Steve Garland and Kevin DresserSteve Garland and Kevin Dresser are two of the most well-liked coaches in college wrestling. But the duo doesn't just share affability and a governor. Hired at the same time seven years ago, the pair has seen each other's their squads rise from the ranks of the also-rans into teams filled with All-American talent. On the eve of the Virginia Duals both coaches talked about winning the Commonwealth of Virginia, the direction of their program and much, much more.
Coach Dresser and Coach Garland answered the folllowing questions by phone while traveling from their respective schools to the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Va.
Where are you right now?
Garland: We're passing through Richmond, which makes no sense because you and I keep dropping calls.
Dresser: We just left Blacksburg and we're about four and half hours away, just have to take 81 North to 64 East. There's a few mountains between us and Hampton
Who are the big performers for you guys right now, guys that might've impressed you during the first half of the season?
Garland: Jedd Moore is wrestling just like you want him to at this time of year. He's won the Scuffle now, but probably the biggest niche is that he's a beast on top, where last year he wasn't a mat wrestler. It's good because he's falling back on old school grinding. That's gonna be the kicker, the deciding factor. We honestly believe he can be a national champion.
When you get in on a shot it might be your only chance. He hadn't been finishing but he gets into those positions with Coach Leen and they have to figure 'em out. For whatever reason Jordan's really clicked with Jedd, and I think he works differently, but it's Coach Leen and whatever they're doing is working. I'm not gonna try to fix what ain't broken.
Dresser: Nick Brascetta is coming along nicely. Obviously he had a big win against Donnie Vinson. But we have Binghamton in the first round so it's a "boom, boom" kinda thing and he has to prove it wasn't a fluke. I know it wasn't a fluke. Thing is he's one stupid injury timeout away from being undefeated. He dropped a match because there was a forced injury time against Cole VonOhlen early in the season. We don't change positions, Nick wins.
What is the team's overall strength heading into Virginia Duals?
Garland: Mat wrestling. We're really good from top and bottom. We pride ourselves on top, and our guys like to ride on top. Everybody likes to talk about how funky Snyder is, but he learned that leg series here. I think Sulzer is riding on top. Our goal is to end periods on top, to get that riding time point.
You know the other thing is with the bottom we're really good at forcing reversals. Spisak Snyder, Fausey are all good there and Fausey will get big points. And my boy Doty does old school power switches and breaks off people's arms
Dresser: We're real healthy right now. I think we have a great dual meet team and improving at the five weights where we aren't ranked in the top twelve. We're doing a lot of individual stuff with the guys this time of years. Confidence is such a big part of the games, and the 97 and heavyweight are coming from ACL and they're just getting back into it. Dong is still recovering from a major shoulder surgery, five staples. We just shot him up last year and dude couldn't even hold his arm up. He's getting better every week this year and though his shoulder is one-hundred percent, he still needs time to build back up.
When you look at the preseason goals and what you can accomplish in March, are you feeling optimistic? What are some challenges?
Garland: The injuries definitely hurt. I'm not gonna give you some bull about "next guy up," the injuries hurt and they hurt bad. I think it's always affected our program this time of season. Cool thing about that question is that I feel more confident about our guys. Not only am I pleased, I've actually improved our goals after watching what these guys are capable of doing on the mat.
I've heard some people say that they wish they could have more injuries throughout the year so that they could've been fresh. So my hope is that we can get these guys through the injuries so they can be fresh and happy and just so, so hungry to get back on the mat for the last third of the season.
Dresser: My preseason statement to everyone was that we are going to be the better team in 2013. We have those guys I mentioned coming off huge surgeries and a freshman in the lineup. Everybody knows that some of these guys can wrestle, but we got a lot of guys that can be OW on the team. But even knowing that I expected this I'm more optimistic now than I thought I'd be. Best things are ahead of us. Once we get into January and February we can do some big things with our season.
Good tournament team. Why? Carries over to duals?
Garland: I think we are a good tournament team. The Virginia Duals mimics the feel of a tournament. I told our guys last night that I want them to feed off that palpable energy. I remember wrestling Oklahoma a few years ago and it was a bloodbath. It was so intense every match. We tend to wrestle better in those situations and I'm hoping our guys will rise to that level.
Dresser: I think we are in a good place right now. We as a program got through a lot of crap early on about not finishing the season strong at ACCs and NCAAs. But remember that the guys we were putting into the NCAA tournament were guys we brought up. They weren't blue chippers. Most guys go to nationals and underachieve before they overachieve. We were 11th at NCAAs then fourth at Midlands and then second.
Good coaching is having good focus. Work ethic wins in high school and work ethic wins in college. Work ethic wins in business.
The biggest thing to remember is that getting second at Midlands doesn't matter all that much. You can never get too high or too low. The emotional swings will break you.
As the rivalry has increased it seems like you guys seem to get along more. When you look across the state (figuratively, of course) what are some of the things you admire about their program?
Garland: I hope that there's a mutual respect. We got the jobs the same time, Kevin and I, and the respect started out of the season. Our recruiting classes in our first season were about the same, and we were right by each other for the first few seasons. Obviously they are doing something right by constantly, consistently bringing in great kids, from that first year until now.
