By Rob Gray
AMES — Iowa State wrestler Michael Moreno bristles at the compliment.
His coach, Kevin Jackson, knows that — but nonetheless insists the 165-pound junior all-American from Urbandale is coming off the most stirring one-year turnaround in program history.
“He kind of gets upset that we keep saying (that),” Jackson said Thursday during the team’s annual media day gathering.
“Well, because you have to start really low and go really high and nobody likes to start that low,” said Moreno, who went from four wins in 2011-12 to 30 triumphs last season while helping ISU return to national prominence. “It’s more or less just something I’d like to forget. And I think that’s why I did so well last year, because I could forget about it. And now it’s like, ‘Hey, remember that crappy year you had? Well, you had a really good one.’”
Next planned step: Greatness.
And that goes for Moreno — who’s ranked fourth at 165 by InterMat — and the rest of the preseason No. 8 Cyclones.
ISU returns a well-connected pair of all-Americans in Moreno and 197-pounder Kyven Gadson and three more qualifiers in Tanner Weatherman (174), Boaz Beard (184) and Luke Goettl, who has bumped up from 141 to 149.
Both Beard and Weatherman fell one win short of all-American honors last season and draw motivation from narrowly missing the podium.
“It’s my last go-around,” said Beard, a senior who once spent a summer playing baseball — of all things — for Division II Emporia (Kan.) State. “I can almost taste it. I’ve been focused on that all summer and working hard, putting the work in. Now all I have to do is go out and grab it.”
That attitude exemplifies the sea change that took place in the program from 2011-12 to 2012-13.
The Cyclones failed to produce an all-American for the first time in school history at the 2012 NCAA Championships and finished 35th.
Moreno went 4-13 as his team struggled.
His dramatic improvement mirrored the larger one that emerged from the rest of the room.
“We had this ‘boom’ and especially came out strong at the end and so did I,” Moreno said. “So a lot of parallels.”
Major improvements, too.
Jackson — a two-time world champion and 1992 Olympic Gold medalist — said confidence returned and accountability rose.
“You can see the change in mentality,” Jackson said. “You can feel the change in the way they carry themselves and you know that the expectations of themselves and their teammates is high. I think that’s one of the bigger changes, too — that now we have athletes that have an expectation of their teammate that wasn’t probably there two years ago.”
Case in point: The call out.
Gadson, who’s ranked third a his weight, said Moreno did just that when the former seemed to be going through the motions a couple times during preseason workouts.
“If anybody sees someone slacking, we need to call them out, whether it’s a freshman calling out a senior or a senior calling out a sophomore,” said Gadson, who won all 15 of his dual matches last season and dealt with the death of his father, Willie,a two-time ISU all-American. “It’s just one of those things as a team you need if you want to be great. So I definitely thank Mike for that.”
From down-and-out to calling out.
That’s quite a turn-a-you-know-what — one’s that still pointed upward.
“In kind-of ironic fashion, it would just be nice to win a national title,” Moreno said. “And then and only then is it OK to look back and go, ‘Just two years ago, Moreno only won four matches. Now he’s the national champ.’ That’s when it’s OK.”
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