(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.
No. 2 – Bill Zadick, Great Falls High
Throughout the history of high school sports in Montana, prep wrestlers have been arguably the most successful at the following levels: collegiately, nationally and even internationally. Many have found ways to give back to the sport that taught them, whether it be through coaching or various camps. Former Great Falls High state champion Bill Zadick has dedicated his life to wrestling, though he says it’s the sport that has provided him with a career.
Bill Zadick stat sheet
Bill Zadick burst onto the Montana wrestling scene at a young age, with his father providing numerous opportunities at camps and tournaments across the state and region.
Success became even greater at the high school level, where Zadick became a legend at Great Falls High. His freshman season he battled Billings Skyview star Reese Andy, who contributed to Zadick’s five prep losses. But Zadick bested Andy in the 98-pound championship their freshmen season and set the tone for the rest of his career with Great Falls High.
Zadick climbed to 112 pounds as a sophomore and again pushed his way to the state title match, winning for the second year in a row and the first of the all-class state wrestling tournament in Billings.
In 1990, he competed at 119 pounds and became one of only 31 wrestlers in Montana history to win three high school championships. The following season, he did one better.
As a 135-pound senior, Zadick was again the heavy favorite to win the weight class and left little doubt after his dominating state tournament. After defeating his first-round opponent by a second-period fall in 2:50, Zadick went three rounds with Billings Skyview’s Paul Tacco before earning another victory by pin, this one in 5:00. His 16-6 major decision over Big Sky’s Jesse Andres in the semifinals set up an opportunity for Zadick to cap his career with another individual title.
The 135-pound championship lasted only 1:14 as Zadick pinned Robin Moodry of Butte to become the seventh four-time state champion in Montana high school history, and the first since T.J. Campbell in 1987. Zadick finished his high school career with a record of 117 wins and only five losses, with the four state championships each coming in a different weight class.
Zadick joined the Iowa Hawkeyes, who had recently won their 18th consecutive Big Ten championship and first national title since 1986. The program won each for the next two seasons and by 1995, Zadick was a key contributor.
After posting a record of 21-5 in his first two seasons, Zadick’s junior year was by far his most impressive. His 31-6 record, including five wins by pin, qualified him for the NCAA Championships where he earned a fifth-place finish at 142 pounds. After winning his first three matches, Zadick dropped an 8-7 decision to Gerry Abas of Fresno State in the semifinals. He then fell in his first consolation match, before an 11-3 major decision over Kenny Liddell of Missouri secured fifth place and his first all-American campaign.
Zadick was awarded the 1995 Mike J. McGivern Sr. Award, which is presented annually to the most courageous wrestler in the Hawkeye program and the team won the NCAA championship for the 15th time.
As a senior, Zadick set out to capture the goal he set during his youth days in Great Falls. He was the 142-pound Big Ten champion and was the top seed heading into the NCAAs. He opened the tournament with a dominating 24-9 technical fall over Virginia Military’s Jason Foresman, then used a 10-6 decision to get past Jason Ramstetter (Cal-State Bakersfield) in the quarterfinals. His 18-8 major decision against Minnesota’s Jason Davids put Zadick in his first ever NCAA title match, against defending champion John Hughes of Penn State.
Zadick topped Hughes 4-2 to become the 1996 NCAA champion at 142 pounds. He was only the second Montana wrestler to win an NCAA Division I wrestling title. Zadick helped the Hawkeyes to the 16th NCAA team title in the program’s history and he was named the Mike Howard Award winner, given each year to the most valuable wrestler on the roster. He finished his senior season with 35 wins, two losses and eight victories by pin.
With a career record of 87-12, good for nearly 88 percent, Zadick was a two-time all-American, Big Ten and NCAA champion, and planted himself in the history of the program.
With his collegiate career behind him, Zadick took on the international scene and was the runner-up at the U.S. Olympic team trials in 2000 and 2008. He also finished runner-up three times in the U.S. Nationals (2003, 2006 and 2008) as well as two second-place finishes in the World team trials (1999, 2002).
In 2001, Zadick finished seventh at the World Championships and in 2006 became the world freestyle champion in the 66kg (145lb.) weight class in Guangzhou, China. His younger brother, Mike, finished with a silver medal at 60kg (132lbs.) as they became the first American brothers to compete in the World finals since 1993.
His career accomplishments also included winning a bronze medal at the Pan American Championships as well as two Sunkist Kids International Open titles. He was twice the U.S. Senior National champion.
Zadick served as a volunteer assistant coach with the University of Iowa before joining USA Wrestling where he was named resident coordinator and assistant national freestyle coach in 2009. The following year he was promoted to national freestyle developmental coach and oversaw numerous world medals and champions.
Zadick is now the U.S. national freestyle coach and leads the United States into the Freestyle World Cup in Kermanshah, Iran, Feb. 16-17.
He was inducted into the National Wrestling hall of fame in 2011.
