Cyclone wrestling puts last season in rearview mirror


Photo: Huiling Wu/Iowa State Daily

Coach Kevin Jackson coaches the players during the wrestling media day on Monday at the Lied Athletic Recreation Center. 

Dan Cole

The ISU wrestling team is coming off a historically poor 4-13 season, but this season’s preparations have wrestlers, coaches and fans optimistic for improvement.

The Cyclones did not meet expectations in coach Kevin Jackson’s third season at Iowa State, but preseason events this year have given reason to believe that positive steps are being taken.

“I feel better about where we are now as opposed to last year,” Jackson said. “I don’t think they handled it well last year; we never really had the chance to take a deep breath.”

Iowa State has four NCAA qualifiers returning from last season, including redshirt senior Matt Gibson, the reigning Big 12 heavyweight champion.

Gibson, who is ranked No. 13 at heavyweight this season by Intermat, attributes last season’s shortcomings largely to mental lapses and a lack of experience.

“Honestly, everybody has their good days and their bad days, and I think mentally our team might not have been there yet,” Gibson said. “We didn’t lose too many people from last year, so all the starters that came back definitely remember how it feels to have a season like that.”

The Cyclones’ other returning NCAA qualifiers include redshirt junior Boaz Beard (184), and redshirt sophomores Ryak Finch (125) and Luke Goettl (141).

Finch, ranked No. 16 at 125 pounds this season, was adamant that this season is not a rebuilding year, especially in terms of individual expectations.

“This is my sophomore year; I’ve got to come; I’ve got to show up,” Finch said. “Last year’s over. We’ve just got to look to the future and see what we can do to get that national title.”

Aside from Finch and Gibson, this season’s ISU roster touts three more athletes ranked in the national polls. Goettl is ranked No. 17 at 141 pounds, Beard is ranked No. 17 at 184 pounds and redshirt sophomore Kyven Gadson is ranked No. 16 at 197 pounds.

The impact of last season’s experience is going to go a long way for the Cyclones’ young roster in 2012-13.

Jackson said the rigors of going through a freshman season can sometimes be too much for young wrestlers to handle, and that there was some of that last season.

This season is a different story.

“The important aspect of it is that there’s no surprises,” Jackson said. “They’ve wrestled everybody in the country, basically, and they’ve wrestled the best guys in the country. So I think based on that and them recognizing that they did not probably wrestle to their full potential sometimes makes them understand that, ‘All I have to do is go out there and compete, and my skills will take over.’”

The Cyclones’ younger wrestlers are already stepping up and impressing this preseason.

Four Cyclones, all underclassmen, claimed titles at the Kaye Young Open on Saturday in Mason City, Iowa. The title-winners consisted of true freshmen Kyle Larson, Gabriel Moreno and Lelund Weatherspoon, as well as redshirt freshman Tyler Swope.

“The new guys are really stepping it up,” Gibson said. “At the intrasquad last week, a lot of the freshman are really pushing the upperclassmen, and that’s what we need for the program to get back to where it should be.”

The Cyclones’ first official competition will be Saturday at the Harold Nichols Cyclone Open in Ames. Success is expected as the Cyclones move forward from last season’s doldrums.

“Sometimes you’ve got to experience failure before you can experience success,” Jackson said. “I think that’s where we’re at right now.”