The University’s wrestling team has had a number of firsts and bests since Steve Garland took over as head coach six years ago.
The Wahoo wrestlers are riding a streak of four consecutive top 30 finishes at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, which includes a 15th place in 2010, the highest since 1957. Since 2007, six wrestlers have finished with All-America honors and 12 have won ACC individual titles. And in 2010, the team won its first ACC championship in more than 30 years. This season, the team beat eighth-ranked Virginia Tech, the highest-ranked team it has ever defeated.
Garland (Col ’00), who wrestled as a Cavalier, took the position before the 2006-07 season after spending six years as an assistant coach at Ivy League wrestling powerhouse Cornell University
He brought a new approach that he says emphasizes excellence in character.
“We have always had good guys, but year-round commitment wasn’t always the case when I was wrestling,” Garland says. “Now, the team embraces the work and they come in with big expectations.”
The team has six to eight sessions a week of wrestling, technique and lifting, while members add in at least one more workout each day. But despite the long workouts, with 45 minutes of wrestling, climbing ropes, flipping tires or running sprints, former and current wrestlers say that camaraderie and perseverance are built through the difficulty.
Garland says he’s trying to do more than make the wrestlers the best they can be in the sport, and has built the program around three pillars: focus, discipline and consistency. Garland says the pillars grew out of the needs of the team and his own Christian faith.
“My gifts and this job are not my own,” Garland says. “I’ve got to be a good steward. These gifts and opportunities are God given.”
Former wrestler Matt Nelson (Col ’12, Com ’13) says that Garland shapes the wrestlers for the future. “He always said that as much as he is interesting in making national-champion wrestlers, he wants the team to become great husbands and fathers and business leaders,” Nelson says.“ That approach is what’s different from other teams, where coaches say, ‘What can you do for me to help my team win?’”