Iowa State wrestling attendance increases in Dresser’s first season

Iowa State redshirt freshman Jarrett Degen flexes to the crowd after winning his weight class against Kyle Rae during the Iowa State vs West Virginia wrestling meet on Jan. 21. The Cyclones defeated West Virginia 25-16. 

Trevor Holbrook

Iowa State wrestling found success in home duals during Kevin Dresser’s first season coaching the Cyclones. Iowa State won three home duals in the 2017-18 season compared to zero in 2016-17.

Dresser and his staff were obviously focused on improving the product on the mat, but they also wanted to see growth in the stands.

“There’s a lot of alluring things about Iowa State, and just to get in Hilton Coliseum and have some big-time matches and get this place excited again was part of that allure,” Dresser said.

The Cyclone faithful remained loyal throughout Iowa State’s abysmal 2016-17 season, averaging 3,280 fans per home dual. But the addition of the new coaching regime paired with a handful of new faces injected fresh interest to the fan base.

Iowa State fans toppled the 2016-17 attendance average in Dresser’s first season in Ames. Cyclone fans averaged 3,841 fans this season, ranking fourth for largest average attendance at Iowa State in the last 20 years.

Cyclone fans were drawn in by new coaches and new athletes in the lineup, but Dresser brought new tactics to increase interest in the program as well.

In Iowa State’s second dual of the season, Hilton Coliseum remained empty. Meanwhile, the action took place at the nearby Stephens Auditorium — a complex generally used for concerts and musicals.

“That’s a Dresser idea [wrestling at Stephens Auditorium],” said assistant coach Brent Metcalf before the dual. “I think it’ll be a cool venue.”

Iowa State fans filled 1,345 of the seats in the auditorium — a venue that can hold up to 2,637 people.

After the dual, Iowa State athletes said the noise “funneled down to the mat,” and Dresser said he thought it was a positive experiment.

The Cyclones lost at Stephens Auditorium, a common trend early in the season. In Iowa State’s fifth dual, 2,794 fans watched the Cyclones knock off Oregon State to pick up the first dual win under Dresser.

Immediately after the win, Iowa State built off its momentum, winning four of five matches at the Virginia Duals.

When the Cyclones returned, 2,806 fans arrived to Hilton Coliseum to watch Iowa State and West Virginia duke it out. They were rewarded.

Six matches into the dual with West Virginia, the Cyclones dug themselves into a 17-7 hole.

“I thought the crowd was pretty quiet going into the break [halfway through the dual], and it usually is pretty loud by that point,” said 174-pounder Danny Bush after the dual. “It felt good hearing them get that loud [after the break].”

After Iowa State’s Logan Breitenbach was pinned in the 165-pound match to put the Cyclones down 17-7, Bush ignited the crowd. Bush answered with a pin of his own, and 184-pound redshirt senior Dane Pestano followed with a 9-4 decision.

West Virginia hung onto a 17-16 lead with two matches left. At 197-pounds, Iowa State’s Sam Colbray was pitted against ranked foe Jacob Smith.

Smith managed to rack up four points off a takedown and two escapes, but Colbray wore down Smith. At the end of the third period, Colbray led 5-4, but Smith received another point for riding time.

Colbray earned his fifth point in the third period after Smith was called for stalling. In sudden victory, Colbray emerged victorious after Smith was hit for another stalling.

While the referee did give Colbray two points for Smith’s stalling, the Cyclone fans expected those points earlier. Throughout the third period, Iowa State fans relentlessly urged for more stalling calls.

After the dual — a 25-16 win for Iowa State — Colbray said he acknowledged the Iowa State fans’ presence.

“Hilton was crazy,” Colbray said. “I think that when we go out there and wrestle we’re 70 percent out there ourselves, but our coaches and our fans are another 30 percent and that’s the extra factor we need.”

The peak attendance came in Iowa State’s final home dual. The Iowa Hawkeyes rolled into town and demolished the Cyclones, 35-6. While the in-state rival brought a large chunk of fans, the total attendance was 8,861.

Although Dresser wasn’t always pleased with the numbers on the scoreboard in year one, he did find positive numbers in the attendance.

“What a great first year for the Iowa State wrestling fans,” Dresser said after all the dual matches had concluded. “They deserve an A+. We might be in the C- range, but they deserve an A+.”