Eight Cyclone wrestlers are in St. Louis to compete in the 2021 NCAA Championships, beginning Thursday.
The championship is the first in two years since the 2020 NCAA Championships were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s this pent-up excitement and energy from not having a tournament last year and then all the craziness this year,” redshirt senior Ian Parker said.
Iowa State Head Coach Kevin Dresser said because of the shortened season, some wrestlers may surprise some in certain weight classes and it's fortunate there even is a championship this season.
“I think we're fortunate," Dresser said. "I think all of us agree that, hopefully, we're on the backside of [the pandemic]...If we pull off this tournament, knock on wood, I think with results, I think what you'll see if you pick up the paper Sunday morning, you're going to see some names there that you didn't expect to see, placed top eight at each weight just because there's been so few opportunities for guys to compete."
Iowa State has three wrestlers in the Championships that won at least one conference title — Parker at 141 pounds, redshirt sophomore David Carr at 157 and redshirt senior Gannon Gremmel at heavyweight.
Carr, the No. 3 seed at 157, begins his tournament with a match against No. 30 Markus Hartman from Army, while Parker (the No. 7 seed) wrestles the No. 26 seed Colin Valdiviez from Northwestern, while Gremmel is the No. 6 seed and wrestles the No. 27 seed Zach Knighton-Word from Hofstra.
Redshirt junior Marcus Coleman (197) and redshirt seniors Jarrett Degen (149 pounds) and Sam Colbray (184 pounds) are also in the championships.
Coleman (the 21st seed) has an opening-round match against 12th-seeded Lucas Davison from Northwestern, while Degen (the 18th seed) wrestles 15th-seeded Griffin Parriott from Purdue and Colbray (the 29th seed) wrestles fourth-seeded Parker Keckeisen from Northern Iowa.
Some of these Cyclones have wrestled in the NCAA Championships before.
Colbray, Coleman, Degen, Gremmel and Parker all wrestled in the 2019 NCAA Championships, with Degen having the most success, finishing seventh place.
The last two times one or more Cyclones have wrestled in the NCAA Championships in St. Louis, one of them has brought home a title, with Jake Varner winning at 197 pounds in 2009 and Kyven Gadson winning at 197 in 2015.
Carr is the highest-seeded wrestler Iowa State has at No. 3. Carr is 15-0 this season.
Dresser said Carr can’t afford to overlook anybody even with his continued success this season.
“Well, obviously, at this level, first and foremost, the thing is you can't look ahead because there are 32 other really good guys in his weight, so you can't look ahead,” Dresser said. “He's got some of the best offense in all of division one wrestling, not just at 157. So you don't want to go into this weekend and hold your cards. It's time to play your cards.”
After the Big 12 Championships, Carr said he has dreamed of wrestling at the NCAA Championships.
Beginning Thursday, he and seven other Cyclones have the opportunity to do so.
“I’m just excited, I'm just ready to wrestle to show you what I got and to go out there and wrestle every match,” Carr said.
It should be noted that his dad, Nate Carr, was a three-time NCAA champion at Iowa State (1981-1983).
Iowa State has two freshmen in the championships as well — Zach Redding at 133 pounds and Kysen Terukina at 125 pounds.
Redding automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships by finishing in the top five (third) at 133 in the Big 12 Championships, while Terukina qualified by earning an at-large bid.
“Zach's got a lot of swagger for a young guy, he likes to compete and he's not afraid of anybody or anything,” Dresser said.
Redding is the No. 13 seed at 133 and wrestles the No. 20 seed, Ryan Sullivan, from West Virginia to begin the tournament.
Terukina, the No. 33 seed (out of 33) at 125, begins the tournament with a preliminary match against Virginia’s Patrick McCormick, the No. 32 seed.
“I told him this morning, 'you've got a new life' (in the tournament) and he needs to put a big old chip on his shoulder [that is] bigger than him," Dresser said. "At this level, there has got to be a little nasty involved. You got to go out there and take it from him and if he does that, he can win some matches and he can really progress in this tournament.”
Wrestling begins at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Enterprise Center with wrestlers from 125-157 wrestling, followed by wrestlers from 165-285 at 1 p.m.
Sessions IIA, which will have wrestlers from 125-157, begins at 5 p.m, with Session IIB capping off the night at an 8 p.m. start, featuring wrestlers from 165-285.
The championships continue through Friday and conclude Saturday, with the placement matches beginning at 10 a.m. and the finals beginning at 6 p.m.
“Ultimately, I think that this weekend is going to be a lot of fun. I think you're going to see a lot of Iowa State guys on the podium,” Carr said.
All matches can be seen on either ESPNU, ESPN2 or ESPN.