In case you haven’t heard, Iowa State is in rebuild mode. The program that once produced some of our sports biggest stars has fallen out of the conversation of an annual title contender to a point where Head Coach Kevin Dresser would probably be happy putting a couple guys on the podium in 2019. But it’s also an exciting time for the program.

After seven years of being led by alum Kevin Jackson, the team got a breath of fresh air when Athletic Director Jamie Pollard flew to Blacksburg, Virginia to pluck Dresser out of a budding Virginia Tech program to lead the Cyclones. During his time in charge of the Hokies, Dresser developed a team that could consistently contend for team trophies basically from scratch.

Naturally when a coach of that caliber is brought into lead a team with the type of history that Iowa State has people are going to get excited.

Photo: Cam Kramer | IAwrestle

One of those wrestlers excited to be a part of the Cyclone rebuild is none other than Valley-West Des Moines product Joel Shapiro,He was one of the first major recruits Dresser landed as Cyclone head coach, and while it’s still early he looks to be the first of many big names to come into the program.

“It’s very exciting to be part of it.” Shapiro said, “Iowa State fans are hungry for success again. It won’t be overnight but it is coming.”

Whether by design or not, Shapiro is already echoing the same thoughts that Dresser has been repeating on the length of time the turn around this program will need to get back to the top. That’s not to say an athlete repeating the “party line” is a bad thing either; if anything, it shows that Dresser has been very up front with the future of his program, and recruits are still buying in.

This past season all were able to bare witness at how far the team needs to come. There was individual bright spots, like freshman Ian Parker beating a two-time NCAA champion on the road or another freshman Jarrett Degen qualifying for the NCAA championships. However, the team also took its lumps this past year. After the coaching change wrestlers leaving the team totaled in the double digits, which now includes former starters Markus Simmons, Kanen Storr, and Colston DiBlasi.

Despite all the hardship, there is still an upbeat feeling at where Iowa State is headed. A large part of that is looking at what the future holds and there is no better way to gauge future success than to examine a team’s recruiting class. That’s one area the Cyclones thrived this past season.

Each year IAwrestle ranks the top 50 wrestlers in the state of Iowa, ordering wrestlers regardless of class or weight. Over the past year Dresser managed to sign nine of the state’s top 50 wrestlers in the class of 2018, and he has already secured the verbal commitment from the class of 2019’s top wrestler – Aden Reeves. Recently national media sites Flowrestling and The Open Mat rated ISU’s 2018 recruiting class with both sites listing the Cyclones in the top 15, with TOM giving them the highest ranking at #10.

Having a successful recruiting class is another step in the positive direction for Iowa State and is just one of the many reasons why fans, and even the athletes, are excited about what’s happening in Ames. Shapiro was one of the first wrestlers to take the leap and commit to Iowa State, making his verbal announcement in early July of his senior year. Since making his decision Shapiro has only seen more evidence that Iowa State is right place for him.

“In a word: enthusiasm.” Shapiro responded when asked what has been the biggest change he has noticed with the program since announcing his commitment. “Everywhere there is enthusiasm. In the room. From the coaches. From the fans. That translates into motivation and dedication. This sport demands both in order to be successful. You have to want to be there and want to do what it takes.”

Getting Shapiro on board was a landmark moment for Dresser and his staff. For starters, Shapiro was the first big name that they had brought into his recruiting class. Second, Shapiro was a member of a very talented 2018 class in the state of Iowa. Once Shapiro committed it created a domino effect that ended with double digit in-state preps signing on, including Iowa City West’s Francis Duggan, Valley’s Grant Stotts, and Glenwood’s Anthony Sherry.

One of the many reasons why Shapiro is excited to begin his career at Iowa State is the fact that many of the wrestlers he grew up with will now be his teammates for the next five years.

“I think it’s great. I’ve known, trained with or competed against a lot of these guys for years and years.” Shapiro said, “I think it will make team building all the easier. I think instate wrestlers have a stake in rebuilding the Iowa State program, and vice-versa.”

Shapiro faces Brandon Whitman at NOC3 in Iowa City

If anyone is going to help Iowa State get back on top its Shapiro, who underwent a transformation in the middle of his high school career. Two years ago he was a wrestler in the middle of the pack of what we now know is a very good group of 2018 wrestlers. Then, sometime around the end of his sophomore year, things started clicking and since then we have witnessed a true transformation.

Thanks to a hefty competition schedule, Shapiro climbed the rankings ladder going from outside the top 100 recruits for his grade to consensus top 50, and the #1 ranked wrestler at 182 pounds, according to TOM. Shapiro cited some of his progression was the benefit of his relentless pursuit of seeking out the nation’s top wrestlers by attending every major tournament, dual, or event possible.

“One of the biggest factors is year around training.” Shapiro said on how he was able to make the jump. “That means showing up for open mats, getting in the weight room, and clubs like Pablo Ubasa’s. That means traveling to find the best competition in the country like Disney Duals, Agony in Ames, Night of Conflict, Pittsburgh Classic, UWW and USAW events like Regionals, Junior Duals, and Fargo.”

Another factor for Shapiro’s success came from the support he received from his mentors.

“During the season I was lucky to have top notch coaches at Valley like Young, Cobb, and Dyer. Another key factor in postseason training is finding a mentor to wrestle one-on-one where the focus is on what you do as opposed to a group. Back in middle school that mentor was Al Garrison. In high school that mentor was Dion Cobb in-season and Chad Lowman (currently coaching at Grandview) off-season.”

Finally, Shapiro also mentioned that another big benefit for his career has been attending practices at Iowa State’s USA Wrestling affiliated club – the Cyclone Regional Training Center. It was there that Shapiro was able to hone his skills working with high level athletes and a staff already equipped with the tools to prepare him for the next level.

“The C-RTC is an extremely valuable resource for central Iowa wrestlers. You get to learn from Senior level wrestlers, college wrestlers, and a college staff. For me that experience was key in my decision to choose Iowa State.”

Before beginning his career with the Cyclones there is still at least one more item left on Shapiro’s high school bucket list: win a national title. Later this summer Shapiro will compete at USA Wrestling’s Freestyle National Championships one final time. He’s taken seventh in each of the last two summers at the event, but coming in as his weight’s #1 ranked wrestler, Shapiro is hoping to change all of that.

“Ending my high school career with a Fargo title would not only be a perfect end, bu it would also be a good milestone for me to see how far I’ve come. It’s always nice to go out on top.”

By Ross Bartachek (@rossbchek)

Lead Editor of IA Wrestle