Aiyyo, once upon a rhyme where the scenery sets,
you see stress
Streets a matter of life and death, no regrets
Life's a test
strife, wif special effects
Neighbourhood's full of reps,
cities are projects
Of course I listened to Rakim on the iron horse to MSG. This being only my fifth ever visit to the NYC, I had to re-hear what Tha Gawd had to say about his hometown.
I arrived a little late to the opening presser of three local wrestlers:
1. Hofstra National Champ Nick Gallo (Hofstra is the official host school of this year’s Championships; Missouri was last year)
2. 2x Olympian, 3x AA, 2x National Champ for Penn State and Long Island native, Kerry McCoy
3. World Bronze Medalist, Lyndhurst, NJ native, Donny Pritzlaff
But still in plenty of time to listen to Kerry McCoy speak, which is always a treat. I've always been intrigued and appreciative of huge dudes who can both out-debate you AND kick your ass. Here's USA Wrestling's Richard Immel interviewing McCoy afterward:
When Immel finished, I asked McCoy (after practicing my 'hi, I'm JP Pearson of Black Shoe Diaries' intro with him, extending my hand) which weights he was most looking forward to watching this weekend. He said, 'well, you know I'm biased, but we are getting some interesting Heavyweight wrestlers these days. Both Gwiazdowski & Snyder are really fun to watch. I like '65; Dieringer is entertaining, and the two Penn Staters in the middle, at 149 and 157. It's a little bittersweet for me. As an alum, what's going on is all very exciting, but it makes my job that much harder.'
Next up were five selected (not sure by whom, but they are all undefeated and fine choices for interviewing) wrestlers:
1. 3x AA, 1x Finalist, Cornell RSSR Nahshon Garrett; 1-seed at 133
2. 1x AA PSU RSSO Zain Retherford; 1-seed at 149
3. 3x AA, 2x Champ, OKST RSSR Alex Dieringer; 1-seed at 165 and on a 76-match winning streak. Dude hasn’t lost since an 0-1 Decision to Iowa’s Derek St. John in the 1/10/14 dual
4. 1x AA, 1x Finalist, World Gold Medalist, Ohio State TRSO Kyle Snyder
5. 3x AA, 2x Champ, NCST RSSR Nick Gwiazdowski; 1-seed at 285 and on an 81-match winning streak. Dude hasn’t lost since a 0-1 decision to Minny’s Tony Nelson in the 1/1/14 Southern Scuffle Finals.
Since I'm now pretending harder than ever to be a real journalist, I'm under a deadline, so to the transcripts we go! (The NCAA provides these to the media as a service--it's very helpful!)(I'll drop a few of my lame pics into the transcripts)(Note for Bman: these were taken with my fancy borrowed camera, but I'm still learning how to focus it).
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to the 2016 NCAA Division I wrestling championship. We have five athletes, as you can see, up here today. We have Nick Gwiazdowski from North Carolina State, Alex Dieringer from Oklahoma State, Zain Retherford from Penn State, Nahshon Garrett from Cornell and Kyle Snyder from Ohio State.
I'll ask each of the five to give a brief statement about wrestling and the NCAA championships.
It's an honor to wrestle here. It's a home state of mine, come back home state, my last tournament. It's a special place and I have a lot of people coming out.
So really looking forward to a lot.
ALEX DIERINGER: It's my senior year. So it's going to be cool to go out like this. It's obviously the most historic place, arena in the world. So it's pretty cool. And I'm going for my third title. And I'm just going to try to go out with a big bang.
This place is awesome. I was already out there and checked out the arena a little bit. So just looking forward to having fun with it.
(sorry for the mic in the nose pic, Nahshonn)
Everybody said it pretty well. It's exciting to be here. This is my fourth time wrestling at Madison Square Garden. The excitement is awesome, the environment is great, and people are ready to get going and it gets you pumped up.
I'm very excited to compete here. I've never wrestled at Madison Square Garden, so it's going to be exciting to go out there and compete. Anytime you can wrestle in front of thousands of fans it's very exciting and something I'm looking forward to.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Question for both Nick and Kyle. It's fortunate we have both of you here, a lot of people expected to see you at the end of this tournament. Nick, what were your thoughts when you heard Kyle was coming back and he was going at your weight class? How many matches have you seen him in and talk about his success and what he's been doing?
