Sean Stender was one of the best wrestlers to ever come out of the Quad Cities region. A total buzz-saw at those upper-middle weights in the grade above me. When I got into college, there were two people who both told me multiple times, something along the lines of, “dude Josh, do you know Sean Stender? You would love this guy if you knew him. Funny as hell. Your kind of cat.” The sources were very reliable for one was a teammate/friend of mine on the Loras squad who was a teammate and classmate of Stender’s in high school. Knew Stender very well for years. The other was my brother, Justin who became teammates with Stender at UNI. Usually these comments came after I said something silly or did something crazy in a likely desperate attempt to make people laugh. So I am assuming that Stender has a pretty goofy/funny side to him. I remember kind of laughing when they said this to me, for my impression of Stender was based on what I saw from him on the mat, and that was pretty far from funny or goofy. About as far as you can get, actually. So with only knowing him by what I saw on the mat, Sean Stender came off as a mean, raged out, adrenaline-junkie centaur who patiently waited via standing in the mat-gallows for his unlucky, apprehensive opponents to approach, where he would unapologetically execute them quickly by means of the world’s most ferocious and explosive whipovers, lateral drops, carryies, headlocks, blast doubles, etc. These beatdowns generally lasted about 4 seconds. That’s right, he’d go from a tie to a front headlock, to a whipover, yada-yada and it’d usually take him 4 seconds (6 seconds max) to humilate his opponents with like 8 wrestling moves before showing them mercy and FINALLY pinning them. I am obviously being facetious, but it’s my way of saying that Stender was a notably aggressive and offensive wrestler who took care of business quickly and with explosiveness that could rival the average triceratops. Being sentenced to a wrestling match with Sean Stender did not look like a very fun fate to be faced with. That is unless you take joy in riding roller coasters with extreme hills and flips that ends with the entire roller coaster flying off the rails completely, going air-borne for a mile and slamming head-first into one of those funny houses of mirrors. This is what it looked like to watch Sean Stender just manhandle some 190-ish pound guy. They’d step on the mat looking chiseled and hyped up like The Macho Man Randy Savage and would crawl off looking like a battered, bruised and beaten version of the Michelin Man. And that’s WITHOUT the funny mirror effect… These guys looked liked beaten, bruised and battered Stay Puft Marshmallow Men WITH the mirror effect. Seriously… some of the guys he pummeled into oblivion looked like they had run into a rather decent-sized tornado the moment they got close to him. Remember that show, American Gladiators where a couple contestants would attempt these obstacles that were infested with a bunch of roided-out, tanned and hairless sasquatches who were equipped with a pugil stick or a medicine ball that they were hired to assault these poor contestants with? If I remember correctly, the more evolved the gladiator sasquatches were, the more likely they were to be allowed to shoot a giant Nerf rocket launcher of some sort. Anyways, the contestants were usually about 1/4 the size of a gladiator and if the obstacle course they were on demanded any sort of physical combat between them, the gladiator would usually just pick up the contestant and punt them off the course with no problem. However, every once in a while, they’d find a contestant whose size and noticeable strength and athleticism was comparable to the gladiators. These contestants had one key advantage…They weren’t tanned and hairless sasquatches. So these contestants, with equal physical capabilities as the gladiators, but 100X the mental fortitude, were able to knock the gladiators on their asses every time they made contact with them. It was fun to watch. Sean Stender reminds me of one of the contestants who would come on and just destroy one of those gladiators on that show. It’s like one of those episodes where they get the usual sales person or accountant or something, but this one just happens to be built like the average mesa and is able to out-think the gladiators too…if he were not able to do that he probably would not be a sales person or an accountant. Ya know, if Sean Stender were to be a contestant on American Gladiators, I would bet money that he would clean house on it… I’ve never been more confident about anything in my entire life.
And man what a nice recruit he was for UNI! Stender was an upperclassmen when my brother Justin was a Freshman at UNI and was always really good to him, which is something my entire family has always been appreciative of.
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
North Scott High School, Millennium Falcons freestyle wrestling club, University of Northern Iowa, US National team member.
What year did you graduate?
NS- 2000 and UNI-2005
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
When I was 5 or 6 my brother Brett was supposed to wrestle at a tournament and got sick, I told my dad I’d go in his place so I did. Pretty sure I got 2nd.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
My dad and brother wrestled. My dad wrestled at North Scott as well and was a state qualifier. He qualified for state his senior year but he didn’t place. Back then only 8 guys qualified for state. My brother finished 3rd at heavyweight in 1997. He ended up wrestling and playing football at Luther College where he was a two-time all-American at HWT.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I placed every year up until 6th grade at the AAU tournament. My 6th grade summer I had emergency appendectomy with a ruptured appendix. I spent 10 days in the hospital afterwards recovering. I wasn’t able to play sports my 7th grade year due to the size of my incision and because my body needed to heal. Honestly, after coming back to wrestling my 8th grade year, I felt like I forgot how to wrestle.
What was your record in HS?
I think 149-12
How did you place at state every year?
3rd at 160 as a sophomore, 2nd at 171 as a junior and 1st at 189 my senior year.
