Pella — The Iowa State University "Making a Difference" Tailgate Party tour rolled into Pella Monday afternoon.
The five head coaches of Iowa State's major athletic programs, as well as Athletic Director Jamie Pollard and Broadcaster John Walters, were on hand to meet fans, sign autographs, pose for pictures and celebrate the university's accomplishments of the past year. Coaches, interviewed prior to the main event, were each excited about the trip and their upcoming seasons.
Wrestling Coach Kevin Jackson said he was proud of his team's performance of the past year, believing his wrestlers really "stepped up." The program had three All-Americans this past season and Jackson wants to keep the momentum rolling into the next season.
Recruiting is going well for the team, which lost two seniors following graduation. Nevertheless, he is extremely confident about his team's chances of competing and doing well on the national level next year.
Volleyball Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch is also eager to begin her season in the fall.
"I think it's going to be an interesting season," Johnson-Lynch said. Her team has some talented and athletic players who will quickly find their rhythm and keep Iowa State volleyball's success going. Last season, the team finished 11th in the country.
Volleyball may not grab as many headlines as the other sports represented Monday, but Johnson-Lynch is eager to find ways to showcase her team. When asked about strategy in volleyball, she said there is not much that can be done, due to the small area of the court.
She is recruiting more team members and spending time working with her sophomore team members. The volleyball team is very talented, but a little young. She is very excited about this year's prospects.
Also excited is Football Coach Paul Rhoads, who is entering his fifth season as head coach. He could not comment much, but says that his 2014 recruiting class is off to a good start. He is eager to work on their development, as well as the upper classmen on the team.
Rhoads has taken his team to three bowl games in four seasons, with one bowl victory. While he is not "changing" his strategies on the field, he is "tweaking" his game to stay competitive in the strong Big 12 Conference. The coach could not say which game will be his toughest this fall.
"They're all tough," Rhoads said of the teams in his conference. He added a new offensive coordinator for the season.
Rhoads was also selected to address the crowd at Monday's event. According to Rhoads, deciding who would speak came down to an arm wrestling match between him and Jackson.
"And I beat him again," Rhoads laughed. He shared the story of Preston Rainey, one of his former players who currently works for Pella Corporation and was in the audience. Rhoads said of Rainey that he had one speed, "full-tilt" and at one point, Rainey severely injured his own nose while doing tackling drills.
The coach touted the accomplishments of the players who graduated. Several were drafted by the NFL.
Walters, who emceed the event, touted accomplishments of the university's athletics programs overall. The university has had several teams finish in the top half of their respective conferences in the past year. Only four schools in the country have also reached back-to-back bowl games and men's and women's basketball tournaments. Iowa State is joined by Michigan, Michigan State and Louisville for achieving this.
Rhoads' speech also contained strengths for the coming year, things he is eager to see once his team takes the gridiron. He thanked those who attended the Spring game, and added that youth will be a big part of his team.
"We will be young," Rhoads said. "Youth causes gray hair for a head coach."
The football team set ticket sales records in 2011, which were broken again in 2012. According to Rhoads, ticket sales for the 2013 season have already surpassed those of 2012.
The theme of the tailgate party, a tour of Iowa that kicked off in Pella, is "Making a Difference." In honor of this, Gracie and Bailey Weuker of Albia received an autographed football and an autographed basketball. Their late father was a Cyclone fan, and in his honor, an event known as "Jam for Josh" is held every year. The girls received a standing ovation.
In closing, Rhoads told the crowd that he is proud to be one of them and thanked them for their support.