Late last week, Cyclone Fanatic wrestling reporter Jacqueline Cordova sat down to discuss the current season with head coach Kevin Dresser. Here is a transcript of her conversation with Iowa State’s second-year head coach.
Q: Where is your head at right now with where you guys are at in the season?
Dresser: Our progress has been good. Like in all sports, wrestling is no different, you really want to finish well. I think if we can keep progressing and knock on wood, keep everyone healthy I think we can feel good about our season at the end of the year. Obviously, we have three more duals to focus on and then the Big 12’s which is something we really want to do well at. I think if we had a really great ending we could get eight guys to the NCAA Tournament. Not sure who the nine and 10th guy are but I think we’re only really capable of sending 10 guys if we have the right weekend.
Q: What will be the max out for this team?
Dresser: I set a goal and told them all the very first day of practice on Oct. 10th that I truly believe that this team was capable of being a top 10 team and I really drove that point across. I said I wasn’t going to go on record and say that but now that we’re getting down to the end of the year, I think if we would’ve said that publicly, it was more of an internal team meeting, I said, ‘Everybody is going to laugh at us if we say we’re a top 10 team on Oct. 10.’ I think it’s becoming more possible. Now, it’s still a big stretch. I know we’re a better dual team than we are a better tournament team.
I think a great ending would be a top 10 finish in the dual meet and the NCAA Tournament. That’s a super high goal. When you think short of that, I ultimately we want to finish really well. I think if we wrestle well I think our high site is second in the Big 12 Tournament and if we don’t wrestle well then fourth or fifth. That’s our range. In terms of making predictions for the NCAA Tournament, that tournament is so gosh dang crazy, I’m not even going to make a prediction.
Q: What specific weight classes hold the most questions in terms of nationals?
Dresser: I feel pretty good at 133, 141, 149, even 174, 184 and 197. I think they’ve put themselves in a position to earn a spot. I think 125 and HWT are right there too. I think Chase Straw has an outside chance. I think if we have a good tournament at 165 we could wrestle our way in there.
The secret or the key is to get your guy, our Iowa State guy, at each weight to earn a spot for the conference. If we get five spots and you don’t get fifth and you get sixth, then you got a pretty good chance of going because you earned a spot for your conference. That’s the goal right now. We’re going to look at records, RPI and coaches ranking the next couple weeks to get everyone there that we can.
Q: How is the team training to be a better tournament team?
Dresser: I think it’s all progress. These guys have done a good job in understanding and focusing on that the biggest match of the year is the next one. It’s not the Iowa match behind us. It’s not the Big 12 in front of us. If we do a good job of focusing at the task at hand. When you get that kind of focus you become somewhat, I say this in a good word, of a robot that whoever you put out in front of me that’s the biggest one. We have to do that.
Q: How do you train individuals to change their state of mind with such a diverse age group?
Dresser: I think that’s kind of where coaching comes in. whether they’re 18 or 25 like Willie getting their head and mind right isn’t half the battle it’s 75 percent of the battle. I think these guys have done a great job of buying into the whole process of what it takes to get better. Coming to practice everyday and understanding that, ‘I can’t go out there and expect to be good in Hilton or all the venues we wrestle in if I don’t do a good job in the room.
I am an old coach, or an older coach, I’m never old. But I am an older coach who really believes in the power of practice. When you practice really well it usually translates over.
Q: What changed in the wrestling room this season? Guys are saying this is a fun room to be in right now. What changed?
Dresser: I think it’s a familiarity and trust. They saw consistency in the room and they trusted the message and the challenges. That’s what I got hired to do and paid to do: get everyone thinking the right way. I had a plan and I told them straight up at the very beginning and I didn’t mean this arrogantly but I have a lot of confidence in this team but I also have a lot of confidence in the wisdom I’m going to throw at you. If I tell you, ‘you can do this,’ then I believe you can do this. If I tell you, ‘I can do this for you,’ you have to trust that I can do this for you.
I think Derek and Brent have bought into this as well.
Q: What have Brent Metcalf and Derek St. John brought to the practice room this season?
Dresser: They’ve been very hands on individually. I’m the guy who dictates the content everyday at 3:30 everyday but those guys are very involved. Their individual work is their job and their role. It’s my job to orchestrate what happens 3:30 to 5:30 everyday but I’m smart enough and I’ve been around long enough to know that when you have good players – whether they are coaches or wrestlers – and these guys are players, I think that I use them wisely and often. They do a great job. This has been new for them too.
I think they came from just one system. It wasn’t good or bad but just a different system. They had never really been around kind of how I do things. They had to sit back and challenge to be very open-minded and they were. At the end of the day, I think it’s been good. When I was their age, I really wanted to learn. I went through Gable but I also wanted to learn from other people. I wanted to learn what some of the other great coaches did. I think that makes you a more well-rounded coach. So when you do get your shot and you have a lot of areas to draw from.
Q: What have you seen out of Metcalf as he continues to grow into his new role?
