Men's Sports

Inside the rebuild of Iowa State Wrestling

AMES — Programs aren’t rebuilt overnight. Iowa State wrestling is in the process of creating a new culture. That takes time, and it comes from within.

“They have to internally decide what level they want to grow. Will they go crazy or will they just tiptoe through the tulips?” said head coach Kevin Dresser recently when discussing the future of the program.

It is year two for the Dresser Era. The rebuild seems to finally be in full swing. Everyone is finally in sync. A wrestling room full of skeptical guys and inconsistency seems to be behind them as the Cyclones prepare to take the 2018-19 season by storm.

“Any coach that comes into a brand new program and you inherit a team and everybody who walks in from the trainer to the reporter to the team are all scratching their heads to see what this guy is about. Regardless of my credentials when I came in there’s still a courtship you have to figure out,” Dresser said. “I think we’re past the courtship.”

During the first season, all eyes were on the new staff. What were they bringing to the table? How would they pick up the pieces of what was left of Cyclone Wrestling?

Dresser and his staff have reiterated they are not here to be easy on anyone if they are going to create a top five program.

I’m old school. The best coaches I ever had were the hardest coaches on me and they didn’t sugar coat stuff,” Dresser said. “I’m not a sugar coat type of guy so if you give me permission to coach you then we’re going to go, but if you don’t give me permission then I’m not going to yell at you.”

All eyes on the team

“The culture has to start with them,” said Dresser.

Dresser had 19 new faces join the program in the offseason. Fifteen of them are true freshmen. In total, 22 Cyclones returned, 19 of which saw action in at least one dual last season. The losses to the starting line-up were a fresh start.

“The millennial generation, to be quite honest, is a very skeptical generation,” Dresser explained. “Whereas us old school guys are very, ‘Yes sir, no sir, I’ll do whatever you say, sir,’ so when you go in and think you can go in and be the military it isn’t going to work. You really have to get kids on your side and once they get on your side I think you can really go forward.”

So far, the Cyclones have shown a glimmer of hope for a more promising season.

In the Cyclone Open, there were 18 wrestlers who finished in the top-3 of their weight classes. Three walked away with titles. In the first dual of the season, the Cyclones had their largest victory since 2016 with a 37-3 win over SIU-E.

Being past the courtship in Dresser’s eyes means that there is no more holding back. Once everyone commits, it is go-time.

They watch and observe and then you come in and you preach the things like I have been about trust, consistency and toughness, are they buying it? Do they think it’s just smoking mirrors or is it really what’s going to make us good,” Dresser said.  “I challenge them. I said, ‘We have to be a little old school here and you guys have to let us coach you. Some days we’re going to have to call you dirty, rotten scoundrels and you have to be able to handle it.”‘

How about that coaching staff?

“Those guys are throwback, old school guys. Even though they might be a little closer to the millennials, they won because they were both tough,” Dresser said in reference to the impressive collegiate wrestling careers from Derek St. John and Brent Metcalf

“There’s guys that are winning at Iowa, Oklahoma and Penn State that are just phenomenally good, they are so skilled, right? Maybe they’re not the toughest guys in the world but because they’re skilled they’re winning,” Dresser said. “Metcalf and St. John won based on pure damn toughness. They’re skilled but they’re not the most skilled that stepped on the mat, but they’re tough and that transitions over into the coaches they are and their expectations.”

Metcalf was promoted to full-time assistant coach after being a volunteer coach last year. There was no time wasted before he jumped in head first on in the recruiting trial. In the wrestling room? His outgoing personality and hands on coaching didn’t change.

“The things I like about Brent right now is that I think he’s a sponge,” said Dresser.  “He really, really wants to learn a lot about coaching. Here’s Brent Metcalf, this world renowned wrestler and he just wants to learn and that’s probably what made him a great wrestler.”

St. John on the other hand is more quiet but can be described as tough as nails.

He’s very soft spoken out of the room but he’s very tough in the room,” Dresser said. “He really has a knack to get one-on-one with guys. Some guys aren’t going to work well with Derek because he’s going to tell you how it is and he’s going to be hard on his guys.”

What’s next

It’s a tougher room right now. It’s not as tough as it needs to be but its tougher and that’s what a wrestling room needs to be. If we’re going to go compete and go to war, it has to be tough.”

Speaking of going to war, the Cyclones will face No. 3 Iowa on Saturday, something that will be beneficial for the team to get a feel for where they stand in the wrestling world.

Last season, the Cyclones were not ready for Iowa . They walked away with a  46-3 loss.

Is Iowa State more confident about the Cy-Hawk dual this year?

“We’re a little more confident but they’re also a lot better than they were last year,” said Dresser.

How’s the team feel?

They’re ready for the Hawkeyes.


Jacqueline Cordova


Jacqueline graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications. She has been fortunate enough to have interned for Cyclone Fanatic for 2 and a half years before being promoted to stay on. She currently wears a lot of hats at Cyclone Fanatic: Social Media Director, Iowa State Wrestling beat reporter, and staff photographer. Jacqueline loves reading and watching trash reality TV shows when she's not watching sports. One of her favorite accomplishments is having interned for the Minnesota Vikings and during Super Bowl LII.