“That really helps,” Van Kley said. “We’ve got a lot of great alumni coaches out there and when they talk about Central, they know we’ve had success and know it can be done here. I think our alumni are excited about getting behind the program and we’re getting a good reaction from coaches across the state. We just need to remind people that we’ve had a lot of all-Americans and some national champs here.”

The journey to the top begins with the group presently toiling in the Dutch practice room. Van Kley is hitting the recruiting trail at a furious pace, but not with the notion that this year’s wrestlers will be cast aside when help arrives.

“I’m very excited with how recruiting is going for next year,” said Van Kley, whose track record of producing banner recruiting classes gives cause to trust his assessment. “But we definitely have a good core group of guys to start with here. They have the talent and the work ethic to start the kind of program we want. We just have to continue to build on that base as we bring in more guys.”

Van Kley savors the challenge.

“We’re not going to get the ship across the lake the first day, but we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “I really like the attitude and effort I’ve seen in the room so far.”

Larry Happel
Associate Director of Marketing/Media Relations
and Sports Information Director
Central College

Campus Box 5400
Pella, Iowa 50219