NICK GWIAZDOWSKI: He's 6-0 so that speaks for that. When I heard about it I thought, okay, it's another challenge. I've overcome challenges before. Talked to my coaches and people on my staff. So we changed some things up. But overall we were on a pretty solid track to begin with.
So if you want to be the best on Saturday night, you've got to beat a quality opponent. So you're not going to find five easy guys to walk through. So having a guy like that on the other side, but there's four guys before then. Again, if you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best. One right there.
Q. Follow-up about facing Kyle, obviously he's effective with that little single. Do you have to stop that or is there something else you have to stop?
NICK GWIAZDOWSKI: I think there's more than one shot he has. I'll be ready for multiple shots. But there's things you work on in practice, and you obviously watch film on guys. We've wrestled before. So you get an idea of what the guy feels like. So there's some things. But other things I'm good at different skills, too.
Q. Kyle, for you coming back, you've wrestled more international. You've done folkstyle this year. Have you done anything overseas to mirror what you're going to be doing in this tournament this weekend?
KYLE SNYDER: Have I done anything overseas?
Q. Yes, any of the events you've done overseas or your training that would help prepare you for this?
KYLE SNYDER: Well, I've just been wrestling a lot. So I think that's going to help prepare me for the competition that I'm going to have here. I haven't really wrestled too much folkstyle. I've been training mostly freestyle still since I came back. But I think wrestling the type of opponents that I've been able to compete against this year, some of the best guys in the world at my weight class, some guys that have wrestled heavyweight before and done well is going to help me compete well at this tournament. And just focusing on the same things I've been focusing on, improvement, trying to open up more and wrestle freely.
Q. Kyle, obviously when you came out of Olympic redshirt, things changed your plans. And I was curious going into this tournament, has your freestyle affected or helped your folkstyle and vice versa? Has wrestling some folkstyle had any effect on your freestyle?
KYLE SNYDER: I haven't wrestled -- I've wrestled six matches in folk but in practice I only practice freestyle with the guys pretty much. So I think just wrestling is wrestling, I'm going to learn and get better in positions whether it's freestyle or folkstyle and top/bottom is something -- I've never really been that great on top. Like I've never had a pin before, I think. So I'm not really good on top. But bottom's always been something that I'm pretty naturally good at. So I haven't worked on that too much. But I think, like I said, earlier going overseas I've learned a lot against the competition I've wrestled against, and I think it's made me a better wrestler.
Q. Nahshon, you said this is your fourth time wrestling at the Garden. How does this venue compare to other venues you've competed in?
NAHSHON GARRETT: I think it's -- I would say it's probably a little more intimate because I just think the places I've actually wrestled before at nationals are a lot -- I think they're a lot bigger. And when I came here it seemed to be like more compact. There's a lot more people like fitted in. So it seems you're closer to people. You're closer to the people, you're closer to the crowd, you're closer to the excitement. You just seem closer; you don't feel distant from the competition or anything else.
Q. Does that impact your wrestling at all?
NAHSHON GARRETT: Oh, yeah. For me, I love feeling like I can compete and wrestle to the best of my ability for specific people and just put on a show for people. So the closer people are and the more, like, I see them I can see them face to face almost, the better I feel, like, I'm like, oh, wow, it's a performance. And it feels great.
Q. Zain, you took a redshirt year last year after finishing as an All-American, your true freshman year. What were your goals that you wanted to accomplish last year during that redshirt, and can you see that it's helped you here during your sophomore season?
ZAIN RETHERFORD: Yeah, my goals during my redshirt season were just train harder and pick up stuff from guys. When you're in the folkstyle you might not be able to get your hands on guys as much and think about learning technique. You kind of get stuck in a rut sometimes and you kind of have to be conscious of that. So I was just working on getting better on my feet and working better in all positions really. And I think it's definitely, freestyle definitely helps with folkstyle for sure.
Q. As a quick follow-up, you've already had pretty good success against the other top-seeded guys in the tournament. Where does that put your confidence coming into the tournament?
