Iowa State has created buzz around struggling wrestling program

New staff draws interest as it looks to resurrect Cyclones

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AMES — Iowa State needed to make some waves.

Cyclone wrestling had slowly sunk to the cold, dark depths of NCAA Division I as if its fingers were pried off the floating wooden door Rose refused to share, placing 57th with one point at the national tournament in March.

Iowa State Athletics Director Jamie Pollard rocked the boat, hiring former University of Iowa national champion Kevin Dresser from his post at Virginia Tech and then filling out Dresser’s staff with former Hawkeyes Mike Zadick, Derek St. John and Brent Metcalf.

Whether or not a staff full of former rivals results in remarkable recovery, the initial moves have turned plenty of eyes toward Ames, regained some support and made Iowa State relevant again. It was enough of a boost that the Pete Taylor Media Room at Hilton Coliseum was full for Tuesday’s announcement of assistant hires, which is rare for an Olympic sport.

“I like to think outside the box,” Dresser said after the news conference. “If you look at the star power up there, it’s going to help us in recruiting. I know it’s going to help us in fundraising and most importantly on the mats. These guys can flat out get it done.”

Everyone provided the political response when it came to the Hawkeyes, who owns a 58-7-1 sedge since 1976-77 when a young former Iowa State wrestler named Dan Gable took over the Iowa program. They insisted beating Iowa is not the focus, but being the best. Penn State currently owns that claim, winning six team titles in the last seven years.

The staff alone adds excitement and a number of interesting storylines for the next dual in a one-sided series.

“From my perspective growing up, that was one of the things I grew up watching,” St. John said about the CyHawk Series. “There’s always a lot of buzz behind those duals. For us and where we’re at right now, it’s probably more so a really good gauge of where you’re at.”

Dresser has worked with Zadick and St. John the last two seasons, helping the Hokies improve to fourth in the country and finishing one spot ahead of Iowa in 2016. Metcalf entered the picture late, but jumped quickly at the opportunity.

“This is a team,” Dresser said. “This is my dream team.”

The Cyclones instantly improve their brand, adding popular and recognizable names to wrestlers, coaches and parents. Their accomplishments add credibility, combining for multiple NCAA individual and team titles, 10 All-American honors in 11 possible seasons and multiple appearances on U.S. national freestyle teams.

Dresser said Zadick earned his trust with the Hokies, allowing him to coordinate a lot of the practices. He noted that St. John has developed wrestlers, working directly with two All-Americans at Virginia Tech and two others in his first assistant’s job at North Dakota State.

Zadick, who will serve as associate head coach, will run most practices, but Dresser said the four will share all responsibilities.

“I can tell you three things that are going to happen in the Iowa State room,” Dresser said. “We’re going to get better at wrestling. We going to spend a lot of time getting better at the sport. We’re going to work hard and get everybody in shape. We’re going to smile and laugh every day because I think in order to develop properly there has to be some type of fun.”

Each member of the staff wrestled near the same weight classes. They dismissed the idea that a larger coach was needed to work with upper weights. Although, Dresser noted that former Iowa State NCAA champion Kyven Gadson will remain to train at the regional training center.

“You develop a guy right here,” Zadick said pointing to his head. “Then, on the mat with his work and technique, he’ll perform. That’s what it’s about. It doesn’t mean you have to weigh 220 pounds to impact a heavyweight.”

Their impact will be instant, but the size of it will be determined in time. The Cyclones have a lot of work ahead to recapture its spot among wrestling powers. The newly formed staff has already added enthusiasm and attention to Iowa State, which has been sorely missed as a major contributor to the state and national wrestling landscape.

“We know what we know about the sport of wrestling — all four of us — we’re going to implement that the best we can,” Zadick said. “Results will speak for it.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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