AMES, Ia. — Kevin Dresser stood on the east end of the Harold Nichols Wrestling Room on Tuesday afternoon. He answered questions for 15 minutes about the expectations for the 2017-18 season, and through it all, he couldn’t help but smile.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of excitement in here because you’ve all got me surrounded,” the first-year Cyclone coach said and laughed before assembled media. He motioned to his wrestlers behind him. “There’s a lot of excitement sitting over on the wall with our team and our coaching staff.

“It’ll be really exciting for us to see which guys will step up and decide they’re going to be the next big name at Iowa State.”

Such was the theme of the Iowa State wrestling team’s media day here Tuesday. There are plenty of reasons, Dresser said, to be optimistic about this team, even if he and his coaching staff aren’t exactly sure what they have in the 37 wrestlers on the roster.

“We definitely have a young squad,” Dresser said, “and I like the word ‘mold,’ because we have to jell. If you were to ask me if this team is completely and one-hundred percent jelled, I would tell you no — it just doesn’t happen overnight. That’s what we continue to strive for.”

A lot of what has defined these Cyclones ahead of this season is potential. Of the 37 wrestlers, 30 are either freshmen or sophomores, including six who were ranked among the top 100 coming out of high school. Even more, only three others — redshirt sophomore Dante Rodriguez, junior Marcus Harrington, senior Dane Pestano — have experience at the NCAA tournament.

“It’s scary,” Dresser said, “but it’s also exciting.”

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Dresser looking for “verbal” leaders who’ll make sure “we’re doing things right” off the mat.
Cody Goodwin / The Register

As such, Dresser is stressing the importance of patience, despite his and his staff’s yearning to win now. He believes this year’s team can be exciting, but if only if they are consistent in their preparation.

“There’s been really good signs,” Dresser said. “We take two steps forward, and then every now and then, it’s one or two steps back — and maybe three steps back. Let’s hope that this weekend is one step forward.

“We want to win right now, but we’re also realistic and know what lies in front of us. This isn’t a 100-yard dash, and if we’re going to build a solid program — and that’s what I’ve felt like I’ve done everywhere that I’ve been — it has to be done the right way. You don’t win by taking shortcuts.

The Cyclones kick off their 2017-18 wrestling season with the Harold Nichols Cyclone Open on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum. Dresser hopes to learn more about his team once they take the mat.

Here are other key takeaways from the Cyclones’ media day Tuesday:

Cyclone, Lindenwood Opens to serve as wrestle-offs

Dresser plans to use this weekend and the Lindenwood Open on Nov. 18 as the unofficial wrestle-offs for his team. He hopes to have some semblance of a lineup heading into the Cyclones’ home dual against Rider at Stephens Auditorium.

“I think some guys are going to step up and be ‘the guy,’” Dresser said. “There’s probably going to be weights that will be contested throughout the year. I’ve always been a coach with the philosophy that we’ll determine who the starter is the day before we leave for the Big 12s.

“It’s fair game until that point — and that also gives guys a chance to progress throughout the year. It’s not about the guy that’s good in November. It’s about the best guy we can put on the mat in February.”

Currently, Dresser listed at least two guys on eight of the 10 weights on his most-recent lineup sheet. The lone two weights that are seemingly already decided are 141, with redshirt freshman Kanen Storr, and 184, with Pestano.

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The first-year Cyclone head wrestling coach talks about what he hopes to see from his wrestlers at the Cyclone Open on Saturday.
Cody Goodwin / The Register

The rest will figure themselves out over the next three weeks. Dresser hopes Saturday’s Cyclone Open is quick, with each wrestler getting no more than three matches. Northern Iowa is scheduled to attend, as well as Nebraska, though Dresser isn’t sure if they’ll send starters or non-starters.

The Lindenwood Open may provide more than just Cyclone-on-Cyclone competition, with teams like Missouri, Oklahoma and even Iowa all previously attending.

Dresser likes that he has depth at many weights. He hopes it inspires competition throughout this year and into the future. He expects everybody who’s healthy to compete this weekend in Ames. Only three won’t compete: Logan Breitenbach, at 165, and Jarrett Degen, at 149 — both because of rib injuries — and Austin Gomez, a star 133-pounder who is currently going through concussion protocol.

“We are banged up right now,” Dresser said. “That’s the asterisk you can all write. We’ve been scrapping, and we have some casualties. Nothing major, but we have some dings and will have to sit a few guys.”