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
My redshirt freshman year before Christmas I had some injuries, struggled with school and had a pretty bad skin infection. I remember driving home for Christmas break thinking about how I was gonna tell my parents I was just going to stay home and not return to UNI. The thought lasted for about 1 day and I never even brought it up to my parents. Wrestling comes with inner struggles and I’m glad I overcame mine and got back in the car and drove back to UNI. I ended up being a 3X all-American and finished 3rd at the 2008 Olympic trials. Had I walked away there would’ve been a lot of regrets and I didn’t want to be that guy who had excuses about why my college wrestling career didn’t work out.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
I was good on my feet and could ride if I needed to. My go to shot was a post double.
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
Jeremy Bowling from Pleasant Valley was my rival. He got me once but I think we had 5 or 6 close matches. We had different styles of wrestling which helped me develop as a wrestler. He had a funky feel like nobody else I ever wrestled up until that point.
Who was your most influential coach?
Randy Schrader, my high school football coach. When that guy asked you something and you did it! He was the greatest motivator I have ever been around. He’s the reason in my opinion that North Scott has become the athletic powerhouse that it has become. I had a ton of great guys around over the years but to name a few; Eugene Kreiter, Rusty VanWetzinga, Randy Pugh, Tolly Thompson and Brad Vering.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
In High school we finished 3rd and 4th at state duals. In college we finished top 15 a few times.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
Honestly I really didn’t have one on the college or international level. I looked up to my brother and I loved watching him wrestle.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
In no specific order
How would you describe the North Scott squads your were part of?
We had a good time! We did a great job of keeping this loose and fun. ARMAGEDDON!! My NS boys will know what I’m talking about.
How cool was it representing the QC Area at such a high level the way you did?
It’s was an honor! I would’ve loved to get a National Championship and brought it home but I had a lot of fun representing the QC area.
My brother always described you as his personal favorite upperclassmen leader on the team. Does it make you feel good to know that you made a positive impact on people or only on the mat, but off it as well?
I just tried to have fun and keep things light while I was at UNI. I hope that is what other guys saw in me and were able to absorb themselves. I tried to lead by example with the way that I wrestled. College wrestling is a grind and can be stressful, if your not having fun while getting beat up everyday then why wrestle.
What are some interesting hypothetical matchups between guys from different eras that you would have been interesting in seeing?
Drew Kelly vs Sean Stender 1997 or 1999. He got lucky we never met up.
Dylan Long Vs Jeff Harrison- these guys were always chirping about who would’ve won.
Who are some Iowa HS wrestling guys from your era that you have an immense amount of respect for?
The Koenig brothers, Hesston Johnson and Jon Garvin. Some of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet!
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
My son Owen Stender, we have some battles.
I also love watching Yianni Diakomihalis from Cornell wrestle. His style of wrestling is unlike anybody else and is so much fun to watch.
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
I remember a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers(courtesy of Shedek) and anything 80’s mostly the really cheesy stuff.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
2004 national semi finals. I lost on a last second takedown to lose 8-7. I was so tired in that moment I forgot what to do to stop a peek after i stopped the initial shot.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change anything. All of the things good or bad are opportunities to learn from and have helped me become who I am today.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
Choosing to wrestle at UNI. We had the greatest group of guys on those teams and I’ve built some of my best friendships with those guys. We are all still extremely close and keep in touch.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
In high school- Jeremy Bowling Pleasant Valley. Tim Matthys and Sonny Alvarez from Assumption
In college- Jake Rosholt OSU, Jon Trenge Lehigh, Damion Hahn Minnesota, Ryan Bader ASU, Ryan Fulsaas Iowa.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
Seasonal. I also played Football and Baseball growing up. In college it became more of a lifestyle but even then I had a hard time doing it year round.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
That’s a interesting question…. on our best day vs. their best day we would win every time! I think….
Did you wrestle after high school?
Yes at UNI
What other sports did you play?
Football and Baseball
What are your favorite sports teams?
Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland A’s
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
Golfing, fishing and bow hunting.
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
I wish I could do more. At some point when my kids get a little older I’ll get involved again. It’s hard to wrestle your whole life and not be able to give back. I’m looking forward to getting back in a room somewhere.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
Wrestling exposes your weakness and let’s you build on your strengths. It’s the ultimate sport for all aspects of life.
What do you do now?
I work as a territory sales rep for Ivoclar Vivadent which is a dental materials manufacturer.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
Not right now. I have 3 kids under the age of 5 that are keeping me busy.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
You have to have fun with the sport and let yourself be vulnerable with trying new things. The one thing I did as a college athlete was keep myself in my comfort zone for the things I did well. I became a lot better wrestler as a coach because I was so much more loose and quit caring if I gave up something in practice playing around with a position.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
I’d really have to be talked into it by somebody.
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
Ryan Osgood and Andrew Anderson. Hopefully this shout out gets me into Elk camp next year.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
Next time your in Cedar Falls, go to Tony’s and ask for a blue wave, you won’t be disappointed! I’d like to give more of a back story but you’ll just have to go and find out for yourself.