2003-04 Season Outlook

Sept. 25, 2003

By Traci Wagner

Timing is everything. University of Iowa Head Wrestling Coach Jim Zalesky and his staff plan to reintroduce that concept to the 2003-04 squad with hopes of positive results.

“One of our goals for this season is to wrestle our best at the right time,” explained Zalesky. “Last year we had a great season up until the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. Normally we emphasize the tournament season in our program, but for whatever reason we faded when we normally come on. The dual season is important, but we want to be wrestling our best at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.”

With a wealth of inexperienced wrestlers returning, many did not have high expectations for Iowa in 2002-03. The Hawkeyes opened a lot of eyes, however, during the regular season, starting with their 24-11 win over defending national champion Minnesota in November. Iowa went on to beat the Gophers two more times (18-18 on criteria at the Cliff Keen/NWCA National Duals and 22-18 on Valentine’s Day in Iowa City), compiling a 17-3 overall record. The Hawkeyes’ lone losses were on the road to eventual national champion Oklahoma State (24-15), Oklahoma (18-18 on criteria) at the National Duals and Michigan State (19-19 on criteria). Iowa won the conference dual title with its 7-1 Big Ten record.

“We have to work our way back up,” said Zalesky. “One step at a time. Our first target is the Big Ten title, then the NCAA title.”
Head Coach Jim Zalesky

Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes did not take regular season momentum into the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. Iowa placed second to Minnesota at the Big Ten Championships in Madison, WI, marking the third-straight year that the Hawkeyes did not take home the team title. The Hawkeyes’ fortune did not improve at the NCAA Championships in Kansas City, MO, placing eighth in the team race – their lowest finish since 1972. A few bright spots in Iowa’s post-season were junior Steve Mocco’s Big Ten and NCAA titles at heavyweight, along with senior Cliff Moore (133) and former-Hawkeye Jessman Smith’s (184) Big Ten titles and all-America finishes.

“We have to work our way back up,” said Zalesky. “One step at a time. Our first target is the Big Ten title, then the NCAA title.”

A key component for Iowa’s return to wrestling dominance will be the performances of six returning starters – five of whom were NCAA qualifiers. Mocco, the 2003 Big Ten Wrestler of the Year and Iowa’s first heavyweight to win a Big Ten and NCAA title in the same season since Lou Banach (1983), will be absent from the roster. Mocco will take an Olympic redshirt year to train for the 2004 games in Athens, Greece.

2003 Big Ten Champion and two-time all-American Cliff Moore will lead the Hawkeyes at 133.

Returning for the Hawkeyes is an experienced group of seniors in Moore, Luke Eustice (125), Tyler Nixt (174) and Ryan Fulsaas (197). Moore, a two-time all-American, was 31-9 last season. Eustice, a runner-up finisher at the 2002 NCAA Championships, went 23-8. Nixt was 27-6 and 8-0 in Big Ten duals, while Fulsaas went 21-12. Both Nixt and Fulsaas are looking for their first all-America honor and conference title this season. While each has seniority at their weights, Zalesky notes that several Hawkeyes will be pushing them for a varsity spot.

Sophomores Ty Eustice (149) and Joe Johnston (157) each had outstanding freshman campaigns, and Zalesky expects to convert their experience to more individual wins. Eustice went 29-9 and placed second at the Big Ten tournament, while Johnston went 33-15 after joining the varsity lineup in January. Redshirt freshmen Ryan Fuller and Chad Barkalow will compete for the heavyweight spot. Fuller went 17-4 while wrestling unattached last year, and looks to be a strong contender.

All-American Luke Eustice returns at 125.

Iowa will need to fill gaps at 141, 165 and 184. Redshirt freshman Todd Meneely is the leading contender at 141. The four-time state champion from Omaha, NE, went 18-1 unattached last season. Sophomore Paul Bradley from Tama, IA, will fill in at 184 after wrestling at 197 last season. As many as six Hawkeyes will contend for the 165-pound spot, a weight where Iowa won only one match in 20 duals last season. Senior Jason D’Agata has the most experience, going 6-16 last season. Sophomores Adam Fellers and Cole Pape, as well as redshirt freshmen Jase Clark and Mark Mueller will also compete for the spot. True freshman Mark Perry, from Stillwater, OK, may also be a factor, if he does not take a redshirt season.

Iowa’s incoming class to date includes three strong competitors. Perry won the 2003 Dan Hodge Junior Trophy, which is an award given annually to the nation’s most dominant high school wrestler, and was a two-time national prep champion. He is also the nephew of Oklahoma State Head Wrestling Coach John Smith. Brad Medchill of Woodlands, TX, was a 2003 state champion and should weigh in at 149. Ruben Chavez of West Liberty was a two-time state placewinner, and will provide depth at 125.

The 2003-04 schedule features six home duals. The dual season opens November 25 in Blue Earth, MN, against Minnesota State and Southwest State. That meet will be a homecoming for the Eustice brothers, who hail from Blue Earth. The Hawkeyes will host Northern Iowa (December 11), defending NCAA Champion Oklahoma State (January 11), Northwestern (January 17), Penn State (January 30), Michigan State (February 1) and Ohio State (February 20). The Big Ten Championships are set for March 6-7 in Columbus, OH, with the NCA Championships March 18-20 in St. Louis, MO.

Here is a weight-by-weight breakdown of the Hawkeye squad:

125 Pounds

Luke Eustice is the front-runner, but will be pushed by five young teammates. Sophomore Matt Morkel posted an 8-9 record last season, while redshirt freshman Jeff Pfaffinger went 7-6 while competing unattached. Newcomers Chavez and Lucas Magnani will provide depth.

133 Pounds

Moore has the edge on the starting spot, but will be challenged by junior Trent Goodale, who went 16-9 last season.

141 Pounds

Meneely is the leading contender here, but will face competition from junior Ned Shuck and junior transfer Theo White. Shuck went 5-5 last season, while White has competed for North Idaho College the past two seasons.

149 Pounds

Ty Eustice has the competitive edge, but will have to work to stay ahead of seven other Hawkeyes wanting mat time. Junior Chas DeVetter wrestled against Oklahoma State last season while Eustice was injured, and could be a likely challenger. Redshirt freshmen Alex Grunder, Brett Stedman and Anthony Watson have a year under their belts while newcomers Medchill, Joe Drennan and Gabe Ruhkala will also provide depth.

157 Pounds

While Johnston is the front runner, he will have to hold off junior Cory Connell and a group of redshirt freshmen. Connell went 10-4 last season, while redshirted Oleg Polyatskiy, Ben Stedman and Joe Uker saw action while competing unattached. Newcomer Ryan Knight will also be in the mix.

165 Pounds

This weight is wide open for the six Hawkeye mentioned above to battle for. Redshirt freshman Jacob Smith, who went 6-7 while competing unattached last year, will also provide depth.

174 Pounds

Nixt will be backed up by sophomore Adam Fellers. Fellers posted a 10-9 record last season, which included two dual meets at 165 pounds.

184 Pounds

Bradley is currently the lone wrestler at this weight class.

197 Pounds

Fulsaas is currently the lone wrestler at this weight class.


With Mocco taking an Olympic redshirt, Fuller looks to be the leading contender. Barkalow will provide depth.