After the 2015 NCAA wrestling championships were over, coach Kevin Jackson knew there were going to be some big changes in the offseason.
National champion Kyven Gadson and graduate Michael Moreno left the team and big shoes to fill in the upcoming season.
“You don’t replace guys like Kyven Gadson and Mike Moreno and their true performance,” Jackson said. “It’s great to have most of the guys back and have new guys performing at a high level.”
The team features Kyle Larson, Earl Hall, Dante Rodriguez, Gabe Moreno, Tanner Weatherman, Lelund Witherspoon and Tyler Swope. Half of them qualified for the NCAA Championship last spring, so expectations are high.
Redshirt senior Tanner Weatherman poses at the team's Media Day on Oct. 20, 2015.Ryan Young/Iowa State Daily
Jackson expects these players to perform as leaders and help the younger wrestlers as well as the new ones learn about ISU wrestling and the expectations.
The new freshman class has surprised Jackson as well as a number of experienced wrestlers, including Moreno and Weatherman. Its dedication to putting in hard work day in and day out has impressed the veterans on the team.
The young wrestlers are diverse in talent and were recruited from all around the country, but the majority of them come from Iowa.
“Obviously their technique is not at the level that you expect, but that’s normal for an incoming freshman,” said wrestler Gabe Moreno. “The thing I like about them is that they keep fighting and they're tough as nails.”
Weatherspoon is looking forward to the freshman class, but knows the veteran wrestlers will be piloting the team toward its goals of a Big 12 championship and national title.
Senior Earl Hall poses at the team's Media Day on Oct. 20, 2015.Ryan Young/Iowa State Daily
Hall described this offseason as a lot of running instead of being on the mats all the time. The running has allowed him to lose weight but also keep him healthy for the first part of the season.
Iowa State is in the weight room with the mindset that it's the worst team in the Big 12 as motivation to work even harder to earn more respect in the conference. Hall said it’s key to have that mindset, otherwise wrestlers won’t work as hard to become the best.
This year won't be a rebuilding year because the team still has veterans and expects the highest from every wrestler. Wrestling only has 77 Division I teams, which means each team is familiar with one another, so the mentality needs to be strong as ever.
As for the future of this season, Jackson expects a national championship and a Big 12 championship — anything short of that goal is unacceptable. It will take a team effort to reach these lofty goals, but he knows this team is capable of becoming a championship team.
Hall echoed that goal.
“Our goal is to work hard, be national champions and dominate the field,” he said. “Everybody needs to go out there and handle themselves. If they do that, we’ll reach our goals and become champions."