Foundation in Place for ISU Wrestlers

Iowa State faced the hard reality of life after Cael Sanderson and Joe Heskett last season, slumping to an 8-10 mark in dual meets, finishing fifth at the conference meet and 19th overall at Nationals. Recruiting mistakes, academic casualties and the lack of experience at key spots cost Bobby Douglas' team a season after losing two of the greatest wrestlers in school history.

But this is a new year, and the Cyclones are making adjustments and gearing up for another season with a young nucleus of athletes.

"We were blessed and cursed," said Douglas at Tuesday afternoon's media day. "We had the best of times and the worst of times. The great blue-chippers aren't going to follow in the footsteps in the weight classes that are loaded. We were loaded for about four years at a couple of weight classes. It did slow us down. In recruiting, sometimes you have to be real lucky. We weren't lucky at a couple of situations and paid for it. I think we're on track now with our recruiting.

"We've changed our training to deal with the new academic standards. We won't be in the kind of shape that people are used to seeing us in early in the season. That won't come until later."

Although the Cyclones return 133-pound senior Zach Roberson, a two-time All-American and 29-match winner last season, and impressive 165-pound junior Nick Passolano (20-12 in 2002-03), they are a young team overall. Douglas hopes a pair of sophomores and trio of redshirt freshmen are at the foundation of future success.

Nate Gallick (141) Grant Nakamura (125) won 17 and 16 matches, respectively, and figure to improve this year as sophomores. Travis (157) and Trent Paulson (149) will step into the starting lineup as redshirt freshmen, as will 184-pounder Kurt Backes.

"I'm hoping that Nakamura, Gallick and those freshmen (will be surprises)," Douglas said. "If they do well, we're back into the hunt for a title down the road. We're probably not a national title threat this year, but we're working towards that."

What Douglas is hoping for, however, is some improvement on last season's finishes at the conference and national meets. But with an early-season workout regimen lighter than in the past, it's difficult for him to say if that will become a reality.

"We want to be in the top two in the conference and top six in the nation for the long range," he said. "That's very optimistic. Right now, if you do the math, you'll see that we're maybe a top-15 team. That's why it's hard for me to look at a sixth ranking and feel real good about it. It's nice, but it's not realistic to rank us that high at this stage of the game.

"But the thing that makes me so optimistic about these guys is they have a good work ethic, are focusing on the academics and are good citizens. They're the type of individuals that will put in the extra work to get better. They're going to play their cards, and play them hard and fast."

This unit will be hard-pressed to find success, at least early in the season, when it will face the likes of Iowa, Lehigh and Minnesota in non-conference dual meets. The Big 12 slate does not figure to be a cakewalk, either.

"We have a very difficult dual meet season early on. We have to make adjustments as we go along. (The schedule) is a nightmare. We have the same situation as football and basketball. It's really tough.

"We're ranked fourth in the Big 12 behind Missouri, Oklahoma State and Nebraska. It's a very competitive conference. Missouri has the best team it's ever had; Oklahoma State has one of the best teams they've ever had; and Nebraska has a very good team. We're in the mix and hopefully by the end of the year we'll be on top."

ISU opens the regular season on Nov. 7, hosting Minnesota State and Boston at Hilton Coliseum.

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