On the Beat: Iowa wrestling greats coaching Iowa State helps revive dormant rivalry

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The best way to revive a dormant rivalry is to divide people’s loyalty on both sides of the series.

Iowa State wrestling no longer is the annual contender it was when Dan Gable and Cael Sanderson wrestled for the Cyclones, or when Jim Gibbons and Bobby Douglas coached at Hilton Coliseum. Iowa State finished tied for 57th at last year’s NCAA Tournament, at least 50 spots below where the program’s history should mandate.

In a state where Hawkeyes and Cyclones compete like the Hatfields and McCoys, Iowa State pulled the unthinkable. Athletics director Jamie Pollard tabbed former Hawkeyes wrestler Kevin Dresser to lead the Cyclones. Then Dresser brought in three other former Hawkeyes as assistants.

It’s not unusual for former Iowa wrestlers to grace the corners in college wrestling. Dan Gable’s tree includes Tom Ryan at Ohio State, Barry Davis at Wisconsin, Jim Heffernan at Illinois, Jim Zalesky at Oregon State and many, many others. But inside the state it’s different. Former Hawkeyes usually don’t land in Ames for wrestling. But this time, the Cyclones needed a boost off the mat and they looked at their neighbors for help.

So in came Dresser, an NCAA champion at Iowa in 1986. Dresser was a successful Virginia high school coach before he replaced current Iowa coach Tom Brands at Virginia Tech in 2006. Dresser was named national coach of the year in 2017 after guiding the Hokies to an 18-1 dual record and a fifth-place showing at nationals.

Dresser’s time away has soothed most irritations Iowa fans might have about him leading the Cyclones. But watching Mike Zadick, Derek St. John and Brent Metcalf assist Dresser forces many black-and-gold Iowans to wince. Zadick was a three-time All-American from 2000-02. St. John was a four-time All-American and won an NCAA title in 2013. Metcalf is regarded as one of the elite wrestlers in Iowa history with two national titles and made three finals appearances in three seasons.

Brands, who won three national titles as an Iowa wrestler and now as coach, would rather chew gravel than give accolades to an opponent, especially a rival. In this case, his emotions tug at him a bit.

“A lot of good memories, some of the best Hawkeye performances have come from that group, two of those guys we coached here to national titles, Metcalf and St. John,” he said. “Three of the four coaches have national championships from Iowa. That’s a tribute to our program.

“I think they did a good job of picking some dang good coaches.”

Many of Iowa’s current wrestlers cheered as Metcalf destroy the competition during their formative years and became Iowa fans in the process. Freshman Carter Happel (141 pounds) admits it will be strange watching his former idol across the mat when the two programs square off Sunday in Ames.

“I grew up watching those guys in Hawks singlets so it was obviously kind of weird to see them go to Iowa State to coach — just weird seeing them in that color,” he said. “But it will be nice to go in there and kind of give something back to them for going to Iowa State.”

Iowa senior Brandon Sorensen, who is ranked No. 2 at 149 pounds, worked out with Metcalf a few years ago. He had little interest in discussing much of the rivalry or ISU’s current staff, but did praise Metcalf.

“He was a good training partner for me, freshman and sophomore years, early years,” Sorensen said. “He was a good guy.”

Freshman Alex Marinelli (13-0), who is ranked No. 2 at 165 pounds, grew up in Ohio and he followed Iowa specifically, not the Cy-Hawk series. He never focused on the rivalry because it hasn’t been one in recent years. Iowa State hasn’t beaten Iowa since 2004, when Marinelli was 6 years old.

“The thing that matters is the wrestlers,” he said. “If you don’t have a good wrestling team, it’s not going to be that fun of a dual meet to watch, I guess. For the Iowa team it will be.”

For Brands, discussing the Cy-Hawk rivalry almost has a clock ticking in the background. Iowa is 11-3 overall and ranked No. 7 this season. Iowa State is 8-9 overall. After about 150 seconds, one almost could hear a figurative “ding.” Then it was on to discussing his team.

“I think from the fans’ point of view, you’re going to have maybe like an upgrade in interest and a lot of talking about what could happen and whatever,” Brands said. “But from my perspective, our focus is always on our guys. It always has been. You’re not going to draw me into that. We’ve got Marinelli, and we’ve got [Spencer] Lee and we’ve got [Michael] Kemerer and we’ve got Sorensen and we’ve got Sam Stoll at heavyweight.”

So there it is. In the midst of Brands’ comments, you could almost read his mind. If Iowa State wants to return as a wrestling power, so be it. But   don’t expect Iowa to make room for the Cyclones, either. 

The post On the Beat: Iowa wrestling greats coaching Iowa State helps revive dormant rivalry appeared first on Land of 10.

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