Senior wrestler Will Mason sat at an abandoned table snacking on a Greek yogurt and an apple, fueling his body in preparation for practice. A crisp crunch pierced the air as he took another bite, but the minute Mason started talking, the stark silence faded and an electric energy took over.
Fellow senior George DiCamillo snuck in and joined Mason. He sat contently across the table, listening to his teammate of five years figure out how to put their Virginia wrestling team into words. He smiled as his friend struggled, because he too knew the difficulty of capturing such a significant experience with words alone.
“We want the best for each other, not only because it improves our team, but also because we want to see each other succeed,” Mason said. “That speaks volumes to our coaching staff, it speaks volumes about guys who have already moved on and about people like George who have continued to uphold that kind of team and encourage a culture that’s unlike anywhere else.”
Their supportiveness reaches beyond the walls of their wrestling world. When they’re not in the training room, at practice or in class, they’re getting coffee or playing cards. They’re the truest testament to a team — many men with one goal striving to be better today than they were yesterday.
“There are such incredible people on our team — smart people on our team — the more you can be around people like that, the more you’re going to learn,” Mason said. “The more you’re going to improve as a human being.”
Improvements both on and off the mat are the markers of success for these young men. Even with three individual ACC Championships and a host of honors under his belt, DiCamillo doesn’t take the credit. His success is a product of the team’s support — he improves because of them.
“I couldn’t have gotten to where I am right now if it wasn’t for not only the guys who start or those who contribute to my success in the room — but the guys I live with, the guys who are older than me and kept me sane through the years,” DiCamillo said. “The bond we have not just in the room but also off the mat has contributed huge amounts to my success. I couldn’t have done it alone. ”
Their accomplishments are a product of the team’s top priority — relationships. The challenges of their sport are overcome by their camaraderie.
“I think the uniqueness of our team culture makes everybody buy into what the coaches are saying,” DiCamillo said. “It makes training more fun, it makes being a part of the team more fun, it makes the hard work worth it and makes the overall experience better, more contagious and guys are more willing to grow. And that — that’s when we get going. ”
These pillars of their program — relationships, respect, discipline, commitment and character — have transformed their focus from themselves as individuals to members of a team. In a sport so full of ups and downs and fraught with changes and challenges, having that foundation is a formidable force in itself.
Wrestling has bonded them and molded them as friends and as teammates. For this team, success is so much more than the mat — it’s values as well as victories. It comes in making men as well as athletes, in leading and learning. It comes in the process and in progress, in setting goals and reaching them. Success comes in being better.
“I really want to just take as much time as I can and continue to improve,” DiCamillo said. “Reaching that point where I know I’m getting the best out of myself as both a person and an athlete would be the overarching goal, and hopefully a byproduct of that is winning a national championship in March.”