NOTEBOOK: ‘Change in process’ helps Kevin Jackson in fourth year


Photo: Grace Steenhagen/Iowa State Daily

Heavyweight wrestler Matt Gibson faces Wisconsin’s heavyweight Cole Tobin in a close match. Gibson won by decision over Tobin with a final score of 5-2. The Iowa State wresting team held the Iowa State Regional on Sunday. The team matched up against the Wisconsin Badgers and won with a final team score of 33-3. 

Jake Calhoun

One year removed from its worst-ever finish at nationals, the ISU wrestling team is starting from scratch.

Injuries riddled the lineup at last season’s NCAA Championships, seeing no ISU All-Americans for the first time since 1962. For ISU coach Kevin Jackson, now in his fourth year at the helm of the program, his approach to coaching through injuries has not changed, but his overall process has.

“I do recognize that it is a process, and I think things change when you get some injuries,” Jackson said at his team’s media day Monday. “You get some injuries, and you don’t put some guys on the mat that you thought you were going to have available to you; projections change a little bit.”

Jackson said his team is capable of having a few All-Americans, but declined to name a number in his head of how many in order to avoid any backlash if things don’t pan out.

One of the wrestlers who had a chance to become an All-American at last season’s tournament but didn’t was heavyweight Matt Gibson.

“Mentally, our team might not have been there yet,” Gibson said. “There could have been a lot of contributing factors.”

Gibson, a redshirt senior, was one of four seeded wrestlers who lost in the first round of the heavyweight bracket at last season’s tournament. 

Gibson said he did not have his mind right when he was eliminated short of All-America territory.

“It definitely was one of those moments; it was definitely something that dawned on me, where I realized I didn’t wrestle to my potential,” Gibson said. “It just hurt — it sucked.”

However, Jackson said Gibson has been more focused now that he ever has been knowing this is his last shot at attaining success at the national level.

Even with a thumb injury requiring him to wear a cast for a time leading up to the start of practice, Gibson said he has been getting extra workouts in and has been spending more time with the coaching staff to prepare him for the upcoming  season.

Meeks, Moreno could see immediate action

Even though Jackson typically likes to redshirt his true freshmen, he said he might fit John Meeks and Gabriel Moreno into the lineup if they are needed.

Meeks, who went undefeated in high school, is currently the leading contender at 133 pounds. 

Jackson said he could make a decision whether to wrestle Meeks this season as early as Saturday in time for the team’s home tournament, the Harold Nichols Open.

“We really think that we now have a group of guys at 133 that are capable,” Jackson said. “I haven’t lost any faith in Shayden Terukina. I haven’t lost any faith in R.J. Hallman. But I think R.J. and Shayden had a great deal of experience last year, and so they’ll challenge John and make sure that if he’s the guy, that he’s ready to step in and perform well.”

Iowa State has not had a consistent starter at 133 pounds since four-time NCAA qualifier Nick Fanthorpe filled that spot. Fanthorpe’s final season was 2009–10.

New assistant coach Troy Nickerson said he sees something special in Meeks and the way he trains.

“He’s going to do big things for us here at Iowa State,” Nickerson said of Meeks. “If he’s not the hardest worker, he’s one of the hardest workers in the room. He’s constantly seeking extra attention, trying to get extra time on the mats. He’s getting extra workouts in on his own.

“He’s determined to win, and not a few years down the road; he wants to win now.”

Meeks was unavailable at media day due to an undisclosed illness.

Moreno, whose older brother Michael is a redshirt sophomore on the team, has a bit stiffer competition ahead of him. Moreno said he knows the decision isn’t up to him, but hypothetically voiced his preference on Monday.

“I feel like if I were to make the decision, I would want to redshirt just to give myself all the possibility of being as successful as I can in the four years that I’m allowed to compete at the national tournament and the Big 12 Conference tournament,” Moreno said.

Jackson said he would like Moreno to grow into a slot at 149 pounds, but thinks 141 would suit him this season if he were to compete.

That means Moreno would have to beat out starters Luke Goettl (141) and Max Mayfield (149) if he were to compete for a spot, but could be thrown in if one of them gets injured.