ZAIN RETHERFORD: I mean, this is the NCAA Tournament. So everybody's going to be going for that national title and your bracket doesn't really matter who it is. I just don't think it really impacts me at all. I think I'm just focused on having fun and enjoying this process, this tournament, and having fun with the year. And this is the end of the year. So looking forward to having fun again.
Q. Alex, you're an exciting guy to watch wrestle. You go out there, you look like you're having fun. How much fun is it being able to put on a show, put up big points. And also has the discussion with Kyle and Nick kind of taken the pressure off of you, whereas most years you would kind of be the guy people were focusing on, okay, number one guy, this is the guy to watch, has that taken the pressure off?
ALEX DIERINGER: No, not really. I'm pretty relaxed wrestler. I don't feel too much pressure. I always stay pretty relaxed. But yeah, I like to go out there for the fans. A lot of it is for the fans. For wrestling, it makes it more exciting for the fans if you go out there and try to score points, and I think it promotes wrestling a lot more. That's one reason I like to do that.
Also I don't like to go out there and win a close match. I like to go out there and score a lot of points. If I don't get bonus points I'm not happy with myself. I think that's the only reason why I do do it. Because if I don't get bonus points I'm not pleased at all and I go back to the room and work on it.
Q. Where do you think a third title would cement you in the history of the great wrestlers at Oklahoma State?
ALEX DIERINGER: Hopefully one of the greatest. I heard that coach said I would be top five. That was pretty cool to hear.
MODERATOR: If you don't get to keep up with all of college wrestle ling Alex has not lost a match since January of '14. So, a 78 match winning streak going.
Q. Question for Kyle. So you went out and won the world championships back in August. What was it like going back to college at Ohio State and being a sophomore and getting ready to wrestle again in college.
KYLE SNYDER: Well, the first semester I was planning on taking an Olympic redshirt. So I actually didn't have any classes. So I didn't really go on campus much. My apartment's like 50 yards from the wrestling room. So I really just walked back and forth from the wrestling room multiple times every day and really wasn't on campus that much to see everybody. But the second semester was fun, coming out and telling everybody I was going to wrestle again. And that part was fun but then having to take classes wasn't as much fun. And I know it's something that you have to do. And I try my best to do well in school. But the wrestling is my favorite part.
Q. The kids on campus, do they know you're a world champ? Do they call you champ? What's that like? And even around town?
KYLE SNYDER: Some of the people on the campus know I am a world champion. That's pretty cool to walk into a football game or just walking around campus and people will ask for pictures and stuff like that. But most of the time I can just walk around and people don't know who I am, which is fine, too.
Q. Nick, there's been a lot of talk about the legacy you could leave as a three-time champ, heavyweight, one of the best of all time. Can you talk about the ending that could shape up for yourself in your home state, how important it is for you wrestling in your home state, wrestling at Madison Square Garden, the big lights, the big stage, quality opponent, potentially the biggest match of the tournament? What are your thoughts on that?
NICK GWIAZDOWSKI: I think about it sometimes when I'm in training and just at home and other times. But there's a path to it. And sometimes I look forward to having the opportunity to do. It's pretty special when people say you win this next tournament you could be one of the best ever in the weight class, especially with the people I've watched and competed against in this weight class and overall in the NCAA. But what you talked about being here in my home state of New York and potentially against a quality guy like that, it just makes everything better. It's like you see two best guys go at it for the last time and you find out who is the better one. Stuff like that. As a fan you look forward to it, I think. But also as an athlete, cuz you really test yourself and see what you have within you, see where you're really at. And I think that's something that tells a lot about the person you are.
Q. You had an opportunity to wrestle in Time Square last year. How is that experience. I know Kyle has also wrestled there how does that experience help you for from the Big Apple for an experience like this?
ALEZ DIERINGER: It was one of the coolest experiences I've ever been in, to be able to wrestle outside in Times Square was awesome, and now wrestling in Madison Square Garden, it's going to be a very cool experience. I'm used to the big stage. I've been doing it since I was a little kid. So it's all the same thing to me. It's all just another match and I try to be pretty calm about it.
THE MODERATOR: We had three former NCAA champions in here earlier, and they were asked about this. I'll toss it to these guys right quick, since the Beat the Streets is coming up. Nahshon, events like Beat the Streets, Grapple in the Garden, Grapple on the Gridiron at Iowa City last November, how much do you think these events can help collegiate wrestling and international wrestling in the United States.
