(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best wrestlers in Montana history on Jan. 16 with the launch of the #MTTop20. Athletes will continue to be featured until Friday, Feb. 10 when No. 1 is unveiled.)
Top 20 rankings: No. 20 – Jarrett Degen; No. 19 – Luke Weber, No. 18 — Ben Stroh, No. 17 — Curtis Owen, No. 16 — Chris Currier, No. 15 — Chris Nedens, No. 14 — Kyle Smith, No. 13 — Jade Rauser, No. 12 — Scott Barrett, No. 11 — Gary Albright, No. 10 — Turk Lords, No. 9 — Larry Quisel, No. 8 — Tyrel Todd, No. 7 — Reese Andy., No. 6 — Matt Ruppel, No. 5 — Emmett Willson, No. 4 — Brandon Eggum.
No. 3 – Mike Zadick, Great Falls High
Throughout our journey of the top wrestlers in Montana’s history, many coaches and enthusiasts have agreed that only one name should be mentioned as the greatest prep wrestler in the Treasure State. Of all the state championships, junior national titles and other various awards, only one athlete has dominated in such convincing fashion to be considered the best in high school history – Great Falls High standout Mike Zadick.
Mike Zadick stat sheet
Zadick began wrestling at an early age and success quickly followed. After competing in local and regional youth tournaments, typically in the finals match, he would go on to finish in fourth place of the Cadet World Championships before becoming a four-time finalist at the Junior Nationals, winning the Greco-Roman championships twice. He was also a Junior National freestyle champion and was named outstanding wrestler of the tournament. The following season he finished runner-up in the freestyle competition.
At Great Falls High, Zadick took the Class AA world by storm. As a freshman 105-pound wrestler, he lost only one match throughout the season and battled through a challenging bracket to qualify for his first state championship match. His 11-3 major decision over Billings West’s Jason Aguayo earned him the first of many prep titles.
The following season Zadick jumped weight classes to 112 pounds and captured a perfect season leading into the state tournament. His unbeaten record remained intact after an opening round fall in 0:58, a 22-9 major decision and 1:09 pinfall in the semifinals. Zadick earned his second straight title after a 2:57 fall in the 112-pound championship.
As a junior, Zadick competed in the 125-pound class and extended his win streak, finishing the regular season undefeated once again. He pinned his first three opponents at the state tournament in a combined 10:28. His 20-5 technical fall victory in the finals put him in elite company as a three-time champion and two-time undefeated titlist.
Expectations were enormous entering Zadick’s senior season, but the 135-pounder once again entered the state tournament without a loss, capping three consecutive years unbeaten. Two pins and a technical fall later, Zadick was back in the state championship bout where he earned a 22-13 major decision.
He finished his prep career as a four-time state champion, becoming the ninth wrestler in Montana history to do so. According to the MHSA website, his 153 wins were the second-most in Treasure State history behind Glasgow’s Brady Flaten, and his 122 consecutive wins was a Montana record until Beau Malia broke the streak in 2004. He is one of only 14 wrestlers to win three state championships with undefeated seasons.
A highly-touted recruit, Zadick chose to continue his career at the University of Iowa where he was a three-time all-American for the Hawkeyes, despite moving up weight classes for the final three years of his collegiate career. In the 2000 national tournament, Zadick finished seventh at 149 pounds.
In 2001 Zadick fell to Oklahoma’s Jared Frayer in the championship bracket, but battled back through the consolation rounds to earn a third-place finish by defeating Frayer 5-3 in the consolation match.
The two-time all-American won the Big Ten Championship in 2002 but again fell in the third round of the NCAAs. A 12-9 decision secured seventh place in the tournament and his third all-American campaign.
During his Iowa career, he won the Mike Howard Award, given to the program’s most valuable wrestler, and the Mike J. McGivern Sr. Award, which was an honor to Iowa’s most courageous wrestler. He was named the Big Ten wrestler of the week on two separate occasions.
Zadick continued his career with the U.S. national team where he captured a silver medal at the 2006 Freestyle World Championships in the 132-pound (60kg) class in China. He was also a member of the World Championship teams in 2007 and 2010, winning the U.S. team trials final in ’07. He was a member of the USA Olympics team in 2008.