… on Bill Zadick
Father and club coach Bob Zadick: “I think that a lot of kids can be great wrestlers if they set their goals and he set his goals very early in life. It’s probably because I prodded and pushed him. Guys say I was tough on him and maybe I was, but we had a goal in mind. I did and so did he and so did Mike. The only way I know to fulfill that goal is to push yourself and you have to be taught how to push yourself. I listened to guys at the national level and they told me what they did and how their coaches were and how their fathers were, and I wanted my boys to be there. There were a lot of people who didn’t think I was doing it right but I didn’t care because I knew I was doing it right. Bill picked up on that really well. He was a tough little kid right from the get-go and he was very athletic. He had the right exposure, I was learning and able to take him places to camps that he did well at. A lot of people think it’s a recreational sport but for us it was a serious thing. I think that I programmed them and they believed right from the get-go they were going to be world champions. I don’t think they wanted to disappoint their dad or their mom or themselves and I’m thankful for that.
“That’s a hard one to answer. I was excited (when he won the NCAA championship). He beat a guy in the finals that he had lost to three times – John Hughes from Penn State – and it was exciting. It was exciting.
“He set his mind on that and he went to the training center in Colorado Springs to prepare for that. He wrestled a guy from Georgia – a Russian guy from Georgia – and beat that guy who was a medalist before. He beat another guy from Nigeria who was a medalist and then he beat the silver medalist in the Olympics from Cuba. It was overwhelming. Oh God, it really was.
“They compare the World Championships, where everybody can get in, to the Olympics where they limit it to like 24 kids in each weight. Bill had three guys in his weight that were all medalists. He was a great wrestler.”
Former MHSA executive director Jim Haugen: “I saw both of them all four years at the state tournament but Billy didn’t get to wrestle in front of those huge crowd and that’s too bad because he was so good. That first year we were still in separated tournaments so I think his first tournament was in Butte and then we went to the all-class tournament. So I saw Mike more than Billy but to say one was better than the other, boy I would hate to make that judgement.
“They were about the same weight class. I think they won two titles in the same weight class, the other two were different, but they were very similar. I always thought Mike was a little stronger maybe and Billy was a little quicker. I’m not a wrestling coach but that’s what I saw watching.
“What he’s done beyond wrestling career, to stay with that (U.S. national) program and that sport for so long to do the things he has done is beyond belief coming from a state that has a million people. That’s really something.”
Brother and teammate Mike Zadick: “When I was old enough to know better, Bill was winning everything he ever wrestled in. Bill just never lost. When he started wrestling as a young kid until he got to college, he had only lost like six times ever. That’s in little kid wrestling all the way up to high school. It wasn’t very many and he was wrestling in national tournaments and things like that. As a younger brother, I knew that’s what we did. Well I didn’t necessarily do that but my brother was really gifted and talented. Dad worked with him a lot, being his first boy, you know? I didn’t wrap my brain around my dad’s intensity as much as my brother fed off of it and was pushed by it. … Looking now at his career, nothing ever surprised me. I guess it was a surprise if he lost, that was a surprise. Those things happened in what, his freshman year with Reese (Andy)? That was a rollercoaster of times, because we weren’t used to (losing). But he leveled out and away he went. From my perspective as a younger brother, he was a role model for me. He helped me, coming back and coaching me and saying, ‘Hey little brother, this is how you do it.’ He didn’t even have to say it, he just did it and it was a huge extension for him to help me along.
“It’s unbelievable. I can’t even explain it, I’m getting choked up thinking about it (his NCAA championship) now. I was sitting next to my dad on the front railing and it was a moment we had dreamt of since we were young kids and that was it, it’s what we had worked to do. Bill was going out on the mat to go do it. … Dad and I were completely emotional – bawling tears and my dad chews his finger, everyone knows that. He has huge calluses and doesn’t even know he does it. When things are intense, he gnaws on his finger like a wild animal and I love it. But he was over there with tears in his eyes, chewing on that thing, and I was trying to get it together because we were down on the front railing at nationals and had to turn around and walk back up in front of people and we didn’t like showing that emotion. But the whole family was that way because we know what it takes to train that hard and prepare yourself to have that opportunity. … It was amazing to see the highest accomplishment he could achieve and seeing him doing it. To me, there was no other emotion other than tears of joy and that’s the exact same thing I could tell you about the World Championships too.
“A normal civilian doesn’t grasp what it took to get and do what a kid from Great Falls, Mont. needed to do to have his hand raised in the World Championships and be a world champion. It’s a very demanding sport and everyone in the sport of wrestling can attest to that. But there’s a whole different level to be an all-American, and there’s a whole different level to be an NCAA champion, and there’s a whole four different levels to become a world-stage athlete and none of us could keep it together. That was as big as winning Olympic championships, if not bigger.”
Bill Zadick: “I remember my very first competition I ever wrestled in. I wrestled in Augusta, Mont., in a little kids tournament. I can remember it clearly, I mean I can picture all of my opponents. I think I had four matches that day and I ended up second.
“Certainly there were a bunch of significant competitions and matches and looking back I can say some of those were pivotal victories to build confidence and continue to progress in an upward manner. But when you look back on all of it, the relationships you build and people you encounter and experiences that you have, man, I was just blessed to have great people around me from the start. My dad and the Young family, my brother and the Campbells, we were like family all those years. There were many, many, many more and they’re like family to us now, we still keep in touch.
“Medals are nice, accolades are nice and the sport has given me a career and I love what I’m doing as the national coach, it’s extremely challenging. But I guess the life wrestling has given me is much more valuable than any one victory. Winning the World Championships was a big thing, it was really exciting. It was a validation of a career and pursuing something as hard as humanly possible and having it be extremely difficult was very satisfying. The people that have surrounded me are much more valuable to me now than any of those things are now.”