Nov. 9, 2005
IOWA CITY, IA – Iowans love wrestling. Sure, they enjoy football, basketball, volleyball and the rest, but they seriously love wrestling. Wrestling is to Iowa what hockey is to Minnesota and what football is to Texas. Without question, the sport of wrestling is more synonymous with Iowans than any other group of people in the country.
– Of the 35 most highly attended dual meets in college wrestling history, the University of Iowa has been part of all 35.
– Iowa has wrestled in 44 of the 47 college dual meets with attendances over 10,000.
– Iowa has set the dual meet attendance record 10 times – the last time in 2002 when 15,646 saw Iowa wrestle Minnesota.
The numbers speak for themselves – Iowans love wrestling.
UI student Brian Fleshner has been a lifelong fan of Hawkeye wrestling. The 21-year-old junior grew up watching the Gable-coached Iowa squads dominate during the `80s and `90s. Like other Iowa wrestling fans, November is an exciting month for Fleshner because it marks the beginning of another wrestling season.
“I’m incredibly excited for the season!” said Fleshner of the 2005-06 season. “Every year there is so much potential with the Iowa program because we have such a great tradition. This year is no different. Carver will be a fun place to be for wrestling meets this year.”
The loyalty that Hawkeye fans have shown to the Iowa wrestling program over the years has not gone unnoticed. Coach Jim Zalesky says his wrestlers and coaches always appreciate the support they get from fans at home and on the road.
2005 NCAA finalist Mark Perry is moving up to 174 pounds for his sophomore season.
“We appreciate them a lot,” said Zalesky of Iowa fans. “We know what other schools draw. When we go to other schools and they have 1,500 people there, that’s not really a big crowd for us, but then they will announce it is the school’s largest crowd ever. Then I think guys realize what they have here and how much they appreciate it.”
Iowa fans have many reasons to be excited for the 2005-06 season. The Iowa program returns eight of 10 starters from a team that finished seventh at the NCAA meet last season. Four of the returnees are all-Americans and two were NCAA finalists. With a loaded roster, the Hawkeyes hope to compete for some serious hardware this year. But isn’t that the case every year?
“Our expectation for this program is always to be number one,” said Zalesky. “I think a lot of people might call us crazy because Oklahoma State has such a good team coming back, but our goal is to get back on top. That’s what we’re working for and that’s what we’re striving for. You can’t say, `We have to wait until next year.’ That’s not our philosophy here. We’re always gunning for this year.”
Senior Paul Bradley is a two-time all-American at 184 pounds.
Last season was one of highs and lows for Zalesky and the Hawkeyes. That team had lost four all-Americans from the season before and had to start seven newcomers. The low: the team finished fourth at the conference meet. That was the lowest finish since 1967. The high: the team wrestled best at the end of the season, finishing seventh at the NCAA meet.
“I think going into last year we didn’t know exactly what kind of team we would have. We didn’t really have a lot of options,” said the ninth year head coach. “At the end of the year, at the national tournament, I think most of the guys wrestled up to their capability. We were close last year in a lot of situations, but close doesn’t win it.”
This season Iowa hopes to contend for number one again at the NCAA meet. In addition to the eight returnees from last season, the Iowa program has nine newcomers that will help the Hawkeyes get back on top. Zalesky is unsure whether the first-year student-athletes will make an impact on the mat right away, but he is confident they will help other wrestlers get better.
“I think this group has been a real good one as far as work habits go,” said Zalesky. “They’ve got high goals. I don’t know if they’ll benefit us much on the mat this year, but I think they’ll benefit us by pushing the other guys in the room. I think these guys can bring an attitude to the room and a good work ethic. That will help our team overall.”
Senior Ty Eustice earned his first all-America honor at 149 pounds last season.
Iowa opens the season with two open meets. On Sunday, Iowa will wrestle in the Spartan Classic in Dubuque. Then on Saturday, Nov. 19, the Hawkeyes will wrestle in the Kaufman-Brand Open in Omaha. After the open meets, the coaching staff should know how the lineup will look as they prepare for dual meets at the end of the month.
Even with a lot of talent returning, Zalesky says every wrestler will have to earn his spot in the lineup. The seniors, led by Ty Eustice, Joe Johnston, and Paul Bradley, hope to leave their mark on Hawkeye wrestling before they leave Iowa City.
“A lot of our seniors seem to be on a mission. I think they realize that this is their last opportunity. I think they’ve come in better prepared for practice,” said Zalesky.
Iowa fans across the state have high hopes for this year’s team. It has been six seasons since the Iowa program has brought home the NCAA team championship. Through the first few weeks of pre-season training, Zaleksy believes the Hawkeyes are on the right track for a good year.
“I think we’ve looked, overall, very good,” said Zalesky. “When we’ve had practices they’ve been putting forth a lot of effort. That’s what we’re looking for this time of the year. The preseason has gone very well.”
By Brett Roberts, Iowa Sports Information