BELGRADE — When Belgrade wrestler Jarrett Degen became the 27th member of the four-time state champions club in 2016, little did he know the twists and turns his college career would take.
He committed to powerhouse Virginia Tech over Iowa, South Dakota State, Utah Valley and Minnesota. He spent his redshirt season as a promising prospect for the Hokies, compiling a 22-10 record in open tournaments at 149 lbs.
But things changed in 2017 when Va. Tech coach Kevin Dresser accepted the same job at Iowa State and took the majority of the coaching staff with him, including Great Falls native and fellow four-time state champion Mike Zadick. Degen was the only Hokie wrestler to follow them to Ames, IA.
“I love them,” Degen said. “I wouldn’t have followed them if I didn’t. Obviously Virginia Tech had a lot of nice facilities and it was a great place. But I love the coaches a lot, so I followed them out here. I feel like they work with my style real well. They don’t try to change too much.”
But moving from the No. 4 ranked team in the country to the 57th ranked team had it’s share of growing pains. Changing the culture isn’t easy and Zadick and the coaching staff dealt with several departures.
“We knew it was a challenge,” Zadick said. “And that’s the exciting part about it. It’s never easy though, when you demand and work towards excellence all the time, to go in and just take it on the chin. You see a kid that’s very talented but he’s not achieving to his ability. So those things are real tough to see, because you don’t like seeing a Corvette drive around town at 20 miles an hour, you want to hit the interstate and smoke the thing. It was hard for me to stomach. At the end of it there’s no guarantees, but I believe we’re going to get it turned around.”
And the turnaround is underway. The team won eight duals this year, compared to just one in 2017 and ended the season ranked 45th in the nation. Degen was instrumental in the improvement. He was the only Cyclone wrestler to qualify for the NCAA tournament this season, and scored three points for ISU.
“I was a redshirt at Virginia Tech,” Degen said. “I wasn’t in the lineup, I was just competiting in open tournaments. But at Iowa State I’m helping, I’m competing in the lineup. Helping the team win duals, and trying to help them win Big 12 titles and national titles.”
Zadick points to Degen as an example of what the Iowa State program could be.
“He was with us at Virginia Tech, so when we transferred over he’s the one kid who had kind of been under our umbrella, our philosophy, and it didn’t take him as long to buy in,” Zadick said. “He’s doing a good job, he’s motivated and hard working and a great kid. Now we want to make another jmp this year. If we start getting in the top 20, top 10 we’re going to be pretty excited about that and so are the fans, and then that’s going to help our recruiting too. ”
They may live in the midwest, but Zadick and Degen bring Montana toughness to the BIG 12.