Gus Sako's season did not look so promising back when UVa's season started in November. He was frustrated while nursing an injury and watching his teammates on the mat while sitting on the sidelines. Sako had a solid freshman year and was expecting big things this season.
After missing several weeks early in the season, Sako has bounced back with a vengeance. Since returning to action on Dec. 18 at the Cleveland State Open, he has posted a 16-5 record at 149 pounds and rattled off five straight wins, with three coming by major decision. Two weeks ago, he upset then-No. 5 Mario Mason of Rutgers, which helped catapult Sako into the national rankings. He also earned ACC Wrestler of the Week honors following that big win. This week he is ranked No. 20 at 149 pounds by InterMat as the No. 21 Cavaliers head into their final regular-season matches against No. 23 Old Dominion and George Mason. Sako is the focus of the latest On the Mat.
What has gone right for you lately during your hot streak?
Sako: We have the coaches that are putting us through a great training camp in a way. They're set up each week with specific goals in mind and it's clicking real well. We're doing individual techniques. It's helping me personally, then I've got all the guys in there working with me at the same time and everything's just coming together nicely and we're getting good workouts.
Was there a turning point this year for you?
Sako: It was more when I got hurt at the beginning of the season that kind of broke me. I sat on the edge of the mat like watching practice for a month and a half and mentally something tweaked. I hated sitting there and I didn't like it and I wanted to get out there and wrestle with the guys again. And from then on out I just did everything right, listening to Coach Garland doing everything he's telling me to do and luckily it paid off.
Talk about earning the starting spot at 149 pounds.
Sako: It was nice getting to earn the spot. It was a sticky situation. Shawn Harris has been my good friend since I was eight years old. I went to high school with him, I've always known him. But I really wanted that spot, I wanted to compete and that was the goal, and luckily I've just been hustling along and was able to earn it.
You mentioned Shawn Harris - Sunday is Senior Day at UVa. Talk about the contributions Shawn and the seniors have made to you and the program.
Sako: You can't put it into words. They set up the foundation for us, and I don't think you could of gotten another group of guys to do a better job of that. UVa wrestling wasn't really all there, but then this group of seniors came in here and they pretty much rewrote the whole book and they set up a foundation and a culture of wrestling that really you can't find anywhere else. They got the ball rolling and luckily we were lucky to build off of what they did for us.
You wrestle against Shawn all the time in practice. Talk about the impact he has had on you.
Sako: At anytime during the day, Shawn is there for me. I can call him at 9:00 at night if I need to get a workout and Shawn is there. If I am struggling with a certain technique or some situation Shawn is more than happy to come help me out with that situation. But really he's been there. Anytime I call him, Shawn is there to help me out and that is awesome to have a good friend and partner like that. And he wrestles pretty stinkin' hard so he's good to go in there and battle.
Talk about the Maryland match and the big team win.
Sako: I just thought it was fun. That was awesome to set some history for UVa wrestling and be a part of that. You really can't put it into words.
You had a big win in the Rutgers match over nationally ranked Mario Mason.
Sako: That was huge. That was my biggest college win so far in two years. The past two years, I've been wrestling those top caliber guys and I would be within two, three points of those guys and it would be a good match but I would still come up with a loss and I didn't like that. So finally I was able to wrestle those high caliber guys and come off with a win.
You said after the Rutgers match that you always had wanted to be ranked, and now you are. How does it feel?
Sako: It really was awesome because I've been looking at those college rankings since I was eight years old. This was one of those things I've always looked at and always read it and wanted to be in it. Now that I'm there I want to work my way up, get a little higher, fingers crossed. A personal goal of my own is to keep it there. I always want to see myself in those rankings for the next four years.
Tell us something about yourself that we wouldn't know.
Sako: I caught my first trophy fish when I was four years old. It was a 30 inch walleye around Lake Erie with my dad and I have it plastered on my wall at home back home in Cleveland.
Is fishing a hobby of yours?
Sako: When I go home my dad and I will go out on the lake for five, six hours. Even if we're not catching anything, we just sit out on the lake, but of course catching fish is a lot more fun.
Have you figured out what you want to pursue academically?
Sako: I'm hoping to go into the economics major. I'm trying to follow in Nick Nelson's path. I want to go with an economics major and finish it off with the one-year MS program in the Commerce School.
Spot on Grounds: It would have to be the spot overlooking the pond by the Pavilion, right by the bookstore.
Wrestling moment: Probably when I won the state tournament by sophomore year.
Class: It would have to be my Latin class in high school. He was an awesome teacher. I loved that class.
Artist: Brantley Gilbert
Pro sports team: Cleveland Browns or Cleveland Indians. They're not very good but I have to stay true.
TV Show: Swamp People