Dec. 13, 2005
IOWA CITY, IA – The state of Iowa is known for its tall corn, its early presidential caucuses, and its “Field of Dreams.” But when it comes to athletics, the state may be best known for Hawkeye wrestling.
The Iowa wrestling program has been one of the most successful programs – in all of college sports – in NCAA history. Nobody has dominated the sport like Iowa. Since 1974, the Hawks have won 20 national titles. The next five teams in line have won 11 combined. In the past 30 seasons, Iowa ranks first in All-Americans, NCAA points, NCAA finalists, and NCAA individual championships.
And you thought USC football was dominant…
It’s almost unanimous: the Iowa wrestling program is the greatest ever.
To compliment that, some may say the program has the greatest fans ever, too.
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. The Hawkeyes have set the dual meet attendance record 10 times.
The accomplishments on the mat and the accomplishments in the stands go hand-in-hand according to Head Coach Jim Zalesky.
“If you have a great program, you’re going to have great fans. I think the records speak for themselves. The proof is right there in the numbers,” says Zalesky.
Wrestling is big in Iowa. All three public universities in the state have strong traditions. The high school state wrestling meet draws thousands. Wrestling is part of the Iowa culture and helps make Iowa fans the best in the business.
“The tradition is there. It’s a deep, deep tradition. It started way back in the early 1900s and it has built since then,” says Zalesky. “You have some football teams with traditionally great fans like Notre Dame, Iowa and Nebraska. You’ve got some basketball fans that have had that great reputation. But when you think of wrestling, most people think of Iowa first and the fans that we have following us.”
The only program that may question Iowa’s status as the “Greatest of all-time” is Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are second to the Hawkeyes in every major wrestling category since 1974. While Oklahoma State trails by quite a bit in those records, they have outperformed the Hawkeyes in recent years. The Cowboys have beaten Iowa in dual meets eight out of the past nine seasons, with Iowa’s last victory in the series coming in the 1999-2000 season. When Iowa meets Oklahoma State on the mat Jan. 7 in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes will be trying to reclaim their top position.
“Right now, they are probably our biggest rival because they’re the team that’s on top. They’re the ones to beat,” says Zalesky. “They’ve always been one of those teams that has been a big rival. You’ve got the two most storied programs in the history of wrestling and you’re going head to head. It’s always going to be a rivalry no matter what the records are.”
The rivalry has intensified over the past few years. Former Hawkeye Steve Mocco transferred to Oklahoma State after winning an NCAA title at Iowa. Then, Mark Perry, whose uncle is the current head coach at Oklahoma State and whose dad won a wrestling championship as a Cowboy, came to Iowa. Perry is currently a sophomore and was a national runner-up at 165 pounds last season.
Now that the rivalry is at its highest point in history, the athletic department is calling on all Iowa fans to “Pack the Place” on Jan. 7 when the Hawkeyes and Cowboys square off in Iowa City. Wrestling officials want to break the dual meet attendance record of 15,646 set in 2002 when Iowa wrestled at Minnesota.
According to Zalesky, breaking this record has been a goal of the wrestling program for quite some time.
“One of the things we’ve wanted to do is get the dual meet record at home. Yea, we got the record on the road, but Minnesota can tout it like they got the record. We want to break that record,” says Zalesky. “They wouldn’t have done it without Iowa being there. Most records are set with Iowa in the picture.”
Breaking the attendance record will be tough to do. It will be tough to get to 15,647 fans, considering Carver holds only 15,500. How will the program break the attendance record?
“When we get to the meet we’re going to try to boost the capacity. We’ll try to get another couple hundred people in there. Whatever it takes to break the record,” says Zalesky.
Hawkeye fans have always been appreciated by the wrestling program. Not only have been records been broken, set, and broken again, but fans have helped the program win hundreds of meets over the years at Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. A big turnout against Oklahoma State could be the difference in helping the Hawkeyes knock off the Cowboys.
“When you’re at home and you’ve got a packed house, it gets you fired up,” says Zalesky. “I remember when I wrestled here, the fans could get your fired up in a big match. When the score is close and it’s a tough match, a lot of times the fans can get your juices going. The fans definitely make a difference.”
Fans can order tickets for “Pack the Place” against Oklahoma State on Jan. 7 by calling 1-800-IA-HAWKS or by going online at www.hawkeyesports.com. Tickets are $10 apiece.
By Brett Roberts, Iowa Sports Information