AMES Iowa State wrestling coach Kevin Dresser told Chase Straw at the beginning of the season that he could be a Big 12 champion.
Straw looked at him like he was nuts.
At the end of the season, the Big 12 Conference only got one allocation at 157 pounds. If Straw wanted to go to Pittsburgh, Pa., to wrestle in the NCAA Championships on Thursday through Saturday, he would have to win the Big 12 tournament.
He did win, and in doing so punched his ticket to the NCAAs, becoming Iowa State’s first Big 12 champion since 2016.
“It means he can perform under pressure,” Iowa State 197-pounder Willie Miklus said. “Every match, he had to win it. I don’t know if he thought about it in the moment, but every match he had to be perfect. He had to get the job done, whether it was ugly or not.
“That tells me he’s gritty, he can perform under pressure and when you tell him it’s time to go do something, he’ll go do it.”
Straw had a bad start to the season, losing four of his first five matches. Then through the middle part of the season, his record hovered just over .500. The turning point came when Iowa State travled to to wrestle No. 2 Oklahoma State.
Straw’s weight was picked to wrestle first in the dual. He beat Wyatt Sheets 3-2.
“Some good things happened in the room and some really good things happened on the mat,” Dresser said. “We kind of called him out after one dual meet in January that didn’t go so well. A really big turning point was when he got the draw at Oklahoma State and he was the first guy out. That was big. He got the call and went and won. His confidence was starting to build and he kind of took off.”
After that, Straw won nine of his final 10 matches.
He doesn’t plan on changing anything now that the NCAA Championships are here.
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“I’m really excited, but I’m just trying to stay calm and keep my emotions in check because it’s just another tournament,” Straw said. “That’s what Dresser preaches, ‘The next event is the biggest event of the year.’ It was Big 12s and now it’s Pittsburgh. I need to go in with the same attitude I’ve had any other tournament.
“I just need to stay with the routine and not do anything different than what I’ve been doing. Hopefully I get the same results.”
Miklus is a three-time All American and someone Iowa State’s team looks to for leadership.
Iowa State is sending nine of its 10 wrestlers and seven of them are freshman or sophomores. Straw is a junior but he’s never been to the NCAA Championships and Miklus is the lone senior.
Miklus has simple advice: enjoy the moment.
“If I were to tell them anything it’d be, ‘Have fun and enjoy it,’” Miklus said. “’This is what you worked your whole life for. As a kid watching nationals, this is what you wanted to do. Why be nervous, why worry about it? Just go have fun and go wrestle. It’s what you do.’”
Straw is a prime example of wrestlers buying into to Dresser and his staff’s coaching. He didn’t buy all the way in at the beginning of the year. Now, he’s headed to Pittsburgh riding a wave of momentum.
“Guys are actually believing and enjoying it and having fun,” Miklus said. “They think they can go do this and be All-Americans and national champions now.
“That’s the biggest thing. In their minds, they actually believe it now.”
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