NAHSHON GARRETT: I would say a lot. For wrestling to put, so much heart and so much dedication and time for our guys and for them to -- we don't do it for -- we don't do it for the fame. We don't do it for the fortune. We don't do it for those types of things. But it's nice to be noticed. It's nice to be, the work to be appreciated. And I think it's something that we don't look for, preaching for it. We don't look for it. But I believe that these kind of productions definitely kind of point towards it to say this is something it's an amazing sport and it's something that teaches kids values and characteristics they wouldn't get in other sports. So, yeah, the fact that it just puts wrestling out on the bigger stage is pretty incredible.
BLACK SHOE DIARIES: Zain, we've seen you grow the sport of wrestling just within the Penn State fan base, really on the strength of your physicality, the way you wrestle. Could you tell us your opinion of the nickname Z-pain?
ZAIN RETHERFORD: I don't know. [smiles] It doesn't really matter, doesn't affect me at all. But if the fans like it? If they think it's cool, It's cool with me. Sure. Yeah.
Q. Kyle, a year ago you lose three matches in your true freshman year. You have a runner-up finish. A month later you beat Jake Varner. The next year you're on the world team. To what do you attribute your jump? Is freestyle just a better situation for you, or did you make massive leaps as a wrestler in that short amount of time?
KYLE SNYDER: I would say it's a little bit of both. I do like freestyle more. I like wrestling freestyle more. So that might be reason -- my style probably suits it a little bit better. I think that might be a reason why I have more success in freestyle. But I also feel like I grew as a wrestler a lot after the NCAAs and even during the season I was growing as a wrestler but you take a few losses. And that's kind of just the way it goes.
But after the season kind of just talked to some of the people I trust the most and reevaluated the way I think about the sport and instead of -- I think I was able to wrestle more freely, wrestle open in the competition where you saw that I had success. And with that I was able to learn more and become a better wrestler.
Q. The weight change, how was that -- do you think that's played a role and has that helped you maybe open up a little bit more?
KYLE SNYDER: 197 wasn't too hard of a cut when I wrestled in it last year. I had it under control. And even before the season I was dieting to make sure that I could make the weight easily by NCAAs. But I like wrestling at -- I would say 213 is probably pretty much the perfect weight class for me. And then heavyweight isn't too bad most of the time. Coon was really big, so he was hard to wrestle. My forearms got tired when I was wrestling him, holding on to his leg, stuff like that. But I wrestled good heavyweights in the room. Like I say often, Tervel Dlagnev, and our heavyweight, Nick Tavanello, they're both tough guys. And I get used to wrestling the heavy weights with them in the room. But, yeah, so 285 is -- it's a good weight class for me.
Q. Follow up for Kyle. Unfortunately your last match in the AAAs was not one that you expected. But you did get pinned. Could you talk about what that experience did? A lot of people thought maybe you needed the break after the way you lost. Can you describe that night at all, what do you remember?
KYLE SNYDER: Yeah, I can describe the night. I remember the night pretty well. (Laughter).
It was hard. Especially it was kind of a mix of emotions because we won the team title last year. Some of my best friends won NCAA titles. You don't want to be jealous for them. You want to be happy for them. But just as an individual, you want the same thing. So it was kind of hard for me to be around them, even though I am super happy that we got it done as a team and I'm super happy for the individuals who got it done now. It was hard to be with them in that moment because I was hurting pretty bad. But the rest of the night really wasn't that fun. Coach Ryan made me come up and speak so all the Buckeye fans who came to our meeting get-together, that really wasn't that fun for me to do, but I had to do it.
And I would say I learned a decent amount from that match. Didn't really, I wouldn't say it catapulted me to what I did during the summer. But I definitely -- I learned a lot. It made me reevaluate the way I think about the sport. It made me assess my wrestling more and I got better in that under hold position, too, so I'm not going to get thrown that way hopefully anytime soon
Q. Alex, two-part question. We've got like -- we've got a really tight Hodge Trophy race, all of you guys sitting up there. What do you think, you're a senior going out, how important is the Hodge Trophy to you, and can you tell me why you think you deserve the Hodge Trophy?
