Dresser era starts now for Iowa State's underclassmen

Chris Cuellar

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Iowa State can only go up from here. Right?

Just ask its new head coach, who is spending this weekend watching the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships from the stands with fans.

“We were 81st my first year at Virginia Tech. Then we were 79th. Then, I think, 38th,” Kevin Dresser said Friday afternoon once the Cyclones’ tournament was complete. “I’m not that patient. Not with what we’ve got.

New Iowa State wrestling coach Kevin Dresser speaks to the media Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.

“The difference between Virginia Tech and Iowa State is that there wasn’t a ton of wrestling talent there. There were some great kids, but not the talent that Iowa State has right now. But talent doesn’t do you anything if it’s not put in the right vein.”

Dresser has spent the month since his hire recruiting and building interest for his ambitious post-graduate training plans. By allowing Kevin Jackson’s staff to close out the current season, Dresser chose to start in the background for the school he grew up watching.

After nearly 11 years at Virginia Tech, he’s using this tournament to cheer for “my Hokies” and help ESPN’s coverage as a color commentator during Saturday night’s finals.

“Obviously, there’s work to do,” Dresser said. “I don’t want to take anything away from the three guys that competed this weekend — they didn’t have great weekends — but the only I can do as new coach is control what I can control. That means we’ve got to go to work.

“All the underclassmen … need to be ready to go Monday morning.”

Friday marked a new low in a wrestling season full of them for Iowa State. All-American senior Lelund Weatherspoon went out in the consolation rounds at 174 pounds after teammates Earl Hall (133) and Marcus Harrington (197) were eliminated quickly on Thursday.

They walked out of the Scottrade Center having scored a single team point, which will result in the worst finish in school history.

Weatherspoon was shut out in the final match of his college career, 3-0.

“When you’ve been wrestling a certain style for a long time and you’ve had some success with it, it’s hard to figure out positions and ways to win,” Iowa State interim head coach Travis Paulson said. “I feel like if you bring in the right guys and have the right culture, anything is possible.”

Paulson and his twin brother — and current top assistant — Trent trained in Ames under Bobby Douglas and Cael Sanderson. They wrestled on teams in title hunts. Taking over their alma mater during such a tough stretch on the mat has tested their relentlessly positive outlooks.

“It comes down to accountability and standard,” Paulson said. “When I was competing, if you wanted to wrestle for Iowa State, you had to wrestle to score points. If you weren’t doing that — even if you were winning matches by one point — they were going to find someone that would score.”

But Dresser is staying mum on his future staff and indicated he would wait until the tournament dust settled to put together a “short list.” Paulson isn’t sure what kind of opportunity will be open for him in Ames, but he wants to continue coaching somewhere.

Hall and Weatherspoon will be gone for whoever joins him inside the Harold Nichols Wrestling Room. An absurdly talented true freshmen class and elite Illinois recruit Austin Gomez are planning to stick around.

“I think they’re excited,” Dresser said. “They were listening — and that’s what you’ve got to do. I wasn’t preaching a lot, but you’ve got to start preaching. You’ve got to start serving the Kool-Aid.

“They got their first dose of coach Dresser’s Kool-Aid. We’ve got to keep feeding it to them.”

Unfortunately, those resources and that raw talent couldn’t come through at the Scottrade Center. ISU was tied with Binghamton, Clarion and Columbia at the end of Session III. Dresser wants to channel Cyclone history with his new squad — but may have a long way to go.

“Iowa State has tradition to sell,” Dresser said. “This is where Dan Gable wrestled. This is where Cael Sanderson wrestled. This is where Nate Carr wrestled. This where Jim Gibbons and Joe Gibbons wrestled. I could go on and on.

“Those guys are superstars and legends. And I know there are kids out there that want to be in that same conversation.”