Head coach Kevin Dresser took one glance at his 2019-20 Iowa State wrestling squad and turned back to state an expectation that hasn't seen Iowa State since 2010.
"It's time for Iowa State wrestling to be a top-10 team, and then eventually progress into a top-five team," Dresser said at media day. "These guys have kind of arrived and this team made a statement in college wrestling last year in terms of progress."
With eight returning NCAA qualifiers, an All-American and the crown jewel of the Cyclones 2018 recruiting class projected to be in the lineup, there's reason behind why many believe they can meet or exceed Dresser's expectations.
And it all starts Sunday morning.
The Harold Nichols Cyclone Open is the kickoff of a five-month season that will end at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the site of the 2020 NCAA Championships.
"This is a motivated team," said redshirt freshman David Carr. "To see the gains we made, I think we did good, but we can do way better."
The steady growth under Dresser is not new to the Big 12 Coach of the Year and the National Wrestling Coaches' Association Coach of the Year.
His first collegiate stint at Virginia Tech saw the first two years with an under .500 dual record and two All-Americans.
The third year saw a ginormous spike to a 20-2 dual record, and the Hokies progressed nationally from a tie for 60th to six consecutive top-10 finishes.
At Iowa State, from one NCAA qualifier to nine and zero to a pair of All-Americans over Dresser's first two years, is the build up to a third year in which the Cyclones are ranked in the top-10 as a team by InterMat.
Eight of the 10 projected starters are ranked by InterMat, and all are ranked by Trackwrestling.
"I think everyone is doing everything right, we just have to keep doing what we're doing in here," Jarrett Degen said. "It'll translate out on the mat."
Degen is back at 149 pounds after a seventh place finish at the NCAA's in Pittsburgh. He compiled a 5-2 record last year against returning 149 competitors, including a sweep over Iowa's Pat Lugo.
The redshirt junior knows what he has to do to continue growth on the mat and on the podium.
"I just got to wrestle smart, stay in my stance and have good leg defense — get my offense going on my feet," Degen said, who is ranked third at 149. "Everything will work itself out."
Degen, Alex Mackall, Austin Gomez, Ian Parker, Chase Straw, Marcus Coleman, Sam Colbray and Gannon Gremmel return to Iowa State's lineup fresh off of NCAA appearances and each having over 20 wins a season ago.
That's 88 percent of the dual wins and 90 percent of the overall team wins that are donning Iowa State singlets once again.
It's not the most talked about aspect of the Cyclones.
Carr enters the fray at 157 after a redshirt year in which he compiled a 23-1 record with eight major decision victories, three pins and three tech falls.
The son of three-time NCAA Champion and Iowa State alum Nate Carr, David Carr captured the 74 kg gold medal at the 2019 Junior World Championships in Estonia. He is the only Cyclone to accomplish that feat.
The last two wrestlers for the United States who won the gold medal at 74kg — Mark Hall in 2016-17 and Mekhi Lewis in 2018 — went to win a national title in their redshirt freshman campaigns.
"I have a big goal, but right now the most important thing is the Cyclone Open, then the next biggest thing is Bucknell," David Carr said. "Just taking it one meet at a time."
His coaches and teammates were quick to praise the Canton, Ohio, native.
"It's honestly probably the best fit in we could have," Colbray said. "David Carr would jump into situations, whether it [be] a workout or everything, 100 percent giving full effort, full heart. His ability to keep improving is what is astonishing to me."
With Carr seemingly entrenched at 157, Straw — the defending Big 12 Champion at that weight class — has bumped up to 165.
It's a move Dresser believes will pay off by March.
"Winning that Big 12 Championship gave him a lot of confidence, he's looked great," Dresser said. "He's not the biggest 65, but the guy's going to have a tank in the third period and you better be ready to go all seven minutes if you get Chase Straw."
That is not the only lineup change for Iowa State.
Gone is All-American Willie Miklus, so 197 will be determined by a pair of redshirt freshmen. Francis Duggan and Joel Shapiro are the two in line for the spot.
It's an adjustment for both, as Duggan is coming down from heavyweight and Shapiro moves up from 184.
"Which one of those guys is going to step up, we've seen good things," Dresser said. "Throw 'em out, turn the lights out at Hilton Coliseum, it's just you and one other guy — then you really found out what they're made out of."
Until at least December, Todd Small will occupy 133.
With Gomez still cutting weight from the 165-170 pounds the redshirt sophomore said he weighed over the summer, Small will be in the lineup for the first pair of duals in November.
The Iowa Central transfer – who won back-to-back NJCCA National Championships at two different weight classes – went 14-4 a season ago as an unattached wrestler.
"It's Austin's plan to eventually get there, maybe in the waiting; you got to prove yourself and progress down," Dresser said after the Cardinal and Gold wrestle off finals. “You just can't go from 150 pounds to 133 pounds overnight. The number one guy is Todd Small. I've seen him take this serious. We got three really quality guys in the running."
Gomez said he is targeting a return down to the weight class he finished in the top-12 with at the NCAA's a season ago by the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in December.
If that is the case, the Cyclones would roll out their best lineup in time for Big 12 duals, which open Jan. 9 on the road against Utah Valley.
Iowa State welcomes Bucknell, Iowa and Chattanooga for their non-conference dual slate and will hit the road for Missouri and Tempe, Arizona, for the Sun Devil Duals, where the Cylcones will battle at Arizona State, Campbell and Harvard.
The Las Vegas Invitational and the Southern Scuffle are the two regular season tournaments Iowa State will participate in.
After narrowly falling to the Hawkeyes 19-18 a season ago on bonus point victories, Iowa State will use that dual once again as a parameter to see where it stacks up against the top teams in the nation.
"That Iowa dual will tell us a lot about what this team has, what this team really is made of," Degen said.
North Dakota State, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Northern Iowa come to Ames during the conference season while Iowa State travels to Fresno State, South Dakota State and Oklahoma.
With the highest number of ranked wrestlers from the Big 12 by InterMat, Iowa State has its eyes set on capturing its first conference championship since 2009.
Perennial power Oklahoma State figures to be the Cyclones' main challenger with Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Utah Valley and Wyoming figuring into the mix come March 7 and 8 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
To go from the hunter to the hunted is a situation Iowa State hasn't been in since the days of Cael Sanderson roaming the coaching corner.
Still, it's something the current wrestlers are embracing.
"We have the ability to make even larger jumps than we did the year before," Parker said.
The route to Minnesota starts in Ames for the Cyclone Open, the first tournament of the season.
Northern Iowa, NAIA powerhouse Grand View and Iowa Central Community College represent the state while Missouri and Wisconsin, as well as Fort Hays State in Kansas and Central Baptist in Arkansas, travel to Hilton.
Two separate divisions — open and fresh/soph — make up the day that starts at 9 a.m.
Mackall in the open division and Duggan in fresh/soph division took home victories a season ago. Degen, Coleman and Colbray snared top-three finishes as open participants.
To get all 10 weight classes traveling north of three hours on I-35, the Cyclones will need their big boys and main stays in the lineup, sprinkled in with some newcomers, to carry the load and duplicate the wins they had a season ago.
Dresser can't wait for it to begin.
"I'm excited to see how we can keep that going this year," Dresser said. "It's going to be fun year, it really is."