‘Three more days of scrapping’: Cyclones ready for NCAA Championships


Lee Chinyama

Paniro Johnson at the ISU vs. OSU wrestling meet on Jan. 29.

Anthony Hanson, Sports Reporter

Iowa State wrestling returns to Tulsa, Oklahoma, Thursday for the NCAA Championships.

The Cyclones are two weeks removed from the Big 12 Championships, in which two Cyclones became Big 12 Champs. Iowa State is completely healthy, determined and ready to answer the hype surrounding its 2022-23 season.

“I guess all the talk is about to be done, right?” Iowa State head coach Kevin Dresser said Wednesday. “We get three more days of scrapping; hopefully for all our guys.”

The Cyclones made their early season goals clear. A team trophy at the final tournament of the year has been in the sights of Iowa State all season and is now within reach. Iowa State has eight wrestlers competing in the national tournament starting Thursday. All eight Cyclones are seeded in the top 25.

“I love our team mojo and I love our health,” Dresser said.

Iowa State’s David Carr and Paniro Johnson are both coming off Big 12 Championship wins and are bringing their fair share of “mojo” to Tulsa. The senior and freshman both exhibit unwavering confidence in themselves. By being with one another, both athletes felt high expectations become reality.

“I think so high of myself and my teammates, and David does too,” Johnson said Wednesday. “You can feel the energy. You can feel it’s true and that we believe in each other.”

Johnson, Carr’s traveling roommate, defeated Brock Mauller in the finals of the Big 12 tournament March 5 to win his first conference championship. The Iowa State freshman was pinned by Mauller during the regular season but was able to complete an 8-4 win over the Northern Iowa Panther.

After his finals win, Johnson kept his eye on the prize. He proclaimed his plans for an NCAA Championship win just after he completed the win over Mauller.

This weekend, Johnson will start with No. 28 Alec Hagan of Ohio Thursday. Johnson’s 149-pound bracket includes No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell, who is a three-time defending national champion.

“He reminds me of me when I was a freshman,” Carr said about his fellow roommate.

Carr had a much quieter style of confidence during his freshman year, he said. But Carr himself will fight a battle this weekend.

Last season, Carr was the defending champion at 157-pounds. He lost a 55-match winning streak during the NCAAs and finished third. This year, he’s focused on the little things to avoid a disappointing loss.

“I worked on some things I thought were weaknesses and tried to make them my strengths,” Carr said. “That gives me a lot of confidence. I feel like I’m well prepared. I’m excited to show what that preparation and training is going to do on the national stage.”

Carr is the No. 1 wrestler in the 165-pound weight class. He has notched two wins over the next best contender over the last month. Carr defeated Keegan O’Toole Feb. 15 and ended the Missouri sophomore’s 41-match winning streak.

Carr defeated O’Toole again in the Big 12 finals. The two national champions are on a crash course for their first meeting on the biggest stage in NCAA wrestling. Carr will first face No. 33 Josh Kim or No. 32 Cole Moody Thursday.

Iowa State’s Yonger Bastida is looking to bounce-back mentally and physically after a difficult Big 12 Championships. Bastida dealt with an injury to cartilage in his rib area, Dresser said. He’s dealt with the injury poorly, Dresser said, not physically but mentally.

“I think it scared him more than anything,” Dresser said. “I didn’t like his mojo going into the Big 12 Championships. He’s a totally different guy now. Can you flip a switch and turn it around that fast? We’ll see.”

The national stage is set for all eight of Iowa State’s wrestlers. But the Cyclones have faced big crowds at Hilton Coliseum and on the road this season. The moment won’t be too big for Iowa State, Dresser said.

The Cyclones saw attendance records set at Missouri and at Northern Iowa this season. The Cyclones also performed for a sell-out crowd at Iowa in December.

“They’re going to get beat because they weren’t the better wrestler maybe,” Dresser said. “They won’t get beat because of the moment or the environment.”

The BOK Center in Tulsa, where the NCAA Championships will be held, is the same arena where the Big 12 Championships were held two weeks ago.

Session one of the NCAA Championships will begin at 11 a.m. Thursday and will be streamed on ESPNU. Session two will follow at 7 p.m. on ESPN.