Cyclones take key strides in year two under Kevin Dresser; can they do it again?

Iowa State Head Coach Kevin Dresser looks on as Cyclone heavyweight Gannon Gremmel wrestles in overtime against Missouri on Feb. 24, 2019.

Trevor Holbrook

The transition into the Kevin Dresser era at Iowa State was ugly.

A once highly-decorated program, Iowa State slumped to 8-10 in duals, including losses to teams like Northern Colorado and Wyoming. This time one year ago, the Cyclones managed to send only one wrestler — Jarrett Degen — to the NCAA Championships.

The start of the Dresser era was ugly, but the program he took over was even uglier before he arrived. 

Despite the extremely average 2017-18 campaign, the program still appeared in a much better place than the 2016-17 season.

The program Dresser inherited went 1-12 in duals during Kevin Jackson’s final season in Ames, Iowa. Jackson’s Cyclones did field three athletes in the NCAA Championships, but the trio combined for an abysmal one team point.

With the average but big improvement in Dresser’s first season, Iowa State entered this year with much higher hopes.

After the first season the Cyclones lost heavyweight Marcus Harrington and Dane Pestano, along with a slew of athletes who transferred during or before the season.

But Iowa State plugged in redshirt sophomore Gannon Gremmel at heavyweight and added now-four-time All-American Willie Miklus into the mix at 197 pounds.

With Miklus in the room, redshirt sophomore Sam Colbray cut down to 184 pounds in place of Pestano.

Redshirt freshmen Austin Gomez (133-pounds) and Marcus Coleman (174-pounds) filled holes in the lineup, while redshirt sophomore Alex Mackall transferred in from Rutgers to anchor 125-pound spot.

Familiar faces reemerged at 149 pounds (Degen), 141 (Ian Parker) and 157 (Chase Straw). The 165-pound spot remained a revolving door with injuries, but a couple freshmen proved they can handle Big 12-level matches throughout the year.

With the returning talent complimented by the injected talent from athletes coming off redshirts and transferring in, the Cyclones looked ready to make a jump.

Iowa State accomplished that with a second-place finish at the Big 12 Tournament and nine athletes competing in the NCAA Championships (not to mention pushing top-five Iowa to the brink in a one-point dual loss).

Not only were the Cyclones winning duals and snagging bonus points, but the team looked like a better conditioned and stronger team for the most part.

Even with all the improvement, the Cyclones failed to even sniff anywhere close to a top five spot as a team in Pittsburgh.

Miklus and Degen secured podium spots, and Colbray and Gomez just missed the All-American cut. Outside of that quartet, Iowa State didn’t receive the results it needed from athletes like Coleman, Parker and others.

Now comes the tough part for Iowa State. The Cyclones should now be on most quality teams’ radar, and with that comes higher expectations and a target on the teams’ back.

Fortunately for Iowa State, Miklus is the only lineup regular who won’t be competing in a cardinal and gold singlet next year (although he could potentially stick around in a coaching role of some form).

Besides Miklus, the only other upperclassman was redshirt junior Chase Straw. Iowa State returns 90 percent of its lineup, while integrating freshmen like David Carr, Francis Duggan and Joel Shapiro off their redshirts and sprinkling in another crop of freshmen.

With all that laid out, you have to wonder what this team’s ceiling is next year.

It appears on paper Iowa State should be ready to make another leap, but remember, matches aren’t wrestled on paper.