This leaves a relatively inexperienced Cyclone team finding their way in a tough Big 12 Conference just one season after the program caught the nation's attention.
"Obviously there was a lot of stress and it was a special season," said ISU coach Bobby Douglas Thursday at the team's annual media day. "It was very stressful for us, but it was a good stress. We needed that type of publicity for our program and wrestling needed it also. Things have settled down considerably. The pressure that was on the entire program was enormous and we're relieved that it's over.
"We have a major rebuilding effort, in that we have to replace five people. That's 50 percent of the team, which means we're going to have to work our fannies off to get back to respectability. What will it be like? I'll just have to wait and see. It's going to be a tremendous challenge for our coaching staff and team. We'd like to not put a lot of pressure on the young people coming into the program, but some of them are going to have to step up."
The Cyclones have been picked to finish fifth in the Big 12, and oddly enough, were ranked fifth nationally by a poll.
"I think we're over-ranked, but we hope that we can exceed that," Douglas said. "Our goal is to always do better than our ranking. Realistically, we don't have a shot at the national title but we're building towards that in the future."
Douglas and the coaching staff will lean heavily on returning national champion and Big 12 title-winner Aaron Holker, a 141-pounder who posted a 32-7 mark last season. The Brigham Young transfer made the jump to ISU prior to the 2001-02 season and wasted no time emerging as one of the team's top performers.
Now he finds himself as the top returning wrestler on a team without the likes of Sanderson and Heskett. Holker expects that this team will eventually pick up where it left off last March.
"There's going to be more pressure than last year and we're not going to have all of the attention on Cael and Joe like we did," he said. "There is always going to be pressure there. But Bobby Douglas has been around for a while and we've had a tradition here at Iowa State. We always have a tough team and practice hard. The practices are the same, it's just that the people are different. We're always going to have a good team, because the way our practices are and the way we train. We're going to beat them with conditioning."
Holker is joined by fellow NCAA qualifer and All-American Zach Roberson, who finished seventh at nationals at 133 pounds. The junior accomplished all this and recorded a 22-11 overall mark despite the lingering effects of two knee surgeries.
Roberson's health has improved this fall and that's good news for Douglas.
"It's time for Roberson," Douglas said. "He's been in the program for quite a while and is one of our captains. Obviously, we're going to be relying on Roberson a great deal. This should be a good year for him. He's not totally injury-free, but he's a lot healthier than he's been."
Roberson, Holker and 184-pounder Austen Palmer are picking up the leadership void left over from key departures.
"It's new to me, definitely, and I'm kind of learning how to become a leader," Roberson said. "I'm not a real vocal person, but I'm definitely learning. Aaron, Austen and I like it, though. We're trying to teach these younger guys and get them ready as soon as possible.
"We've got a bunch of young guys. We might struggle at the beginning of the year, but when it comes down to it they'll all step up in the end with some good experience. I think we can surprise some people."
Douglas is still taking the same approach as in previous seasons—getting good experience from dual meets early in the season and peaking during February and March.
"When you're dealing with as many new people in the lineup as I'll be dealing with, you have to be patient," he said. "I've been down that road before. I'm not an impatient person and would like to see results in a hurry. But, realistically, we know what we're working with. It will take us some time."
Projected Starting Lineup:
125- Ty Malia (JR; Billings, Mont.)
133- Zach Roberson (JR; Overland Park, Kan.)
141- Aaron Holker (SR; Orem, Utah)
149- Nate Gallick (R-FR; Tucson, Ariz.)
157- Nathan Meyer (JR; Wellman, Iowa)
165- Nick Passolano (SO; New Lenox, Ill.)
174- Nels Matson (R-FR; Ames, Iowa)
184- Austen Palmer (SR; Durham, N.C.)
197- Woodley Milord (SO; Orange, N.J.) or Trevor Smith (JR; Longview, Wash.)
HWT- Wade McLeod (SO; Muscatine, Iowa) or Joe Brewer (R-FR; Dallas Center, Iowa)