ALEX DIERINGER: You know, I think a couple of guys up here deserve it, too, but we all have some pretty, really good seasons. Obviously if you get a Hodge Trophy you win a national title. But then again you're also getting bonus points not only for yourself but for the team. And that's what I look for. I'm always looking for bonus points and just like these guys up here. Makes it more exciting for yourself and for the fans.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
I had good questions to ask of both Dieringer and Nahshon, but wasn't aggressive enough with the hand-raising, early. But I stepped up my game when the coaches came on! After letting a few questions to each coach go (I'll paste transcript later), I mustered the courage to ask this of Coach Sanderson:
BLACK SHOE DIARIES: Coach Sanderson, last year after the championship you told us that "we always have to believe that we can win; but we also have to have the guys who can score the points." I was wondering if you can tell us if there's a difference between feeling like you have to believe you can win and actually believing you can win, and whether or not you feel like you have the guys who can score the points this year?
CAEL SANDERSON: I'm trying to figure out what you asked me there. I'm a little slow. (Laughter). But I think if you act as if you know, right, you believe you're going to win, you're going to do things right. You're going to fight a little harder, a little bit longer, regardless of the score, regardless of the circumstances. So there is always great power in believing because you're going to do things correctly and you're going to put more effort into it versus if I think there's a chance I might win, well, then you're going to be a little...you'll be discouraged a little bit a little more easily, I think.
But, yeah, you have to have kids that have the ability to win matches and score points. And a kid comes into our program, we're not going to change his core beliefs or turn him into something that the foundation wasn't already there. That comes from home. It comes from his parents. Very rarely do people change or do kids change. So recruiting's obviously very important. And getting kids that fit your program, kids that the bigger the match, the better they wrestle. Kids that like to score points, like all the coaches here are talking about.
But there's great value in believing. If you don't believe, you'll be a little bit more willing to take what falls in your lap. And if you're willing to do that, you're probably not going to win. So hopefully that...answers your question.
BSD: It does, very much, thank you.
I remember former Penn State wrestling great David Taylor saying on a podcast once how intelligent Cael Sanderson is. And we've seen Cael play coy before. Then newbie-journo Christian Pyles was compelled to ask Cael about his decision to redshirt Nico Megaludis & Zain Retherford last year and Cael retorted "Why? Do you have a plan or something?" I was scared listening to it through the internet. I met Pyles today for the first time; maybe if I continue to play my cards right, I can get a quote from him on that exchange.
And Cael did the same thing to me in the Scottrade Center hallway last year! I was new; he'd never seen me before, and here I was blasting him with the only constant video flash in our circle of PSU beat writers (the pros, you see, were simply extending their fancy unobtrusive audio recorders, not shining a wac light in his face from a busted-screen cell phone), asking him about Matt Brown's fitness. I had tried to frame it: "we've read so much about Brown's fitness levels; how does he compare to some of the greats you wrestled against?" I thought it was a decent question, but he looked at me, clearly not recognizing me, and said "what do you mean?" Flustered to all hell and with my heartbeat in my throat, I blurted "we've read he's won a couple fitness competitions." Having sufficiently scared the puhp outta me, he went on to answer how hard Brown works and how much he does what the coaches ask.
Later, in that same interview, Coach Sanderson gave us the quote that has stuck with me: "we always have to believe we can win, but we also have to have the guys who can score points." So when I brought that forward to this year, Coach Sanderson gave us the same act ("I'm slow"). All that was cool, and even more so with my new, second-year confidence, as I rolled out into the hallway where I caught up with Coach talking more about zPain to another guy. I filmed the tail end of it:
Cael acknowledging that Zain is 'mean' and 'ferocious' is music.
Where the young cadets
get stripes from the vets
And comrades quest
to be the next to finess
and select bets
with death threats
Object: Cheddar--better your total net
Cael Sanderson and Zain Retherford outchea betterin our total net.
There were only two of us there then (I still need to meet the bro to my right), so when he wrapped up, Coach Sanderson looked at me and said "thanks for your question; it took me a minute to get my mind around it." But it was delivered with a wry smile that conveyed, to me, that he rather enjoyed discussing a little psychology. I said "that answer was great, just what I was looking for, thank you. That quote of yours from last year really stuck with me." We shook hands, I kept myself from melting for a minute, long enough to excuse myself with dignity, and I went and settled down in the press room to compile my #content.
