The Virginia wrestling team opens its 2009-10 season this weekend, playing host to Anderson and Campbell Saturday in a double dual at Memorial Gymnasium. The season brings heightened expectations for the Cavaliers, who come into the year ranked as high as 17th nationally - the best ranking ever for the program. Steve Garland begins his fourth season as the Wahoos' head coach, and he benefits from the return of starters at nine weight classes as well as another top-10 recruiting class. He talks with VirginiaSports.com about the start of the season and his expectations for the year.
Tell us about getting started with the season.
Garland: We have been training and practicing for awhile. We started in early September going non-stop with our entire preseason and conditioning regimen, which is very intense and then moved on to our technique development stage and our Five Pillars and then our live wrestling, which is where you build your base. It's tough - it's 30 to 45 minutes live with what we call ‘grind matches.' It's very taxing on the mind and the body as well. So the kids had better be excited to wrestle because it's so much more fun than the actual training side. I think they need a release; they need to take what they have learned and put it into practice. You are supposed to have fun in practice and it is supposed to be enjoyable but at the same time, the reality is it is monotonous and we're at a point where we are ready to compete and throw down the whistle and stop beating up on each other and start competing against someone else.
Tell us about the Five Pillars.
Garland: The Five Pillars is something Coach (Scott) Moore and I came up with this summer. We were on a road trip doing a home visit and we were driving through Pennsylvania and were wondering how we could implement these core concepts that we always preach and get it to be muscle memory so our kids get the basic principles and from those basics, they can implement their own style because you don't want to change them as a wrestler too much. We came up with this Five Pillars system where twice a week you focus on one pillar for five weeks. So the first pillar would be hand fighting and snaps - basically busy hands. The next pillar would be getting out of legs - and so on; so it's basically one area twice a week for five weeks. The theory is that when we started the official practice in our wrestling room, they know what they are doing because this pillar system and the core concepts are in there - in their head, in their body - and now they just apply them to the live wrestling.
Who has stood out in the preseason practices?
Garland: Derek Valenti has been great. He lost in double overtime last year to Nick Nelson in a wrestleoff. That shows you how talented that kid really is. He just exemplifies a great attitude. He always comes in with a smile on his face. The principles of our program are focus, discipline and consistency. Consistency is the hardest one for everyone to maintain. Being consistently good every single day and consistently having a positive attitude and consistently working hard and consistently being focused - that's what he brings to the table. Anybody that has his type of attitude, good things are going to happen. He will be one to watch for in the future.
What have the freshmen brought to your wrestling room so far?
Garland: They just really want to learn and work hard. That's what has been great about our recruiting class. They are highly touted on paper, but the reality is you want to bring in guys who truly love the sport of wrestling and have goals and are willing to do what it takes to achieve their goals. Zach Clemente - the kid is freak talented. He is talented but he also has that rare combination of talent, focus and discipline. He's willing to work. He's in here three times a day - yesterday, we had two workouts and he came in at 2:00 to get extra technique with me in between the workouts. And he has a B-plus average in all his classes - that is pretty impressive.
Jon Fausey is another guy who is working hard. Stephen Doty is a kid who we knew was a worker - he comes in with that quiet, workmanlike mentality who knows that he wants to come in, do what he is told and try to do as best as he possibly can - and that's what we are looking for. Nicky Gordon has been great to have in the room - he's fast, athletic, talented and a competitor. Mike Salopek has been a great worker. People are going to be surprised at how good he is.
Who out of the freshmen group steps in right away and competes?
Garland: Mike Salopek will be right in there at 184 pounds. Matt Snyder will be in there right away at 125.
What has Alex Clemsen brought to your coaching staff thus far?
Garland: A lot. First of all, in the office, he has been fantastic. People grossly underestimate the value of organizational and administrative skills that you have to have in our line of work, with compliance and NCAA paperwork, admissions, financial aid, recruiting, travel - he has provided a big upgrade in our office and brought a tremendous amount of organization and follow through.
From the kids' perspective, he brings a different style of wrestling. He has a whole wealth of knowledge from guys like Lou Rosselli (former Edinboro assistant), Jim Zaleski (Oregon State head coach) and Tim Flynn (Edinboro head coach). These guys are some of the best coaches in the country, and they were his mentors. All of them were NCAA coaches of the year at some point. Technically, he has been great. He runs a lot of the practices. He runs all of the conditioning drills. He has been really good for our program.
The first month of the season, you have some great challenges ahead.
Garland: Our schedule doesn't look like a very attractive one at first glance, but those teams are tough. Central Michigan has been top-10 in the country for several years in a row. Hofstra has been a perennial top-20 team. All of those teams have some really good guys in their lineups. Bucknell has three guys ranked in the top nine. American's 184-pounder is ranked second, their 141-pounder is top 25 and their 149-pounder is ranked fourth. There will be a lot of great individual matchups. The dual meets might not all be balanced on paper, but there will be some really good individual matchups.
Talk about Chris Henrich earning an invitation to the NWCA All-Star Classic.
Garland: What a great honor. It is such an amazing honor for the program and for Henrich for him to be invited out there. A lot of people outside of wrestling don't realize how big of a deal that is. That is the only all-star function that we have. He will be wrestling on a huge stage - it's the biggest event that we have outside of the NCAA Championships. He is wresting a guy from Nebraska who is ranked seventh nationally who he hasn't wrestled before. On a personal level it's great and from a promotion standpoint for Virginia it's great. Look at us - three or four years ago before we got here, Virginia didn't have an NCAA qualifier and now we have a guy on the most glamorous invite list in wrestling. That's pretty awesome. And from a logistical standpoint, you want Chris to get that matchup because he needs that type of competition to prepare him for the NCAAs because his goal is no doubt to be a national champion. Win or lose, it's going to help him in that quest.