Kevin Dresser doesn’t believe in moral victories.
When his Iowa State Cyclones nearly upset the third-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes early in the season, Dresser was anything but satisfied.
His takeaway on the one-point loss at Carver-Hawkeye Arena?
“I think what we showed that day is that we are going to compete hard, no matter who we are wrestling against,” Dresser said. “Effort is what is going to keep these kids improving. We obviously made some mistakes that day and didn’t win. But our guys bought into what we were saying and they went into that dual believing they could win.”
The Cyclones haven’t lost a dual meet since and Dresser has every reason to be excited about the direction the ISU program is heading.
Iowa State has continued to wrestle well, stringing together five straight dual meet victories while moving up to No. 15 in the national rankings. ISU is 6-1 overall and 3-0 in Big 12 Conference duals.
The Cyclones have a big weekend coming up, wrestling Oklahoma on Friday night at home before facing perennial power and fourth-ranked Oklahoma State on Sunday in Stillwater.
“On paper, Oklahoma State is not a good matchup for us,” Dresser said. “I think it’s exciting to have an opportunity to wrestle one of the most storied programs in NCAA history. It will be a good challenge for us. We are going into a place with a lot of history and we are going to wrestle in front of a big crowd. They’re a lot better than they were last year and we’re a lot better. I’m looking forward to it.”
Dresser has been successful everywhere he’s been as an athlete and as a coach.
He was a two-time Iowa state champion for Humboldt High School before winning an NCAA title for the University of Iowa in 1986.
He was a highly successful high school coach for many years in Virginia before building Virginia Tech into a national powerhouse at the collegiate level.
He left a strong program in Blacksburg to take over a struggling program at Iowa State. The Cyclones have a proud and storied tradition with Olympic gold medalists Dan Gable and Cael Sanderson among its distinguished alumni.
Dresser’s first season at Iowa State was rough. The Cyclones suffered their share of setbacks and no ISU wrestlers reached the All-American podium.
Year 2 in Ames has been a much different story for Dresser and company.
The Cyclones have a strong and much-improved lineup that is capable of doing its share of damage when the stakes are highest in March.
Iowa State has excelled in dual meets and also placed third in the Southern Scuffle against a strong tournament field.
Senior Willie Miklus leads the way for the Cyclones at 197 pounds. He is ranked sixth nationally. Miklus was a three-time All-American for Missouri before transferring to ISU for his final season to be closer to his ailing father.
“Willie’s a great kid,” Dresser said. “He’s become a good leader for us and he’s doing a good job for us. He’s a veteran guy. We joke around and call him ‘Grandpa’ because he’s a few years older than most of the guys we have. He’s been great for our young guys, and it’s been good to have a veteran like that on our team.”
Freshman Austin Gomez is an exciting young wrestler with a big-move arsenal. He’s ranked seventh at 133 pounds.
“Austin is a talented wrestler and he’s a gamer,” Dresser said. “He has a great work ethic and he wrestles hard. He’s had a few hiccups, but he’s a freshman. You don’t want to underestimate Austin.”
The Cyclones also have three sophomores who are nationally ranked. Jarrett Degen is 12th at 149, Ian Parker is No. 14 at 141 and Sam Colbray is 19th at 184.
Degen advanced to the round of 12 at the 2018 NCAA tournament before falling one win short of the medal podium.
“Jarrett is a guy that competes hard in everything he does,” Dresser said. “He continues to make improvement. He’s a bad draw because he has a unique style and his gas tank is huge.”
Sophomore Alex Mackall (125) and freshman Marcus Coleman (174) have also been nationally ranked for ISU.
The Cyclones also have one of the nation’s most promising young wrestlers in David Carr, who is redshirting this season. Carr was a top-ranked recruit who has excelled in open tournaments this season. He is 18-1 in open events, scoring bonus points in 10 of his wins.
David Carr is the son of Cyclone legend Nate Carr, who won three NCAA titles for Iowa State before earning an Olympic bronze medal. David Carr won a bronze medal for the U.S. at the 2016 Cadet World Championships.
“David lost his very first college match this season against a good kid from Missouri, but he hasn’t lost since,” Dresser said. “He’s dominated everybody since that first match. David is very coachable, he’s very athletic and he loves wrestling. He just needs mat time and experience. He is a guy who can contend for titles right away.”
Dresser’s two top assistant coaches, past Iowa NCAA champions Derek St. John and Brent Metcalf, have also settled into their roles during the second year this staff has been together at Iowa State.
“St. John and Metcalf have done a great job,” Dresser said. “When I hired them, one thing I wanted from them was presence in the wrestling room and presence in the recruiting world. They’re young coaches and they’ve learned a lot since we started working together. My style is different from the style they were raised in. We’re happy with what they have done.”
The Cyclones now head into the final two months of the season with a one-word theme: progress.
Dresser said he wants his team’s year-long progression to continue as we move closer to the Big 12 and NCAA meets.
“We’re not ready to win the NCAA tournament this year, but we’ve made good progress,” he said. “It’s been fun seeing the guys having the consistency, and seeing them gain confidence and trust in us. We have a close team right now. The guys that we have are invested in the program and that’s good to see.”