Zalesky Ready to Get Rolling

It might not feel like it outside, but Iowa wrestling season starts this weekend. Head Coach Jim Zalesky met with the crowd at the team's annual media day on Tuesday. The coach talked about the situation at each weight, including a battle between Matt Fields and Ryan Fuller for the heavyweight spot. Zalesky also addressed question targeted at the state of his program. Everyone can read all about it in this verbatim Q&A from Press Day.

Opening Statement:

I think the theme for this year's team is - We're Building On. To be where we want to be in March, we're trying to get better week by week, month by month, kind of day by day. Every time we go into practice, we feel we've got to get something out of it, get better.

We know we're going to have some experience back. Last year, we had Paul Bradley back. This year we've got four all-Americans back and two guys that have been in the national finals last year. It's just more experience back that have accomplished something. Any time you have that, it helps out in the room with the younger guys.

Last year, we had some young guys in there. We had some good times, good competitions. Toward the end of the year we had some guys that didn't do the job that we wanted them to coming out as freshmen. But you've got to be experienced. I'm a big believer in getting experienced. We got that right now and it's time to build on it.

We're looking to get better week by week, competition by competition. We've got some building blocks to build off of. But to be where we want to be as a team, we have to have other guys step up. They have to step up and be better than they were last year.

If you look at the lineup, who's vying for each spot, at 125 you've got three guys right now - Trent Goodale, Luke Magnani and Charlie Falck, who has a broken foot right now. He'll be back in a month. That's what we're hoping for. We'll see what happens there.

At 133, right now it's kind of up in the air. Gabe Ruhkala is a fifth-year senior. Dan Dennis is a freshman. Probably one of those two guys will probably be in the lineup there.

At 41, Tsirtsis is back. He started out strong last year. He kind of lost some confidence at the end of the year. He's got to turn some things around there, get better on the bottom position. That was his Achilles' heal last year. We know we've got to get better there. We spent some time over the summer, this fall at it.

Ty Eustice is back is back at 49, an all-American. He's been looking good in the room. Being an all-American last year is really going to help him out.

At 57, Joe Johnston is back. He's been kind of on a mission. He wants to be the national champ this year.

At 65, Perry is moving up to 74. That leaves Cole Pape, who two years ago was in there, or Erik Luedke, who was a junior college national champ last year, probably vying for that spot.

Perry is going up to 74. Bradley is back at 84. Fellers is back at 97. At heavyweight, we've got Fields or Fuller probably battling it out there for competition. We'll see what happens in open competition.

That kind of gives you an idea of the lineup. These guys are working hard. If you get the pulse, it's kind of building one team can pull the individual up a lot of times. That's kind of been my theme the last couple of years. We lost sight of that a little bit. We're trying to get that back.

That's where we're at, and we're looking forward to getting going this weekend with multiple competitions to see what happens.


Have you ruled out using freshmen this year?

Not really. We've got some good freshmen in there, but we'll see what happens with some of the older guys. The freshmen guys that came in, the new guys that came in, it's a real good class that we really like a lot as far as a work point of view, what they bring to the room, day in and day out. They're fighting the older guys and making guys better. Sometimes who have freshmen that come in and they kind of let a guy beat on them. These guys fight back. That's important.

You talked about the building. What can these things be built into by March?

Well, you know, we go year by year. Our goal is always to be at the top spot. Sometimes when you're a coach you look at things and say, next year you've got this and next year you've got that. I'm not a big believer in next year. I believe in this year right now. This year coming up, that's what you're working for. If we keep getting better and teach some guys coming up, we're going to challenge for the top.

You guys used to lock of the competition almost before the match even started because teams or individuals feared you. Do you still see that? If not, how do you get that back?

It's how you wrestle. We've been preaching to them that it's how you wrestle on the mat. If you go for seven minutes hard in competition, a lot of your competition doesn't like going seven minutes hard. A lot of guys don't like wrestling a guy like Joe Johnston because he'll go seven minutes hard to matter what the score is.

That's what we're preaching. We want everybody to wrestle like that, seven minutes like that. It doesn't matter what the score is. It doesn't matter if you're behind by eight, ahead by eight. You're wrestling that way the whole time.

Does Fuller have a realistic chance to beat out Fields?

Yeah. You have a redshirt year, Fields has got a redshirt year. Falck has got a redshirt year. Tsirtsis has got a redshirt year. So, if somebody else steps up there and wrestles well, then you have the chance to redshirt.

How much of a possibility is there that these guys will redshirt?

You've got steep competition. When you have steep competition, it's who steps up. The thing about Fields and Fuller is that they're going to be battling the next two years. Will Fields redshirt? I don't know. Fields can redshirt. Fields has got to step up. Fuller had a good spring. He was fourth in the world trials. He worked hard. Last year, they were neck and neck, but Fuller got hurt and was out for about two months. That's why Fields got the spot and took off with it. I told you guys that I'm a big believer in competition and not wrestle offs. You do the job in competition. That's what we're kind of going on now. If we need wrestle offs, we'll have them later before the Arizona State meet.

Is there enough talent in the room to compete with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, teams others are pointing to be the teams to beat? Is the talent there?

