AMES — Contenders aren’t typically built overnight.
New Iowa State head wrestling coach Kevin Dresser still has high expectations for his first Cyclone squad.
From administrative support to a top-notch coaching staff with Mike Zadick, Derek St. John and Brent Metcalf and a room full of young talent, Dresser has plenty of reasons for optimism.
Dresser, the Humboldt native and former Iowa All-American, also has the background of a program builder. He turned Virginia Tech into a national power.
“I wish I could make some predictions,” Dresser said Tuesday during ISU’s media day at the Lied Center. “I feel over the last five or six years I had some pretty good squads at Virginia Tech. I felt really comfortable, ‘Yeah, we think we’re ready to be a trophy team, be a top 10 team,’ that was the progress.
“But this year it is definitely up in the air. That is scary, but that is also exciting. One of the very first things I told the team is it is going to be bumpy for awhile. That is what I tell the Cyclone nation.”
The Cyclones feature 18 redshirt or true freshmen on the 37-man roster, with just seven upperclassmen.
Three wrestlers return with NCAA experience — Dante Rodriguez (149), Dane Pestano (165) and Marcus Harrington (197). But Rodriguez has battled an elbow injury for the past two years after qualifying in 2015, Pestano is trying to make the move from 165 to 184, and Harrington is now a heavyweight.
“It is definitely going to take patience,” Dresser said. “Now patience and Kevin Dresser in the same sentence is probably not a good start if you ask anybody who knows me. We want to win right now, but we are also realistic and know what lies in front of us.
“This is not a 100-yard dash. If we are going to be a solid, long-term program, and that is what I felt like I’ve done everywhere I’ve been, it has to be done the right way. It is not by taking shortcuts and quick fixes, and that means there is going to be bumps.”
The culture has changed, however, and the wrestlers feel the best days of their careers are in the near future.
“It is different. I know we all have the same goals as we did last year, we want to be the best,” said Harrington, the former Waterloo West two-time state champion. “But I think for the most part the way we go about it is a little bit different. I wouldn’t say we are a tougher team, but I’d say we have a little more grit to us.”
Harrington, who qualified at 197 last year, now weighs somewhere around 238, and Dresser calls it good weight.
“He likes to eat,” quipped Dresser. “He is really good at eating, and he likes to lift weights, and he is really good at lifting weights. If you ask him to take his shirt off, if it is legal to take a picture of him with his shirt off, you will see why he is a heavyweight.”
Several redshirt freshmen are expected to make impacts this season, including former top 100 recruits Danny Vega (125), Ian Parker (133), Kanen Storr (141), Jarrett Degen (149, a Virginia Tech transfer), Sam Colbray (197) and Gannon Gremmel (heavyweight).
Storr was just the third true freshman in Cyclone history to place at the Midlands when he took fifth last year wrestling unattached.
Almost every weight class has an and/or next to it, and Dresser says competition is a good thing.
“It is great for our team, and that is the way we are always going to be,” Dresser said. “There are going to be weights that are going to be contested throughout the year. I’ve always been a coach with a philosophy that we will determine who the starter is the day before we leave for Big 12s.
“So it is fair game until that point, and that gives guys a chance to progress throughout the year. It is not about the guy that is good in November, it is about the best guy we can put on the mat in February.”