Jack Danikowicz has been one of UVa's top wrestlers of late, winning six of his last seven matches. The heavyweight has shown glimpses of his potential in the past, but never could quite sustain it, partly because of a slew of injuries. Now, with plenty of confidence in tow, he leads the 16th-ranked Cavaliers into their biggest weekend of the season - home duals with North Carolina Friday and No. 14 Virginia Tech Saturday at Mem Gym. Danilkowicz checks in to discuss his season to this point as well as the big weekend ahead and several other interesting areas.
You've been doing really well lately. What has been going right for you?
Danilkowicz: I've stepped up my training and it's been paying off. I've been pushed hard in the wrestling room and focusing on things I need to work on, and being the healthiest I've ever been at this point in the season has helped as well. I feel like I'm finally turning the corner where in the past I've felt like I was stalling.
You've been frustrated the last few years with not being able to get over the hump, so to speak. What has been the difference to do that this year?
Danilkowicz: I think it's just been the training. My workout partners Calvin (Cardillo) and Ebe (Nelson) have pushed me hard and not let me quit. We all have a common goal, so instead of everyone looking out for themselves, we all realize that their season rests on my shoulders and my season rests on theirs. If I'm tired, they aren't going to feel sorry for me - they keep pushing me.
That has to be key toward a match like yours last Sunday, where you won on a takedown at the final buzzer.
Danikowicz: That was a frustrating match. The first period, I got the first takedown right away and got to my stuff and controlled the match, but the second period didn't go my way. The third period, I was down and needed to get two to win. Finally I was able to break through at the end.
What are your biggest strengths right now?
Danilkowicz: I think (wrestling) on my feet is my strongest point - that's where I look to build my momentum. If I finish my shots, which is where I could stand to improve, everything builds from there.
The team has its highest ranking ever this week at No. 16. Do the rankings matter to you at all?
Danilkowicz: It just shows that we are headed in the right direction. Obviously we aren't where we want to be. But it's not something that we really think about it and it's not something the coaches talk about.
You have a big weekend ahead, with North Carolina and Virginia Tech coming to town.
Danilkowicz: It's rivals weekend - two of our biggest rivals. Everyone has been training hard and we just need to put it together and put a show on. We are really looking forward to both matches and each one is huge for us.
Talk about where the program has come from since you got here four years ago.
Danikowicz: I think the biggest thing has been the attitude of the wrestlers. It takes a while to make a change because you have some people who are stuck in their ways. It's kind of like starting a motor that you haven't started all winter. It's going to take a while to get going. Practice is your release. It's supposed to be fun. You come in here to get better and you're not supposed to look at it as a chore. We're all coming into the room excited to work hard, and that's the biggest difference.
You are down to your last semester of undergraduate work. What are your feelings as you enter your last semester today?
Danilkowicz: It's weird. You kind of expect to move on to the next stage of your life, but you look back and realize how time flew by. You just want to make the most of it. I still have a lot goals that I want to reach though, both academically and athletically.
Food: Chicken Sub from Harris Teeter
Spot on Grounds: The Lawn
Wrestling Memory: My third-place match at ACCs my sophomore year where I hit an inside trip to win.
Class: International Marketing
TV Show: True Blood
Movie: Step Brothers
Sports Teams: Chicago Bears