In 2009, he became the U.S. Senior Nationals freestyle champion and had previously won the silver medal at the Pan American Games in Brazil. His other international honors include runner-up finishes at the 2004 Olympic trials and nationals, as well as the 2005 World Team Trials challenge.
In 2015, Zadick was inducted into the national wrestling hall of fame and is currently on the coaching staff at Virginia Tech.
… on Mike Zadick
Former MHSA executive director Jim Haugen: “He certainly was really good. I remember how quick he was and he was so strong. He and his brother were both so quick that, ‘if you tried something I’ll be there to do something against it.’ They were just quick technically and really strong, of course.
“I didn’t see him much during the season but when we first started the all-class wrestling tournament, he wrestled all four years there and I saw him every year and was impressed with him. I remember about the Zadick boys that they were so quick and so strong and had been wrestling for so long. Of course, you have two people wrestling against one another that were that good, it’s going to help too.”
Mike Zadick’s father, Bob: “He won his first national championship in the sixth or seventh grade, I think seventh grade he went out to Indiana and won a freestyle championship out there. Oddly enough, he wrestled Kyle Smith of Butte who was a friend of his. It wasn’t in the finals but Michael had beaten Kyle before and Kyle had beaten Michael, so they were pretty close. That’s when he really kicked his career in the butt.
“Mike didn’t take to my coaching that much. At that time, he was just old enough to talk back to me and luckily I had Walt Curry, Joe Aline and Terry Aline and those guys, because he took off like a house on fire. He was 156-1, his senior year he lost a match by one point. A friend of mine was reffing the match and I still rib him for making a bad call but he took off. He could very well have been 157-0 but I was kind of mad at the time about it. But afterwards, it was the best thing that ever happened to him because the next morning I woke up and heard (those guys working out in my basement). He and Jesse Young, a three-timer, were down there practicing on their own without me saying anything. Jesse was a senior that year and kind of took Michael under his wing and encouraged him and wrestled with him. I told Jesse’s dad, ‘Jesse is bigger than Michael so he should be wrestling the bigger kids and get tougher competition.’ He came back to me and said, ‘Bob, Michael is the toughest one in the room for him to wrestle,’ so I couldn’t argue with him on that.
“It takes mentoring and positive kudos from different people and encouragement like that. Michael had it. He was a well-liked, nice kid who benefited from that.”
Mike Zadick’s brother, Bill: “His really competitive passion kind of flipped in junior high, seventh or eighth grade, he just took off like a light switch. I went through high school and had some goals and did some things, but Mike came along and bested anything I did by a long ways.
“I think it came from the magnitude of the experience that he had throughout his life. We were very serious, our family was serious, we had a great club where my dad did a great job coaching both of us and one of the things my father did very well was put us in position to learn. We didn’t know everything but he would work really hard at finding information. We would go to great camps and the best tournaments and whoever was great around the area we were in, we would ask questions. So Mike had the benefit of all this learning and technical knowledge and philosophical approach to the sport, so when he took control of his own career, he had such depth of understanding that it really wasn’t like there was one thing (he did the best), he was such a diverse wrestler who had a lot of technique, understanding and things to go to.
“When I was in college I flew back and got to watch him wrestle in the state tournament twice. His freshman year I was there when he won against a lot of great athletes, it was pretty hotly contested, but he won very convincingly against some tough guys. His senior year in the finals match, I could tell – it was almost like he had a smile on his face. He was playing and having fun. He was really enjoying the experience and he probably had much better perspective on the experience than I did. I was looking through blinders, wanting to win and beat everybody as bad as I could. But Mike really enjoyed it and at that point, he was probably further ahead than I was at the same age. I remember standing off to the side and watching the match and he got a bloody nose so they kept delaying it. Afterward we got to talking about it and he said, ‘Man, I was having so much fun I didn’t mind the bloody nose because it made it last longer.’ He was enjoying the experience of being out on the mat and celebrating his career by winning his final high school match.
“The first time that he and I, besides a club team, were on an official team together was in 2006 at the World Championships. That was an awesome experience. From a competitive side we both did well and that was great, but the most memorable thing for me was sharing a team and being on a team with my brother. It was a lot of fun. He’s gone on to be an Olympian and make three World teams and he really developed into a fierce competitor. But at the same time, as tough and tenacious as he is on the mat, he’s just as happy-go-lucky and friendly and personable off the mat, a lot more than I was and I’ve always admired that about his personality.”