Dresser: He’s very much a sponge right now. I think he realizes that being a great wrestler and being a great coach are apples and oranges. Sure, it’s nice to have a guy who is a great wrestler. He has the experience of how to push and the training but in terms of everything else from a-z that doesn’t have to do with individual training there’s a lot of pieces to running a program. Everything from marketing to dealing with guys that aren’t like you. There’s not many guys out -there that fought like Brent Metcalf at 18-years-old because he’s always been a machine. There not very many guys who come to college and are machines. He’s really learning how to read individual athletes and maybe get them to think like he did because he obviously fought very well.
Q: What impact have the true freshman had on the team this season?
Dresser: I tell everybody when they come here whether they’re blue chip guys or not blue chip guys they have to come in ready to wrestle. At any time there could be a snap of the fingers and you’re going to be needed to go. Those guys are proof that the coach knows his stuff. You have to be ready to go. Actually, Logan was at 174. So when we wrestled Zane Mulder he was basically fourth on our list because St. John went down, Brady Jennings went down and then Schumacher and boom, you go to Mulder. We’re lucky and blessed to have some depth there because we have a couple more guys if we need them. That just shows that you come in, I am a big practice guy, and there’s no redshirt mentality or back up mentality in our room. If there is, I’m going to snuff it out.
Q: What advantages come from having tougher competition to end out the season?
Dresser: I’m excited the way our schedule is set up. We get UNI and Missouri last and those are two really good teams. I think UNI is a top-10 team, I don’t know what they’re ranked but I think I saw in a poll somewhere that we’re ranked ahead of them and I don’t believe that. When you go to West Gym, we become the underdog. There’s close match-ups on paper and a couple toss ups but if it was at Hilton I’d say we’re the favorite but if it’s at West Gym, then they’re the favorite. That’s the way we’re going to approach it.
Q: How is the team mentally preparing to enter an environment like West Gym?
Dresser: Like we did for Iowa, we let them know. Our guys have started to kind of feed off that. We wrestled well against Oklahoma State well and we were outnumbered by 4,000. We wrestled Iowa well and we were outnumbered by 10,000. When we go to West Gym there will probably be 2,ooo people in that cracker box and we need to be ready for it to be loud.
Q: What has been the most fulfilling thing so far this season?
Dresser: Seeing guys get confidence and going out and winning big matches. I tell them that when we get to the weekend I am just another fan. That’s all I am. I am just a huge wrestling fan. I’m really partial to 10 guys. They’re my favorite guys. Everybody has their favorite guys in the NFL, well I have my favorite guys in the nation. I have other guys who wrestle for other schools that I like but I’m a fan of those 10 guys. I love to see them compete, have their hand raised and get the upsets. I like it when guys get in the rankings for the first time ever and you see them take off. That’s what I get paid to do.
Q: What specific wrestler has blown your expectations this season?
Dresser: What’s exiting for me is that we sit here in February and every weight excites me right now. I wouldn’t have been able to say that about 157 a month ago but right now I am really excited about Chase Straw on his progress. I am excited for all 10 weights. Sometimes on Flo they put up whether a guys stock is up or down and I think in the last three weeks, I am prejudice to our guys, but I think our stock is up.
Q: What have you seen out of Gannon Gremmel this season?
Dresser: We aren’t going to put a lot of our guys in the Last Chance Open but I’m really thinking about wrestling him in there. I think he just needs more matches especially right now. Right now, his body is really healthy. He’s been weighing a pound less every weigh in. He went from like 275 to 262. I felt like he’d be better a little lighter and our goal is 260 by the Big 12’s and we aren’t too far off.
He’s a guy who gets really jacked up but I need him to be a little less jacked up and be a little more focused. I think he’s really thinking about his offense instead of just going out there thinking, ‘I’m gonna kill that guy,’ because he gets that way. When he goes out and hits your hand, he breaks every bone in your body and I like the fact that he is ready to go but I don’t want him to be so ready to go that he’s a crazy man. There has to be a little bit of intent and focus.
Q: What type of guy is Gremmel during practice?
Dresser: He’s pretty coachable. He’s not a great practice wrestler yet but he’s an improved practice wrestler. I mean, last year he was one day good, four days bad. Now, we’re 50-50. I tell him, if you kick everybody’s butt in practice everyday you’re going to kick butt on the mat. We have a good room. He’s rolling with Kyven Gadson. We have a good room for heavyweights. Go kick everybody’s ass in our room and watch what happens in Hilton.
Q: What has it been like watching the culture change this season?
Dresser: We’re going to keep shooting for low numbers in rankings. If we can get to the point where we get two top-10 teams, we have a chance. That’s a tangible thing you can say. That was one of my goals when I got hired was to bring in big dual meets. Did I think my second year we’d have two top-1o teams wrestle in a dual meet? No. But if we can do it, I’m going to take it.
I told them last year, ‘We were pretty bad but the few instances we had some good results or even a takedown in a tough match, the roof would come off. Do you understand how bad these fans want to win? As we progress, if you’re looking for motivation on those cold weekday practices, if you go perform there isn’t a better fan base to wrestle for in the whole United States because they love wrestling and they love to win.’