Audio Slideshow: UVA’s wrestling team achieved new heights last season—the first ACC tournament champs since 1977 and the program’s first-ever ACC Coach of the Year for Steve Garland (Col ‘00). Coach Garland sat down with Virginia Magazine to discuss those accomplishments and the upcoming season.
Steve Garland (Col ’00) coached the UVA wrestling team to a breakthrough season last year—the program’s first ACC Tournament Championship since 1977. Garland was voted ACC Coach of the Year (the first in University history) and Chris Henrich (Col ’12) became UVA’s first two-time All-American. Henrich and six other NCAA qualifiers are back, so expectations are high for the Cavaliers. Garland took a few minutes this fall to talk about the program.
What did last season’s success mean to you, both personally and for the program?
It was a combination of relief and joy. The most heart-wrenching thing for me was seeing the kids’ reaction. I felt like, here’s a time when it’s really their time to shine, and all they can think about is coming up to me and congratulating me.
One of the craziest things when I got back was to see how excited the administration was. The [ACC] conference tournament means a lot. To see how proud of our guys they were meant a great deal to us.
What are strengths and weaknesses of this year’s team? You have seven returning NCAA qualifiers, including Chris Henrich [at 174 lbs].
Chris is what we like to refer to as a freak. He’s very, very tough, very good, very talented. And, oh, by the way, he works really hard. So a national championship is literally the only thing we’re going to be satisfied with, the only thing he’s going to be satisfied with. We’ve never had a national champ, and we think he can be that first one for us.
Mike Salopek (Col ’12) is an ACC champ and moving up a weight [to 197 lbs.]. He’s one of the mentally toughest and physically toughest kids you’ll ever meet. Nick Nelson (Col ’11) was one match away from being an All-American [at 141 lbs.], and he’s our captain.
Our main goal is to keep everybody healthy. Last year was the best season we’ve ever had as far as keeping everybody as healthy as possible, and we need to make sure we duplicate that this year if we’re going to break the top 10, which is our goal.
One of the things you were able to do this past season was peak at the right time. Do you have a secret weapon?
One of our big secret weapons is Coach Alex Clemsen. He helped us design—it’s very scientific—our training calendar. We plan way ahead of time, and that way you’re not making decisions based on emotions. He’s got every month planned out from August through May, and there are rest times built in there, so you’re not overtraining.
And you have a new assistant coach, Manny Rivera, this season.
Number one, Manny’s a great person, and any time you can surround your athletes with a mentor like that, we think that’s the most important thing. And wrestling-wise, he’s the real deal. Not only was he All-American, which is one of our goals for our guys, but he won a team national championship at Minnesota. We hope that he can bring some of that knowledge to our program. We’re also excited that [former UVA wrestler] Brent Jones (Educ ’09, Grad ’10) is going to be around as a volunteer coach.
To succeed as a team, who needs to step up?
The key to our lineup is our heavyweight, Jack Danilkowicz (Com ’10). He really came on strong last year, had a break-out year. He’s one of the leaders of our program now, the guy we’re going to be looking to to anchor our team, not just from a specific wrestling standpoint, but also with our guys. If Jack does well, we do well.