I was there the first year when we wrestled at Rumble on the River, and when we both got those teams they were a shadow of what they are now. No disrespect, but they were at a different level. Look at that dual meet roster from that match and look at the dual meets this weekend. From what we've done I've seen them mimic the same things. We aren't best buddies and we don't go out to dinners together, but I know what he's done is impressive. You hope that he and other coaches see the way you live your life, your belief and passion to see that you're more than just a wrestling coach by name. That's all you can really hope for.
We both remember that first ACC meeting looking at each other and saying, "Man, we got a tough road to hoe," and then it was the next year and we're winning 18 matches and they won 20, and it was like, "Wow." Again I don't want to say that he thinks about me all the time, because I don't think he does, but we saw each other's successes and failures all very intimately.
Dresser: I think that Steve's done a great job. We got hired at the same time. Look at where we were seven years ago and where they were seven years ago and see the difference. Do we want to wake up every morning and we beat the crap out of 'em when they're good? Yeah, it feels good!
I've been around Virginia a long time and there ain't many years we were both in the top 15 in the country. I don't know if that's ever happened. I think it's great for the state to have quality teams.
Traditionally, Virginia has done better at ACCs and NCAAs, while Virginia Teach has done better in dual meets. Last year Virginia Tech bested Virginia in the dual and NCAAs. What do you have to do to beat these guys each and every time?
Garland: Oh man, I guess I could point to injuries, but they have them it as well. I took it on the chin this year because I felt like I didn't have my guys prepared enough. This year we just didn't wrestle well, flat out. I don't have a concrete answer except say that the time we wrestled them in Virginia in 2011 and it came down to heavyweight, we need to wrestle them with that kind of passion and intensity.
Dresser: You don't walk around bragging about how you beat a .500 wrestler. It was nice to put a whooping on Virginia in the dual meet this year because we know that they're a good team.
This isn't Iowa, but do you feel that there is a pride about being the best in Virginia?
Garland: Well, I've been coach here for seven years and if you add in my time here as a student-athlete, I've been a Virginia resident a long time. I talked to my team yesterday. I told them that we represent the state, and we need to walk around with our heads up and our shoulders back. Seriously, it was my post-practice speech yesterday.
I'm big about presence. I'm big about thinking about 'What am I here to do? Why am I here? You always hear the joke about A-Rod being the main character in the movie about himself. Well, I kinda believe in that, dude! I was a nobody but I used to walk around like I was bees knees and it helped me, you know. Our guys should do that, too.
Dresser: I think that we recruit Virginia kids and it's nice to say you're the best guy in town. Obviously we aren't hanging our hat on what we do at the Virginia Duals, because our goals are focused on what goes down at nationals.
When it comes to recruiting you both have different areas of focus. Explain.
Garland: Kevin's old assistant coach is in their backyard. I mean shame on them if they're not getting those kids, right? They have a heck of a pipeline there. Daryl Weber is a great coach. The Jersey connection, I have no idea where that came from, except they have a North Jersey thing. We're Western and Central PA, but mostly Ohio. We like Ohio. Kids don't know squat about college. They know what they know and they know high school. So some kid in Pennsylvania hears Jon Fausey and Matt Snyder are on campus they like it more because they remember reading about them and watching them in the state finals.
Dresser: Obviously, my relationships are strong at home. We might look like all-Virginia but we have some other states as well, including starters from Ohio, Delaware, and Georgia. I think we have a little bit of everything. But I do think my background as a high school coach helped me a little bit. I feel like I can make phone calls and get straight answers. I spent a lot of time in hospitality rooms those 18 years as a high school coach.
As for Christiansburg, some of them lived there, some of the moved in. But guys like Zach Epperly, I mean I'd watch that kids drill in the basement since he was 4 or 5 years old. When I took over the program in 1996 I was really starting from scratch. So our goal was to get huge numbers out and we finally got 200 and 300 kids. We figured out ways for kids to get to national tournaments.
I was happy when I got Daryl in 2000 because now he's doing great things with the program, too.
Commonwealth trivia. Speed round.
How many Presidents are from the state of Virginia? (Eight)
Dresser: I didn't study history. I went to Iowa and we didn't go to class in the 80s. We won a lot of national titles, though.
Who is the most famous celebrity you can name from Virginia?
Garland: "Touchdown" Tommy Jefferson and George Washington! Those guys were pretty big.
Dresser: Do we have any celebrities from Virginia? One of the guys just told me someone from Glee. Oh, wait, someone else just said Bruce Smith.
What was the Commonwealth's leading export in 2011? (Coal)
Garland: Leading export? Tobacco.
Who is the biggest celebrity you can name from your school and their school?
Garland: Virginia Tech: Josh Feldman! (Josh was the older brother to Zack Feldman, who wrestled at Virginia and was Garland's close friend). Virginia: I gotta go with my girl Katie Couric!
Dresser: Tech has Mike Vick and Virginia has Heath Miller. All football for ya.'