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ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Kevin Dresser huddled with the masses to enter the arena.
He had to arrange for a pass to meet with media in the corridors he’s roamed the last decade as a coach at Virginia Tech.
Dresser was cheering on the Hokies from the stands, transitioning from his role as their head coach to the leader of the Iowa State program as interim head coach Travis Paulson led the Cyclones for the postseason.
He also witnessed his new team finish tied for 57th with one point. Three Iowa State qualifiers combined for a 1-6 mark at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at the Scottrade Center.
“Obviously, there is work to do right now,” Dresser said. “I don’t want to take anything away from the three guys who competed this weekend. Obviously, they didn’t have great weekends.
“All I can do as the new coach is control what I can control. We’ve got to get back to work.”
Dresser is replacing Kevin Jackson, who announced he was stepping down at the end of the season and then Paulson assumed his duties for the postseason. He met with underclassmen last week, sharing his expectations, which seems to mean the effort to restore Iowa State’s rich tradition begins Monday.
“I told them that it’s about going to work and it’s about bringing back the history of Iowa State wrestling,” said Dresser, a two-time All-American and 142-pound NCAA champion in 1986 for Iowa. “That’s got to be the goal. We’ve got to get back to where it was when I was an athlete, when I competed, and we’ve had a lot of great coaches and wrestlers in the history of Iowa State. It’s pretty simple. That’s the goal.”
Dresser declined to comment specifically on assembling a coaching staff.
“I have a short list of guys that we’re looking at,” Dresser said. “It’s important. Our staff is going to be really important. Our regional training center staff and athletes that we’re going to put in place here real soon are real important. All that is to be determined and coming soon.”
The last few weeks have been spent recruiting and keeping highly-touted recruits like Illinois’ Austin Gomez on board. Dresser has not been to practice, but the wrestlers seemed to be receptive to his message in interactions away from the practice room.
“I think they’re excited,” Dresser said. “I think they were listening and that’s what you’ve got to do.
“I wasn’t preaching a lot but you have to start preaching and start serving the Kool-Aid. They got their first dose of Coach Dresser’s Kool-Aid, and we have to keep feeding it to them and make it part of who they are.”
The Virginia Tech program developed into a top-10 and even a top-5 in 11 years under Dresser. Iowa State has more talent in the wings than when he took over the Hokies. Marcus Harrington (197) is the lone returning qualifier, but there are talented freshman like Kanen Storr and Ian Parker as well.
Iowa State is more of a marquee program than Virginia Tech, boasting a lineage that includes college wrestling elites like Dan Gable and Cael Sanderson.
“We’ve got tradition to sell,” said Dresser, listing some former Cyclone greats like Nate Carr and Jim and Joe Gibbons. “Those guys are all superstars and legends. I know there are kids out there that want to be in that same conversation. They want to be mentioned with those great Iowa State wrestlers.”
The first task to changing the culture is identifying what is not working. The transformation won’t be overnight. Dresser doesn’t have a timetable for the turnaround, but the sooner the better for him.
“Next season. That would be my goal,” Dresser said. “It’s going to take some time, obviously. This tournament is incredibly tough. The level of coaching here is incredibly tough and competitive. There’s a lot of studs wrestling, but there’s a lot of studs sitting in the corner, too. We’ve got to match all that.”
Dresser encouraged future Cyclones to attend the NCAA tournament. They have a chance to get a feel for the atmosphere and recognize what they are missing by not being in the field. The experience helped Dresser as a wrestler.
“I wanted them to get down here and see it,” Dresser said. “You’ve got to walk around here. You’ve got to feel it.
“It’s a great motivator. It was a great motivator for me when I was a high school kid. It was a great motivator for me when I wasn’t in the tournament. It’s real important to get down here and feel it.”
Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen and Northern Iowa’s Max Thomsen made their mark at the Iowa High School Athletic Association state wrestling tournament. Sorensen was the Iowa’s 23rd four-time state champion for Denver-Tripoli, while Thomsen was the next to achieve the feat as a competitor at Union Community.
They accounted for half of the 149-pound semifinals at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Friday night. Their hometowns are a little more than 20 miles apart.
“It’s huge for the state of Iowa,” said Sorensen, a junior who became a three-time All-American. “It just goes to show, to represent Iowa and the things that they’re doing in high school and youth that Iowa is not a state to sleep on.”
Thomsen is a redshirt freshman, making his NCAA debut. He is the highest freshman medalist for the Panthers since Dylan Peters was sixth in 2014. Thomsen was in the stands watching this tournament two years ago.
“It’s crazy how fast time goes,” Thomsen said. “For all you high school kids out there, when you blink the next thing you’ll know you’re going to be in the tunnel of the NCAAs. Maybe in the quarterfinals. Maybe in the blood round. All I’ve got to say is keep your head up and never give up.”
CLARK JOINS FOUR-TIMERS
Senior 133-pounder Cory Clark became the 19th Iowa wrestler to earn four All-American honors. Clark defeated Michigan’s Stevan Micic, 6-4, in the quarterfinals to secure a top-six finish. He is the first Hawkeye to accomplish that since Derek St. John (2010-14).
Clark was fifth as a freshman and an NCAA runner-up the last two years. He wasn’t concerned with the fact after his quarterfinal.
“Nothing’s really crossed my mind right now but the next match in front of me,” Clark said.
Clark has missed part of the season due to injury. He has his shoulder and wrist wrapped for competition. Clark has persevered.
“You’ve got to play the cards that you’re dealt and that’s what he’s done,” Sorensen said of Clark. “He’s not going out there just to go out there. He’s going out there to win, too. It doesn’t matter what’s wrong with him. Bumps, bruises or something huge. It doesn’t matter. It’s Clark. He’s going forward and wrestling hard.”
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