Iowa State wrestling prepares for ‘rebuilding’ year

Senior Jon Reader defeated Nebraska wrestler James Nakashima 21-8 on Feb. 21 at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones begin their season Nov. 6.

Jake Calhoun

Upon taking the head coaching job for the ISU wrestling team one year ago, Kevin Jackson inherited a team fortified in talent.

Last season, Iowa State posted a 13-2 dual meet record while maintaining the No. 2 ranking in the nation throughout the duration of the season. Its only two losses came at the hands of intra-state rival Iowa, which would go on to win its third straight national title.

The Cyclones failed to win their fourth straight conference title after finishing behind Oklahoma State by 1.5 points to place second at the Big 12 Championships. Iowa State persevered and went on to place third at the NCAA Championships.

“I had a senior-based group of guys who were trained for four years under [former coach Cael Sanderson], so they had some set skills,” said Jackson, who placed second at 167 pounds as a senior captain for Iowa State’s 1987 championship team. “When I came here, we tried to add to those skills.”

Seniors Jake Varner and David Zabriskie propelled the Cyclones in the three-day tournament, managing to win the national titles at 197 pounds and heavyweight. This was the first time Iowa State had had multiple champions in a single NCAA tournament since 2002.

With the departure of last season’s senior class, Jackson, who is entering his second year at the helm of ISU wrestling, stressed that this year is more of a “reloading” year than a “rebuilding” year.

“We’re the kind of program that has expectations to compete for a national championship every year, so that hasn’t changed,” Jackson said. “Whether that happens or not is going to be up to these guys out here, it’s going to be up to me and my coaching staff. I do think we have the potential and the talent to be in the hunt.”

Two-time All-American Jon Reader will be leading the team while making the move from 165 pounds to 174 for his senior campaign.

“Jon has been a guy who looks me straight in the eye and just says, ‘Coach, just tell me what to do. Anything you tell me to do, I’m going to do it to be the best I possibly can,'” Jackson said.

“He believes in the plan, he believes in the coaching staff, he believes in himself and he believes in the direction in which we’re leading this program and leading him.”

At the 2010 NCAA Tournament, Reader was upset by Old Dominion’s Chris Brown in a 5-4 decision in the first round at 165 pounds, which dropped him down to the consolation bracket. It was there that the Davison, Mich., native won three straight matches before losing to Bucknell’s Andrew Rendos by a 7-2 decision to fall one match short of All-America status.

“It’s hard for me to go back and think about it, but I’m excited for this year,” Reader said. “That’s behind me now, and it’s motivating me and it’s got me more hungry.”

Another returning starter will be moving up a weight class in Jerome Ward, who will be taking Varner’s former spot at 197 pounds after spending two years as the starter at 184. Ward, a junior, went 41-23 in two seasons at 184 pounds, including a 2-4 record as a two-time NCAA qualifier.

“It’s a new year. I’ve been working hard, improving and just getting mentally ready for this,” Ward said. “I really believe that this year is going to be the year for me.”

Last season, Ward notched victories against numerous top 10 opponents. However, he also had trouble staying consistent in clutch situations, a problem that had sprouted from an ambivalent state of mind.

“Last year a couple times maybe he didn’t have that mentality,” Jackson said of Ward. “He might not have came in here with his head screwed on right and willing to step out there and do everything correct and work as hard he could for as long as he could. He might have had that lapse through his training throughout the year. I haven’t seen that this year.”

Ward attributes his improved mental attitude to his ability to maintain his consistency and push through challenging moments in his training.

“I understand, now, from the earlier years that things are going to be tough, it’s going to be hard, and that I’ve just got to push through it. So I just keep that mentality when I’m working out that once I start hitting that wall where it feels like I can’t give anymore, I’ve got to push past that,” Ward said.

“Every time that wall comes up, I push past it further and further until practice is completely harder than going out and wrestling to where it’s like I’d rather dread a practice than a match.”

Ward was the Cyclones’ only NCAA qualifier who earned an at-large bid after failing to secure one of the four automatic bids that the Big 12 granted to its 184-pound weight class.

Redshirt freshman Trent Weatherman has been impressive heading into the season. The Maxwell native is one of three Cyclones to have solidified starting spots on the squad before the start of the season, becoming the unanimous choice to start at 157 pounds.

“I think he can beat anybody in the country,” Jackson said of Weatherman. “We’re going to have to find out, we’re going to have to wrestle everybody in the country to find out if that’s really going to happen.”

Jackson says Weatherman possesses some attributes that will make him a force to be reckoned with on the mat.

“He does some things that a lot of wrestlers can’t do,” Jackson said. “He has some upper body skills that a lot of guys can’t deal with. He has a strength factor that really is going to come in to effect in his matches.”

Weatherman won the 2A 152-pound title his junior and senior seasons at Ballard High School. He also compiled a record of 180-8 in four seasons and was a four-time state finalist for the Bombers.

Out of the 19 new arrivals on the team, one of the notable additions is former All-American Chris Drouin, a senior 141-pound transfer from Arizona State.

Drouin, who was named First Team Academic All-Pac-10 last season, compiled a 71-38 record in three seasons at Arizona State. Jackson first began building rapport with Drouin when he was in Tempe, Ariz., training the Sunkist Kids wrestling club. Later, when Jackson was hired as the ISU coach, his relationship with Drouin continued and ultimately transitioned into Drouin’s transfer this past summer.

“We started that conversation up and we brought him in like any other recruit we bring in and fortunately for us he locked in to Iowa State,” Jackson said.

However, Jackson is not aware of all of the factors that contributed to Drouin’s move.

Drouin says he quickly assimilated onto the team upon his arrival to Ames for summer workouts.

“Everything just kind of lined up,” Drouin said. “I had a good relationship with Jackson in the past, and I felt that out of all the schools I was looking at, it was going to be here that I could stand on top of the podium. I just like the feel of Iowa State.”

Despite the trend of wrestlers moving up in weight classes, senior Nate Carr Jr. made the move down from 157 pounds to 149, a cut that was “extremely tough” for him.

Carr was first approached by the coaching staff in July about the possibility of moving down to 149 pounds, a transition that he ultimately decided to make after much thought about it.

“I talked to my parents and really sat down and just thought if I could train right and diet right, I could make it,” Carr said. “It’s a big push, but sacrifice is everything.”

Carr, who was the 157-pound junior college national champion at Iowa Central in 2007, went 8-5 in a shortened season due to injuries, managing to post one major decision, one technical fall and one pin for the cardinal and gold.

Iowa State begins its season in Salem, Va., with dual meets against Kent State and Virginia Tech on Saturday, followed by the Hokie Open on Sunday. The Cyclones will open their home schedule in a dual meet against Boston University on Nov. 11 at Hilton Coliseum.