Andrew Sparks gets his hand raised after winning a California state title (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Andrew Sparks capped off an outstanding senior season at Calvary Chapel High School in California by claiming a title at the CIF State Wrestling Championships. Sparks defeated Cael Valencia (St. John Bosco), one of the nation's top wrestlers, in the state finals at 160 pounds.
Sparks' run to the state title solidified him as one of the nation's top 160-pounders and caught the attention of many of the nation's top college wrestling programs. On April 6, Sparks announced his commitment to the University of Minnesota. InterMat recently caught up with the Gopher commit.
What has life been like for you since being in quarantine during this pandemic?
Sparks: It's been tough, especially for me because I wasn't able to take any recruiting trips to help me make my decision.
Has it been difficult to train?
Sparks: Yes it has. I've been doing what I can in my living room with the few weights I have.
What was the college recruiting process like for you?
Sparks: It was great. I had a lot of interest nearing the end of the season and after the season. It became a little stressful at the end, but I enjoyed it.
Ultimately, what made the University of Minnesota the right fit for you?
Sparks: I felt like the athletes' and coaches' personalities and character were a good fit for me. Also, I feel I fit right in with their style of wrestling.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
Sparks: I have an aggressive style. I'm always attacking and looking to score.
You competed at 160 pounds this past season. What weight do you expect to wrestle in college?
Sparks: I would like to wrestle at either 165 pounds or 174 pounds.
Another one of California's top senior wrestlers, Aaron Nagao, signed with the University of Minnesota. What's your relationship like with him and have you two discussed being teammates at Minnesota?
Sparks: Since our freshman year, Aaron has always been someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for as a wrestler and a person. Aaron reached out to me during the recruiting process and we got to know each other a little bit better. Although we haven't talked much or developed a close relationship yet, I am excited to be teammates with him and get to know him better.
Joshua Holiday is a former wrestler from Calvary Chapel who went on to have a successful career at the University of Minnesota. Have you gotten to know him or talked to him about Minnesota?
Sparks: Actually, I haven't talked with him at all. However, it's awesome that one of the great Calvary Chapel wrestlers also wrestled at the same university I will be wrestling for.
You started wrestling relatively late, between eighth grade and ninth grade. What drew you to the sport?
Sparks: I played soccer before, but I wanted to wrestle because I loved wrestling my brothers as a kid. I have always been a very competitive and aggressive person who loves to do challenging things, so wrestling fits me perfectly.
You won a California state championship this year by beating one of the nation's top wrestlers, Cael Valencia. He had beaten you a couple times during the season and once in freestyle. What was the difference in the state finals?
Sparks: I had a little different mindset and game plan going into the finals. Instead of cautiously waiting for his attacks so I could counter-attack, I focused on my attacks, my offense and my pace.
You were under the radar nationally for most of this past season. Did you feel disrespected? Did it bother you that you were being overlooked by college wrestling coaches during the recruiting process?
Sparks: I was very much under the radar up until the Doc B tournament where I placed third and lost to Valencia in the semifinals. Although Coach Dane Valdez has told me from the beginning of the year that I would eventually be noticed by big-time schools, I just trusted the process and believed that I was the best 160-pounder in the country. To answer your question, I didn't feel disrespected because there was nothing I really did before my senior year to get nationally noticed by big universities.
You obviously made a big jump in your wrestling from your junior year when you failed to place at the state tournament to winning a state title in your senior year. In what area of your wrestling have you improved upon the most in the last year?
Sparks: I would say my biggest improvement has been my mindset going into my matches. Before, I would let the pressures of performing and other things get to my head which affected the way I wrestled. This year I was able to look at each match as another opportunity to have fun, score points, learn, and showcase my skills and the hard work I have put in the wrestling room.
When you look ahead to college wrestling, in what area do you think you need to make the biggest gains?
Sparks: I need to get better at breaking guys out of position, as well as finishing my shots faster and more efficiently. I also need to work on exploding off the whistle faster with better position and hand control.
Have you discussed with the Minnesota coaches whether you will redshirt your first year or compete for a spot in the lineup?
Sparks: Yes, I think it would be best if I redshirt and get an extra year to improve.
This story also appears in the April 17 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.