“You can’t build a mansion with a crummy basement. You have to have a great foundation. We all want this mansion, but we have to do it the right way.”
That’s the analogy that Iowa State head wrestling coach Kevin Dresser gave Cyclone Fanatic earlier this week when recapping his first season in Ames.
Year one of the rebuilding project ended with an overall record of 8-10 while redshirt freshmen Jarrett Degen made it to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s been a trial and error year,” said Dresser. “We gave a lot of people a shot and some of them responded and some of them didn’t respond.”
Iowa State’s inconsistent performances included over 23 different wrestlers that were given a chance at mat time. That accounted for 16 different lineups seen during the season.
“I had to go into a match like, ‘Man, I don’t know what the heck is going to happen,’ and that’s pretty much how everything went from day one,” said Dresser. “It’s been frustrating but everyone one of us knew what we were getting into.”
Dresser’s staff was never quiet about its high expectations of the team, regardless of where they were at the rebuilding scale. Iowa State’s young roster played a huge role in the inconsistencies during the season.
“With the young guys, it’s been the work load and what the expectations were with what a really good day was and being able to push through those good days,” said Dresser.
Everything has a silver lining. Dresser said there was definitely progress from the team in the room from the beginning to the end, describing seeing a team go from not being able to last a whole practice to holding up until the end.
Dresser emphasized that in order for the team to cash in and find the success it wants, they need to find it in themselves first.
“It comes with desire, following up on that desire and understanding that in order to be great it’s a high demand and a high work load. I think the guys that we are frustrated with want to be great and say they want to be great but don’t back it up at all. There’s nothing in their personal lives or their day-to-day activities that back up the fact that they want to be great and I think that’s a small percentage of them now. There’s no question the coaching staff wants to be great and is ready to roll up their sleeves and go to work. There’s a fair number of individuals in the room who share that philosophy and that work ethic. The guys who don’t will fall by the wayside or be eliminated.”
Redshirt junior Marcus Harrington (285), redshirt freshmen Ian Parker (141), redshirt sophomore Markus Simmons (133), redshirt freshmen Sam Colbray (197) and of course, redshirt freshmen Jarrett Degen (149) were all guys who stepped up and were able to give Dresser certain weekends and duals to look back on and feel that progress is being made.
“Changing a culture isn’t just saying, ‘Okay we can change a culture in the first year.’ We’re still changing,” said Dresser.
In their first year, some big accomplishments were met with having started from the bottom. What this says for the future is something to make note of.
“I just want to emphasize the fact that when you start from ground zero and maybe even in our case below ground zero, because you’re trying to retrain some bad habits, it takes time,” said Dresser. “It’s not going to happen over night and I’m not going to put a timeline on it.”
The shining star from the inaugural year of the Dresser Era was Jarrett Degen. Over 350 people traveled to Cleveland to see him fight his way through the NCAA Tournament.
“Probably the most fun for me as a coach, seeing a guy like Jarrett Degen who went from a better-than-average open tournament wrestler to a Round of 12 guy in one year,” said Dresser. “That’s pretty cool. That’s what motivates me as a coach.”
With the Cyclones having some off time and a couple of training sessions/competitions this offseason, a hopeful picture is being painted for what is to come.
“We can go out and take chances on guys that aren’t going to be the kind of guys we want and maybe get lucky. I built a really strong, along with others, solid program at Virginia Tech doing it that way,” said Dresser. “Taking some beatings, it took me three years to win a match at a national tournament. It took us six to seven years to be in the top 10. It’s going to be hopefully quicker at Iowa State but I can tell everybody this, we’re going to build it right. It’s going to be something that will be sustained. There’s going to have to be trust because we’re going to have some bad outings next year and people have to understand that.”