The rest of the coaches interviews were also pretty good, especially this story from Logan Stieber, delivered via Tom Ryan. The back drop: John Smith's son, Joseph Smith, is 31-3 in his TRFR season and the 6-seed in the 157-pound bracket. In the first round, he's scheduled to face Tom Ryan's son, Jake Smith, who is 17-5 in his RSFR season and unseeded.
Laughters continue to abound. Let us know in the comments if you'd like any assistance with the joke. I'm gonna roll #nospoilers here up top.
In the end, I liked all the coaches, no matter how exhausted they looked (Cael & Ryan seemed well-rested, but Pop & Brands each looked pretty beat and John Smith seemed barely awake). Here's the rest of the coaches transcript:
THE MODERATOR: First, I'll ask each of the coaches about the experience of being here and having the NCAA championships in Madison Square Garden, of course this historic arena. Cael, we'll start with you.
CAEL SANDERSON: Thanks. This is exciting. Obviously it's close for us, so it makes it a little extra special. We have a lot of alumni in the area. And it's a four-hour drive from State College. But being in the city, it's a little different but exciting. Once you get in the arena, they're all the same. We're excited to be here and we're thankful for this opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Pat Popolizio, with North Carolina State, also a New Yorker.
PAT POPOLIZIO: Excited to be here. My home state couple of guys on the roster from the state of New York. We're pretty familiar with our surroundings. It's just a great opportunity to be in a historical venue and just excited to get out there and compete and put on a good show for everybody that's here for this weekend to watch.
THE MODERATOR: John Smith, Oklahoma State.
JOHN SMITH: It's exciting. We've had a couple of days here. And of course some of the student-athletes, first experience in New York City. So for that reason it's been good. And gym looks great. The facility looks great. So let's hope we have a great tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Tom Ryan, Ohio State.
TOM RYAN: Looking forward to competing in Madison Square Garden. Obviously I grew up 35 minutes from here. So it was quite often my brother and I would train in and work out at the New York Athletic Club on Tuesday nights. It's a special place. As a young person also got to see the Globetrotters compete here as a kid. And I got to see Neil Diamond sing here. So actually had some of my Iowa boys with me back in college, we caught that concert. It was spectacular. Won't be as good as the wrestling this weekend. Looking forward. Kyle, obviously from the East Coast, and Kenny Court's not too far away. It's a special place to be and we're looking forward to it.
THE MODERATOR: Tom Brands, Iowa.
TOM BRANDS: Same as everybody. We know it's historic. We know it's a challenge and it's good to be in the Big Apple, no doubt. We're excited.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Tom Ryan and John Smith, I'm glad you're sitting together. Obviously your sons' very first college match against each other's sons. Would you talk about what that moment will be like when you first saw the drawing? And also will be in the corner of each of your son's matches.
JOHN SMITH: I wish it could have been a different draw, you know. But it is what it is. And I probably won't be in his corner, I don't know. It's kind of like how I feel in the morning or how he feels. Tough match and Joseph knows it's a tough match, so we'll take it from there.
TOM RYAN: The brackets came out and Logan Stieber said to me, wow, your son and Smith's son are going to wrestle. You realize there are six world titles and two Olympic gold medals between the family? (Laughter) So Logan is only good for sly remarks. Obviously their name is synonymous with wrestling. We know the Smiths, their passion for the sport. So we're excited that Jake has the opportunity to compete with Joe. Looking forward to it.
Q. Will you be in the corner?
TOM RYAN: Depends on when the match comes up, and we've got some great assistants that like to be in this corner as well.
Q. Tom Ryan, this is obviously -- you're the only coach up here that's actually on the NCAA selection committee or, sorry, Wrestling Championship Committee. And it's your first time. How much different did it feel like actually being on that committee as opposed to being like all of us waiting for the brackets to come out?
TOM RYAN: I can tell you the people that are on the committee are great people. They take what they do incredibly seriously. It was -- I think it ended up being 28 hours in meetings really over a two-day period. I think the process is a good one. I think the people on the committee care about making it better. So overall it was a great experience for me to be involved at this level. You want to make a difference. You want to make a difference in the sport. And by being on committees you have a chance to.
