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Garland puts Virginia matmen on national radar

Squad climbs to new heights in coach

Not every varsity sport at Virginia is known for consistently fielding great teams. Though some squads are expected to perform well all the time, others often go overlooked until they have an outstanding season.

The Virginia wrestling team has not always been among the best programs in the country, but this season has proved to be a departure from the past. The Cavaliers' 13 wins already is tied for second-most in school history, and the team's No. 16 national ranking marks its highest ever.

The path to success has not been easy, however, as a tremendous amount of time and patience, not to mention hard work, are required to become a winning program.

"When I first got here, I wanted to change the world in a day," coach Steve Garland said. "It doesn't work that way. It takes time, and I think that now we are starting to see the fruits of our labor."

"Every year is just building upon the last year," said senior Brent Jones, who was recently dubbed the ACC's Wrestler of the Week. "I have been here five years now, and every year just gets better and better. We have a solid foundation that we created a couple years ago, and we are really a bunch of family."

Teamwork is always a necessary component of success, but there are other, more critical elements that can make or break a team. Injuries, for instance, are a serious concern in any sport, and perhaps more so in wrestling. Any time a team loses a player - even for just one match - its ramifications can dramatically alter the course of a season.

Virginia has been notoriously snakebitten in recent years but has somehow escaped the injury bug this season, allowing the Cavaliers to spend more time in the weight room than the training room.\n"This year, a key for us has been staying healthy," Garland said. "We have made a lot of adjustments in the wrestling room, tailing back on some things and working on our strength and conditioning program ... No matter how much depth you have, when you lose your top guys, you will struggle, and that was what happened last year. We have been able to stay healthy this year, allowing us to stay focused."

In college sports, recruiting is another one of the most important factors in building a winning tradition. Having underclassmen blend in well with the existing system is crucial to maintaining the cohesion of the present team.

"The sky is the limit for our talent," Jones said. "Our coaches bring in some of the best recruits every year and they can fit right in with our family. They have the same goals that all of us do, and you can just build on each year."

It is never easy to build a great team, and being able to maintain greatness can be even tougher. The strategy of "slow and steady wins the race" has thus far paid off for the Virginia wrestling team and should prove to bring continued success well into the future.


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