Wrestlers Riding a High

A lot has happened to the Iowa State wrestling program since it closed out last season. Former undefeated, four-time NCAA champion Cael Sanderson won an Olympic Gold Medal, then was subsequently hired on as an assistant coach under Bobby Douglas in Ames. That excitement can already be seen in what could be the nation's best recruiting class for next season.

This year's Cyclones are hoping to continue the momentum created over the summer months with a strong showing on the mat. They return nine of 10 wrestlers from a season ago, including four All-Americans and one conference champion. The only loss is national champion Zach Roberson.

Douglas is as excited as he's been in any of 12 seasons on the job at ISU.

"This is really an exciting year for us," said Douglas during Thursday's media day. "There is a lot of momentum about wrestling, because of the Olympic Games and Cael Sanderson's performance. It's generated a lot of energy about wrestling. The President and administration want to see wrestling go to the next level. That's what our plan is.

"There is a lot of positive energy around the program right now. We had a very successful preseason. The attitude of the team is terrific. I'm not one for making predictions, but I do believe that this team will be very competitive at the end of the year."

The Cyclones may not have the five national finalists Oklahoma State could have, but what they do have is balance and scoring power throughout all 10 weights. Nate Gallick is the team's lone returning conference champion last season at 141 pounds. Travis Paulson (157) and Kurt Backes (184), a pair of sophomores, return after All-American showings.

Heavyweight All-American Scott Coleman is looking to improve on his eighth-place NCAA showing as a senior. Douglas is also excited in the potential of the other six wrestlers who fill out his lineup.

"We have some talent, probably more talent as a team than we've had in a long time," Douglas said. "We have some guys that are pretty determined. They've set long-range goals and worked to achieve those. They're young, but very good. We have some very talented young people that are improving more technically than any team we've had.

"We have some leadership to go along with that youth, with Coleman, (Nick) Passolano, and Trevor Smith. Those seniors provide us with leadership that we haven't had in a long time."

Despite facing a heavier schedule in the month of November, ISU's intentions are still to peak late in the season. Douglas' team hosts duals against Pittsburgh (Nov. 12) and Arizona State (Nov. 28). But it will also take part in two other events inside the state's borders, traveling to Council Bluffs this Sunday to face Upper Iowa, and to Fort Dodge on Nov. 13 for the Harold Nichols Open. A trip to the Utah Valley State Open is also on the agenda.

"We have to score points, and that's the key for everything we do," Douglas said. "We want to go out there and see what our offense is like. In the early season you want to fire as many bullets as you can, and get things in order for March."

But outside of the competitive schedule, ISU will focus mostly on academics.

"We did that for a number of reasons," Douglas said. "We didn't focus on the physical part in the preseason, because we ran into some academic problems and we believe it was because we stressed the physical preparation so much in November. We backed away from that. Once we get the academics and get past the first semester, we'll put the pedal to the metal.

"We've changed our training cycle. We're not going to be in real good shape at the beginning of the year, but as the season goes on, we'll develop into a very competitive team. Our goal is to win the conference tournament and make a run at the national title. The team possesses the ability to do that."

With the exception of a pair of weight classes, the Cyclones' lineup appears to be set. Passolano and Travis Paulson appear headed for some wrestle-offs for the spot at 165 pounds. The two will face each other at least twice, including the Sunkist Open, says Douglas. The loser of that battle will move up to challenge Grant Turner for the starting job at 174 pounds.

PROJECTED LINEUP

125 – Grant Nakamura
133 – Jesse Sundell
141 – Nate Gallick
149 – Aron Scott
157 – Trent Paulson
165 – Nick Passolano or Travis Paulson
174 – Grant Turner or Passolano/Travis Paulson
184 – Kurt Backes
197 – Trevor Smith
HWT – Scott Coleman


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