Q. Question for Coach Smith. You guys have had a lot of changes in your lineup. You've had injuries you've dealt with and things like that. What's been the messages, as you've seen some pretty talented guys that go down to the team, as you guys are still very much in the title hunt right now. How have you been kind of handling those breaks?
JOHN SMITH: You just handle them each week. It's been a challenging year. We've had things I've never experienced as experienced as a coach. After 25 years you think you've seen it all and all of a sudden you get rattled. Seemed like for about three or four straight weeks we were rattled as a team. So we wrestled 23 different guys this year. Started in the lineup. And that's pretty unusual. You just feel fortunate that you're in a position. We had several kids from Stillwater High School that really made a difference in our depth. So it's good to be here and still being considered a team that can win. At one time during the year I didn't know about it. So just real pleased that a lot of individuals stepped up at a time when it was real important for them to step up. So you don't do, you don't come here and all of a sudden you're part of part of the team that can win unless you have some individuals really stepping up for you and that's what happened for us.
Q. Cael, last year you made the decision to redshirt freshmen like Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal when they probably could have competed at this tournament. Likewise, with Nico Megaludis and Zain Retherford, why was that the right decision for the program and has that decision helped set up Penn State for the run you've had over the last five or six years?
CAEL SANDERSON: I don't know if it's the right decision until it's 10 years down the road and we'll look back. But I think we're confident with it and felt like we did the right thing with the circumstances that we had. The big one was Zain Retherford, to kind of take him out of the old guard there and put him in front of the new guard, this new group of kids coming through. Leadership has been incredible. Attitude, philosophy, the way you use competition, the way you use training lifestyle all that stuff. I think that was a huge bonus for us to get him he's still a sophomore but he's able to lead our program and that's the big picture. When you make those decisions you're obviously thinking big picture. But as a coach you want to run right now. Who knows what's going to happen in the future. You have to weigh all those options. And in 10 years we'll answer that same question. Who knows.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Popolizio, we had Nick Gwiazdowski in here earlier. What's it been like to coach a heavyweight of that caliber, because he has a chance obviously to be in pretty rare company if he wins this weekend. You might address what he's been like for you.
PAT POPOLIZIO: It's been a special relationship. Obviously I've known him for a very long time, had the same high school coach. I've been able to build that relationship for a very long time with him. But he's done some special things for the sport of wrestling. And it's just another weekend for him. But he's fun to watch. When you watch heavyweights wrestle, a lot of times the match is a little slower. But he goes out and he tries to attack as much as he can and put as much points out there on the board. And it makes it fun to watch. And that's been good for college wrestling in general. And he's doing a lot of things right to put himself in this position to compete here in the state of New York. So that will be fun.
Q. Pat, coming into the year, I think a lot of us thought you had the chance to have a really good team. Has this year sort of progressed the way you thought it would progress, and how do you evaluate your guys, their confidence level coming into this tournament and the potential to achieve a team trophy beyond that?
PAT POPOLIZIO: I think when you look at where we were when we started the season, each week we tried to gain confidence as a team. And, more importantly, the individuals that were starting to have success, that kind of got contagious with us. And where we're at as a program to be able to compete with some of the teams we're able to compete with this year, really, ultimately, set the tone for the ending of the season going into the ACCs, built a ton of confidence for us. It's a different ballgame out here, but it's still wrestling.
Our guys are very confident at this point. They did it themselves throughout the season. So just gotta go out and do what they've been doing all year, and the competition stays the same. We wrestle a very tough schedule this year. So we're familiar with a lot of guys that we're going to see throughout the tournament, just like everybody else.
But it's been -- for us it's been a very exciting year. Kind of things kind of explode a little quickly as far as the success with this team. And just we're thankful to be in the situation we are with the team that we can compete with.
THE MODERATOR: I've been asked to pitch this to one of the coaches about special events that have occurred in wrestling the past few years, Beat the Streets, Grapple in the Garden. Last November Coach Tom Brands hosted Grapple on the Gridiron, drew a record crowd of more than 42,000. Tom Brands, you might address the importance of wrestling having special events like that.