Harrington, Pestano bump up in weight

Two Cyclone wrestlers are bumping up in weight ahead of the 2017-18 season.

Harrington, Iowa State’s lone-returning NCAA qualifier, is moving to heavyweight after reaching the national tournament at 197 a year ago.

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The redshirt junior discusses his decision to bump up to heavyweight for the 2017-18 season.
Cody Goodwin / The Register

“He likes to eat, and he’s really good at eating, and he likes to lift weights, and he’s really good at lifting weights,” Dresser said and smiled. “If you ask him to take his shirt off, you’ll see why he’s a heavyweight.”

Harrington offered a similar rendition.

“Just kind of tired of cutting the weight,” he said. “Now that I am up at heavyweight, I feel like I have more output in practice — more energy. I’m enjoying life a little bit better also.”

For his career, Harrington is 15-20. He went 9-13 a year ago, at 197, and qualified for the big dance only after placing fifth at the Big 12 tournament. He was bounced from the NCAA tournament after two matches. He is expected to battle with redshirt freshman Gannon Gremmel for the starting spot.

The Waterloo native feels like he could be an undersized-but-quicker heavyweight this season. There are still certain things he’s working on, like overcoming the weight disadvantage on top and bottom. He’s also constantly in the weight room, hoping to make up for the strength advantage, too.

The other Cyclone moving up is Pestano. After a year trying to drop to 165 pounds and going 7-7 overall, the Waimanalo, Hawaii, native is bumping back up to 184, the weight at which he qualified for the NCAA Championships back in 2016. That year, he went 24-15, his best at Iowa State.

“Last year was just about making weight,” Pestano said. “Like, I had to make this weight every week and keep it down, and then I was trying to figure out how to wrestle at that weight. This year, I know I can wrestle at this weight. I feel comfortable at this weight.

“Now, it’s about coming in and wrestling and just improving every day. I feel great. Amazing.”

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The senior 184-pounder talks about Iowa State’s young and talented wrestlers.
Cody Goodwin / The Register

Gomez, Coleman impressing as true freshmen

Dresser mentioned two true freshmen — Gomez and Marcus Coleman — who have been impressive in the early part of the season so far.

Gomez, of course, was one of the most sought-after recruits in the country out of high school, tabbed as the No. 11 overall 2017 recruit. The Carol Stream, Illinois, native made noise back in June when he nearly made the U.S. Junior World Freestyle Team.

A product of Glenbard North, Gomez originally committed to wrestle for former Iowa State coach Kevin Jackson, then decommitted once Jackson left the team. But Dresser and his staff brought Gomez back on board.

Gomez might arguably be Iowa State’s best 133-pounder, a logjam of a weight with both Ian Parker and Markus Simmons also in the running for the spot. Dresser wants to redshirt Gomez, who is currently recovering from a concussion. Dresser hopes to see him compete at the Lindenwood Open, and then make a decision.

“Anytime you get dinged in the head and have a mild concussion, you’re kind of at the mercy of all the tests,” Dresser said, “just like it is with football or basketball or any other sport … I know a lot of Cyclones want to see him. But in time, you’re going to see that Gomez is pretty special.”

Coleman likely sounds familiar for those around both Ames and the state of Iowa: He’s a product of Ames High School, which sits just two miles from the Lied Recreation Athletic Facility, which houses Iowa State’s practice room. Coleman was a three-time state champion for the Little Cyclones.

Dresser has been impressed with Coleman’s ability thus far during the preseason, hinting that he may even be the best 174-pounder in the room, but plans to redshirt him this season as well. Coleman is scheduled to compete both this weekend and at Lindenwood.

“He could probably wrestle this year,” Dresser said, “but we have to do the best thing for the kid. We’ve got some guys there that can wrestle. There might be a time when we need to throw in a freshman to contend for a trophy or a team title, but we’re not ready to do that.

To me, a 19-year-old Marcus Coleman at the NCAA tournament, or a 20-year-old Marcus Coleman at the NCAA tournament, if both of them are freshmen, common sense tells ya to wrestle the 20-year-old freshman. That’s part of the patience. Maybe he’s the best guy at the weight, but not at the risk of proper development.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

  • Kevin Dresser on what he hopes to see from Cyclone Open
  • Kevin Dresser on hoping a leader emerges
  • Dane Pestano likes all of ISU’s young talent
  • Marcus Harrington is bumping up to heavyweight