Change in mindset spurs Moreno to success


Mike Moreno grapples with Iowa’s Nick Moore in their 165-pound match in Iowa State’s 32-3 loss on Saturday, Dec. 1, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Dan Cole

One year: That’s all it took for Michael Moreno to go from being an afterthought in the Cyclone wrestling room to being one of the team’s most capable wrestlers.

Struggle was a team-wide occurrence in 2011-12, a season during which the Cyclones posted a 4-13 dual record, the fewest amount of wins for the program since the 1950s. Only one wrestler, heavyweight Matt Gibson, finished last season with an individual conference title.

Moreno was certainly no exception to the team’s struggles last season. After being redshirted in 2010-11, he went 4-13 last season as a redshirt freshman while battling a concussion, a high-ankle sprain and a handful of mental barriers.

“I’ll be the first to tell you that I was in a really weird place last year,” Moreno said. “The losses started piling up and before I knew it, I was in this mental hole — almost depression — and it was really difficult to pull myself out of it.

“Even bright spots wouldn’t really do it. I’d enjoy a victory, then it’d be right back to where I was. I wasn’t really taking anything positive away from it. School suffered and when it was all said and done, after that semester I was in a terrible, terrible place.”

It was from this place that Moreno underwent a complete mental shift. He got together with those closest to him — including his father, uncles and coaches — to start breaking down his mentality and come to the realization that his mindset needed to be altered.

Through embracing his struggles and realizing that everyone goes through similar issues, Moreno has been able to build upon his experiences and allow himself to improve drastically this season.

“I sat with him on the bus the other day, and I said, ‘Mike, you’ve come a long way in a short period of time,'” said ISU coach Kevin Jackson. “‘Can you believe the year we had last year and where we’re at now?’ and he just kind of looks at me, shakes his head and says, ‘Coach, I know. I was in a different place.'”

That different place is history now. This season, Moreno is 17-5 and currently ranked No. 19 at 165 pounds by Intermat.

While not much has changed for him in terms of physical skill and strength, confidence and focus have allowed Moreno to reach this point.

“I’m mentally ready every match,” Moreno said. “I know that I’m better than this guy. Whether I end up winning or losing, it doesn’t matter because before the match I know I’m going to beat them.”

Moreno’s strong family connection to Iowa State has also served him well. His father, Mike, is a former ISU All-American and coached him during his time at Urbandale High School.

Coaches and teammates are constantly reminding Moreno that he’s a lot better than his dad was, partially as a joke and partially as a motivator.

Moreno’s expectations are to be an All-American before his dad was, Jackson said.

Moreno’s younger brother, Gabriel, is a freshman on the Cyclone roster this season, which also provides motivation in the wrestling room.

“It’s huge; family is everything,” said ISU assistant coach Travis Paulson, who wrestled alongside his twin brother, Trent, during his time as a Cyclone. “He knows what you’re capable of and won’t accept anything less. [Gabe’s] a stud and he’s going to be really good, so I think Mike sees that and he wants to help pave the path.”

Paulson has done a lot of work with Moreno and has helped get him to where he is at this season. He’s instilled a mantra of success into Moreno’s head that he repeats before each and every match.

“‘Too big, too fast, too strong,'” Moreno said. “It’s just something that you have to tell yourself. That’s how he’s helped me, tells me to repeat that to myself. I go into every match believing I’m too big, too fast and I’m too strong.”