I think we've got good ability. We have seven weights that right now look to be pretty solid on paper. But for us to really compete, we have to have 10 weights going, 10 weights that are fighting to be all-Americans and NCAA Champions. The first step is to be all-American. That's the way you're probably going to beat Oklahoma State. They've got five or six pretty solid weights, kind of like we did in 2001. That's the way I look at it. And Minnesota came and had 10 all-Americans. That's kind of what we've got to be fighting for for us to really have a good shot at it.

You else do you see besides Oklahoma State and Oklahoma being in there?

You know, Illinois and Michigan have a lot of points; Minnesota. It's a lot of the same teams as last year in that Top 5 or 6.

How much do you see it as an advantage in having a lot of second year guys back with experience?

I think it's good. I see a lot of potential. Once you've been through a year of anything, you know what to expect a lot more. They know what the competition is like. It's not high school, where you might have a tough guy, every four or five weeks. Now you have good tough guys a lot of times every weekend, maybe two.

How important is the game of hanging and banging?

That's big, too. That takes a long time, too, to develop; realizing that the more physical it is at this level, you're going to have more guys that are tougher on the mat. They're not going to let you go. It's good to learn that. Last year, a lot of the young guys learned that. A lot of it is mental. A lot of it is just up here, too, taking that jump. You expect to win, not hoping to win. Your goals a few years ago were to build up the room to have more bodies. Have you reached that point yet?

Yeah, I think. Last year with the three recruits we had coming in, we got a lot more depth in the room; a lot more guys fighting for positions. A guy like Ryan Morningstar was kind of a good situation this year to redshirt. He's behind Johnston. He's got both Johnston and Eustice to work out with. If we had to use him, he's probably a guy we could use. We don't have to. So, it's good to have that.

How many do you have?

Up in the room? 35 guys. 35, 36.

Is that up?

You know, last year we had 32. I like to have 35 or 36. That's about right what you want. Otherwise you have the room too crowded to wrestle hard. Anywhere from about 35-40 is about right.

More than the numbers, is it important that these guys battle?

No. You have to have guys battling for spots. You've got to have competition, not just for in season but for out of season to get you better. It's I'm sleeping in, this guy is working out. Those types of things. That's something that you have to try to develop. It's hard with 9.9 scholarships, but you try to develop that as much as possible.

What has hurt more over the years? Guys maybe going somewhere like Luther to wrestle than here or other programs or where is it that you've lost that?

It's other programs, but it's also taking a scholarship out of there. That could be two or three guys.

Is it hard to get guys to come in that are maybe marginal and willing to hang around for four years and take a beating?

Not really. A lot depends on their goals. What are their goals coming in? Is there goal to make the team? It depends on what their goals are at this level.

Are there as many of those as there used to be, though?

There is. You've just got to look for them and find them.

When you're building, do you kind of outline goals along the way?

Yeah. Every competition, that's the most important competition at that time. But in the back of our mind, what we're training for, what we're getting ready for is the Big Tens and Nationals. At the same time, when you go into a competition, you want to be ready to compete at that time. I don't think you look at it like "this is it" because it's not it. There's always March. That's what you work for. It would be nice to go undefeated and have every individual win every match, but you're working to get better. Right now we need to get into the room and see where we need to work, where these young guys got to get better. Is it down? Is it on their feet? Where is it at?

How healthy is Fields?

He's pretty healthy. He had the hip operation. But it's not like an old man's hip operation. His hip sockets were too deep. They had to shave the bone off a little bit to give him more mobility. He's got more mobility. He's just got to learn from…he got a lot of bad habits there that he developed because he didn't have that mobility. He's healthy. His muscles might not be 100 percent, but he's probably as healthy as he was last year going in at this time.

He was walking like an old man.

He looked like an old man, but he was limping like an old lady, though. (laughter)

Do you feel good about this team?

Yeah. I like the team chemistry. I like the guys. Last year, there was a new coaching staff that the guys had to get used to. The new guys that came in are good. Chemistry is good. Guys are working hard in the room. One of the guys that I'm big on is not having guys in the room during practice. There's guys working out on their own quiet a bit, who have some high goals. The more you surround yourself with those type of guys, the better you're going to be. They kind of bring each other up. They get on each other, and that's what you need. Last year, one of the things that really hurt us was leadership just because we lost that in the guys that graduated. It took a while for some guys to step in last year and be the leaders. Right now, they've taken on that role. Johnston and Bradley and those guys have taken on that role a lot better this year. And you need that.

For guys to be leaders, do they have to have accomplished something?

That helps. But there are different types of leaders. You can be a leader by example in the room as a hard worker. You can be a verbal leader. You need both of those types of things. Some guys will lead by example. Some guys will lead by their mouth.

Last year, maybe some guys thought Mark Perry talked too much. Do your guys get along?

They get along real good. But Mark Perry does talk a lot. He'll tell you what's on his mind. But some other guys could learn from that. Mark Perry could learn a little bit from the other guys, too. You rub off of each other. But some of the older guys should be talking a lot more than some of the younger guys. It's good, but you'd like to see it from some of the older guys.

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