TOM BRANDS: I think it's important to look at the history of the sport, why it was so grand. You look at ancient Rome, and Mike Novogratz's brainchild to have something outside. And it wasn't original from our point of view. It's just something that you keep trying to push the envelope a little bit. We got the fans to do it. We proved that. And we don't take credit for being original, but we do take credit for being able to pull it off in grand fashion. And I think wrestling needs it. I think it needs it on a yearly or semi-yearly or whatever, as-many-times-as-you-can-get-it-packed-in-there basis. And you have a good product. And you make it good with fanfare and excitement. And the more people you put into building to watch the sport, the more exciting it gets. There's no doubt, especially knowledgeable wrestling fans that feel things coming or see things coming ahead of time and they're informed and they're educated as to what's coming, when the fall's coming, near fall, team points, those types of things. So a lot going on there. That's real positive.
Q. Coach Brands, follow-up to that. How does this weekend help grow the sport of wrestling? Specifically, not just with the NCAA Championships, but competing at Madison Square Garden?
TOM BRANDS: I think it's historic. I don't know how much impact there's going to be. I think there's a lot of things that compete with wrestling here, the Rangers, the Islanders, the Knicks. New Jersey has some professional teams going on right now. But that doesn't mean that with great wrestling and great stories, people putting them out there, that this can't be a great stage for wrestling. We are in the Garden, on the main floor of the Garden, not in the corner of the Garden or anywhere else. Go out there and let it fly. That's what you have to do is have the team ready to go and have guys that are ready to put it on their shoulders and compete at a level that's not only going to give them the best chance to win but is going to capture the fancy of fans and that's how you do it. And it takes a lot of courage to wrestle that way. And the guys that I watched wrestle when I was younger, they were the ones that were scoring points. And one of those guys is right here sitting at this table and his name is John Smith. I mean, he scored a lot of points when he wrestled. He revolutionized the sport of wrestling. That's how they've got to look at it sometimes, take that responsibility. I believe in that. We talked about it. It's part of the philosophy of our program.
Q. This goes right to what you were talking about, Tom. You five are great ambassadors for the sport. John and Cael, you all have lots of team national titles; and, John, you just coached Cael back on the World team. So how do you guys approach that, Cael? Do you think you're going to catch John with your team championships and how does that get you guys going?
JOHN SMITH: Most of the championships I didn't win. I've got a small number compared to -- he's got a way to catch us. To catch me, I think he just needs one more.
CAEL SANDERSON: I don't think anyone's really worried about that. I think as coaches we're just trying to put the best product we can out there on the floor and try to help kids reach their goals. If you do that, you have the ability to win a team championship, that's a great bonus. Obviously we all want to win and everyone up here has a chance to win. But I don't think it's anything personal or I'm trying to catch this guy or that guy. If you're doing that, you're probably really not going to make it real far in the sport.
Q. Pat, you mentioned the program sort of exploded. How satisfying has it been for you this year just to watch the climb and you sitting up there now and being a legitimate contender, has the process gone a little faster than you may have thought?
PAT POPOLIZIO: Yeah, I think it's definitely a little quicker than we expected as far as the NC State fan base and our administration. But I think the work that the guys have been doing, they're getting rewarded with their success. So that part of it's really nice to see. You've got a group of guys that are really committed to everything we're about. And it's been shown what their results have been putting in. But ultimately this weekend really matters the most to both them and the teams aspect of things. You've got individuals that have goals and you want to be a part of that and want to be able to see them accomplish that. So it has, it's been a special season. But this weekend definitely could define a lot of that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Rev #1 by #188 at 2016-03-16 19:09:00 GMT
We all know by now that it's gonna be a pretty Penn State kind of weekend, so I'm gonna leave you with a little Iowan levity. Here's another media bro I haven't yet met, but I have now had the opportunity to watch him fumble this beautiful opportunity to ask Coach Brands about Sammy Brooks' mullet:
After Coach Brands corrected him, he said, "Gilman, yeah he's not the mullet type...he's the _____ type." One BSD brew to identify for us all just what kind of type Tom Brands thinks Thomas Gilman is. Shady? Shaky? Shavy?
Actually, for a real sign-off, I'll leave you with this picture of me meeting the American cornerstone of our sport, legendary Iowa Coach Dan Gable. Gable, you'll understand, deserves quite his own post.