CEDAR RAPIDS - Toughness and Intensity.
The traits that attracted Farai Sewera to wrestling as a freshman in high school are the same that define him as a sophomore at Coe.
The Kohawks 165-pounder will look to parlay those assets in a berth for the national tournament at the NCAA Division III Central Regional on Saturday at Five Flags Center in Dubuque, beginning at 9 a.m. The field consists of top-ranked Wartburg, No. 10 Coe, 15th-ranked Loras, No. 17 Luther, 20th-ranked Cornell, No. 30 Augustana (Ill.), Buena Vista, Central, University of Dubuque, Knox and Simpson.
A coach approached Sewera, encouraging him to participate because he was not involved in any other activities as a freshman at Lake Park High School in Roselle, Ill. He gave it a try and was hooked on the sport's demands.
"Wrestlers are the hardest working athletes," said Sewera, a native of Zimbabwe who moved to live with his mother in the Chicago area when he was 13. "I felt good about my workouts and I saw the results with it, too."
Fast forward six years later and a similar evolution is occurring. Sewera has resorted to toughness and added intensity in practice to reap the rewards in competition, entering the postseason with a 26-6 mark.
"Farai is a soft-spoken young man, but he's really turned into a competitor for us," Coe Coach John Oostendorp said. "Every practice is personal. He doesn't concede a takedown. Everything is fought to the end in practice. That's where he has made a huge jump."
Last year's postseason is a major catalyst. Sewera is direct and honest about the impact the 2013 finish made on him. He was seeded third, which would have resulted in an NCAA berth, but went 0-2 outside of two byes.
"I really don't know what happened," Sewera said. I lost to a kid I shouldn't have and I just broke. I didn't want it as much. I felt I wasted all the progress I made throughout the year.
"It made me want it more. I worked hard."
The Kohawks are stocked with hard-working competitors but Sewera's effort stuck out to Oostendorp. Many wrestlers face lackluster results and want to reverse them, but Sewera has made the change in practice to improve his performance, according to Oostendorp. Sewera has focused on correcting the little mistakes from last season.
"In the practice room, I've been working hard in every position," Sewera said. "I'm not accepting defeat there and transition that into my matches. I thought I needed to win every position, because that is the only way I was successful."
The big picture comes into focus with a look at a couple outcomes. He pinned Grand View's Nathaniel Stadeker for a Simpson Invitational title, overturning two previous losses to him. He has also become more competitive with Wartburg's third-ranked Cole Welter, shrinking an eight-point loss to one. The fall against Stadeker stood out to Sewera.
"That made me happy because it showed that I have progressed from last year," Sewera said. "I feel I'm making progress and am more confident going into this."
Sewera has only been wrestling for six years, while others at this level for more than twice that long. He is still raw and soaks up coaches' knowledge like a sponge.
"He's learning everyday (and) really made gains this year," Oostendorp said. "He's a smart wrestler, too. If you show him something he works on it. He's very coachable and he's able to carry it over in competition."
Toughness and intensity will be keys to earning a berth to the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships on March 14-15 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. The plan is to continue to put pressure on his opponents and keep moving forward during his matches. Sewera is determined to be a national champion or at least secure All-America status, but he has to clear the first hurdle."I have nothing to lose," Sewera said. "I'm just going to go for it. Right now, the goal is to make the national tournament."