May 22, 2007
Eric Albright had quite the year for the Virginia wrestling team. After earning a Top-20 national ranking at 133 pounds for most of the season, Albright started peaking at just the right time. He starred at the ACC championship, earning runner-up honors at 133, then nabbed a bid to the NCAA Championships and just missed the All-America round after posting three wins at nationals.
Albright kept it up during the spring season, capturing the Northeast Regional crown at 149 pounds to earn a berth in the World Team Trials. He also notched an impressive performance at the prestigious University Nationals and reached the semifinals.
The leader of the Cavaliers' wrestling program now has designs on carrying his success over to the rest of his teammates, as they look to continue to build the Cavaliers into one of the nation's premier programs.
As Albright heads into the summer, he sat down for a Q&A with virginiasports.com to reflect upon his sophomore season, discuss his summer plans and look ahead at the future of the Cavaliers' program.
Tell us about your experience at the NCAA Championships.
"Part of the season I was ranked in the Top 10, then I hit a slump and dropped out of the top 20. Then I qualified for nationals and people were looking at that like it was an accomplishment just to get there. But I wasn't satisfied with just getting there because my goal in college is to be an All-American. I was excited to be there and it was a cool experience, but at the same time I didn't want to just be there and go 0-2 and say `yes, I qualified.'
"I still wasn't wrestling too well and I went out and lost my first match. Losing your first match there makes it tough to come all the way back, but I won three in a row and came back to the round of 16 and then lost to Tyler McCormick from Missouri, who's a three-time All-American now."
It certainly is a great accomplishment to make the NCAA Championships, but it's obvious you aren't satisfied with the way things ended there.
"I lost my last match on a riding point, 4-3, and that was the worst feeling I have ever felt. It was the biggest motivator. People say you lose a match and it motivates you to do better, but losing out there is totally different than anywhere else that I have lost before. It was the biggest motivator and the day we got back, I worked out right away with (assistant coach) Scott (Moore).
"I made it to the second day and if I would have beat him, I would have been in a position to make the All-American round. To get so close and fall short, especially after I had always dreamed about being an All-American, and now I have to wait another year to get another chance, it stinks. Since then I have been working harder than ever."
That work provided some immediate dividends.
"Yeah, the next weekend I competed in Brockport, N.Y., at the Northeast Regional. I went up a weight to 145 in the open division and ended up winning it. That qualified me for the World Team Trials, so that was something I didn't really expect, but it is a great challenge for me."
You had a great finish at the University Nationals as well. How have these strong finishes impacted you?
"At University Nationals I went there and people said if you just place, that's good. I didn't just want to place because I knew I could go out there and win. Then I lost in the semis to the Penn State kid and I was beating him the whole match until about 30 seconds left. I had my goals set going into this year to be an All-American this year, but at the beginning of the year I didn't really believe I could do it. I didn't have anything in the past that really showed me I could do it and that I was right there. Next year there are a lot of kids graduating in my class, so my goal is to be a national champion."
What did you learn from your experience at NCAAs?
"That feeling from nationals changed me as a wrestler. I'm not making the stupid mistakes now. I'm a lot more controlled. Before I would make stupid mistakes in big matches and I wouldn't be able to pull them out. Even at University Nationals, I should have won if it wasn't for a stupid mistake. That just makes me work harder."
You will be in your third year with the program next year and one of the top returning wrestlers. Are you aiming to take more of a leadership role?
"Coach Garland has been telling them about how hard I've been working. If more people can experience what I have, that's what is going to change our team. Next year hopefully we can get more guys to NCAAs and they can experience that feeling, and that's what is going to make us a winning team."
While you enjoyed your experience at NCAAs, it probably would be a lot more fun to have a bunch of teammates there as well.
"It would be crazy to go out there as a team and have kids winning some matches. We need to get a little taste of what it's like that out there and it will change a lot of things here."
Tell us about the World Team Trials. You really stepped up and put up a big-time performance.
"At the Northeast Regional, I wasn't really expecting to win - I wanted to win, of course - but I was mainly going for the competition. I was up in weight and I was really small in my weight. I was wrestling 149 pounders, and I was at 145. Then I qualified and now there are guys in my weight class like Kendall Cross, who won the Olympics in 1996 and just came out of retirement, and Mike Zadic, who is the world champion. There are a couple kids in there who I have beaten so my goal is definitely to go out and win some matches. I'm wrestling out there at 132, and I'm looking forward to the challenge. If you place in the top three, you get to travel with the world team, and that would be huge for me and the program here."
You are halfway through college now. How have you progressed as a wrestler?
"In high school, I never really peaked. I was always expected to win state and was ranked high, but then I would go and not win state - I would choke. Scott Moore recruited me and I have changed so much as a wrestler because of him. He definitely is one of the best coaches I have ever had. All the one-on-one time with him has changed my style. I matured a lot in my first year and had a pretty good year. Then this year I matured even more. After getting some time with Coach Garland, I stepped up even more before I hit the wall, which happens sometimes. But right now I am wrestling better than I ever have - technique-wise and overall. He has helped me mature so much and the one-on-one time with Garland and Moore has been so important for me."
You just wrapped up your first year with Coach Garland. What changes have you seen in the program?
"He has brought so much positivity. He has been successful in the past and was the Assistant Coach of the Year (in 2006), so he knows what he is doing. He came here and a lot of our older kids didn't have the best technique, and he came and changed everyone as wrestlers. We had 17 kids at University Nationals, and before we hardly had anyone go. It was never a big deal, so that shows you how he has changed the attitude. Everyone wants to win and get better."
Going forward, what are your summer plans?
"I'll be here training for the World Team Trials, which are in early June. So I'll be losing weight and training twice a day until then. After that we have our team camp here, so I'll pretty much be here all summer working camps and wrestling and getting better. This is the best time to get better. A lot of kids take off in the summer and don't do much. You can gain so much on other kids if you keep working during the summer."