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Q & A with Virginia Tech coach Kevin Dresser

Virginia Tech Head Wrestling Coach Kevin Dresser has his Hokie team competing at a high level this year. Fresh off its highest ever finish at the NCAA tournament last season, Virginia Tech is looking to make a big splash at the national level with hopes of continued program progression.

The Hokies battled to a second place finish at the 50th Midlands Tournament last weekend, garnering five place winners including two tournament champions. Jarrod Garnett and Nick Brascetta picked up Midlands championships at 125 pounds and 149 pounds respectively.

Virginia Tech is currently ranked 11th in the nation with a 4-2 dual meet record. The Hokies have two returning All-Americans from last season, Pete Yates at 165 pounds, and Devin Carter, who is currently under redshirt, at 141 pounds.

Since Coach Dresser took over the program in 2006, he has led Virginia Tech to an 11th place finish at the NCAA Championships in 2012, a second place finish at the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals in the 2010-11 season, as well as coaching three individual NCAA All-Americans.

Dresser is a former NCAA champion at 142 lbs for the University of Iowa in 1986. He is also a two-time Big Ten champion.

USA Wrestling was recently able to talk with coach Dresser about his team’s performance at the Midlands Tournament, and the future of Virginia Tech wrestling.

What were your expectations, team and individual, heading into the Midlands Tournament, and how did your team prepare to meet those expectations?

We trained real hard…we got done competing with our schedule December 2nd so I think we were off from the second to the seventh, but from the seventh until the 20th we went real hard. We focused real hard on it then we let everybody go home for five days. We came back on the 26th and got our weight under control and flew out to Chicago, so that was our training cycle for that. We trained for 13 days pretty hard, a lot of two-a-days, and we just really kind of grinded it out a little bit there just because we hadn’t done that. I felt like this was a big event just in terms of getting our guys national seeds and national recognition so we made it a priority. I really felt like when looking at the field I wasn’t quite sure who was going to be there. Based on looking at the field I think we could have won it. I feel like we pretty much did what we came out there to do. You always have an individual here or there that you feel could have maybe done a little bit better, but we also had some individuals that did pretty good that people probably didn’t expect them to do quite as well, so we were happy with our team performance.

How have your wrestlers performed up to this point in the season, and is your team on pace to meet its goals?

I think we are right where we need to be right now. Obviously you don’t want to be at your very best and peaked right now, but at the same time you want to be winning some big matches. We lost a few matches this past weekend that we are going to turn around. I think there are some guys that are really making names for themselves. I just feel like we have 10 guys going in the right direction right now and as a coach if you can ever get 10 guys going in the right direction that is what you shoot for. We don’t have ten All-Americans on that team but we have got 10 guys going in the right direction.

Can you speak to Nick Brascetta’s Midlands performance, having defeated the number one seed and 2012 NCAA runner-up Montell Marion in the semifinals, as well as the number two seed Donnie Vinson of Binghamton in the finals?

He’s a tough dude. He’s good in all positions. He has got great defense. He gets to the guys legs. He is really good on bottom and he can ride guys out at the end of periods. He does all the things it takes to win big tournaments. I’m sure he surprised a lot of people but I’ve known how good Nick Brascetta is for a year now. I kind of think it was his coming out party, but he is out now.

What does this performance at the 50th Midlands Tournament mean for the Virginia Tech wrestling program, and how does it impact the program’s future?

You know, it is just one event. The NCAA gives us 16 events a year and this is just one event. It is a bigger event than most, but it is still just one event. Our thing this year is consistency. We have to show consistency and that is the sign of a great team and a great program is consistency, so we are excited about the weekend but we are excited to wrestle Duke this weekend too. We have got to be excited 16 times, then we have got to be excited at the ACC and then we have got to be excited at the nationals, so that is kind of our battle cry.

Are there any potential breakout wrestlers on your Virginia Tech squad that the wrestling world should be looking out for?

I think everybody knows by now, it is the midpoint of the season. I think everybody knows everybody’s lineups. Obviously we’ve got some guys that I think can get better and get hot. I think Jesse Dong, he sat out a whole year, so this is the first time he is in a national level environment again, and fifth place wasn’t what he wanted. He feels like he really underperformed, so he is going to get another shot here a couple of times and I think he is a guy that is still flying under the radar a little bit. I think we’ve got a lot of guys that can get better. We just have to put ourselves in as many tough situations possible so at the end of the year there are no surprises.

As a unit, what improvements can or must be made for Virginia Tech to take the next step in March at the NCAA tournament and make the podium?

I think just making sure that you’re ready and excited to beat good guys. Obviously shape is an issue and you know just being ready to fight and being tough because that’s what it is when you get down to the final eight guys. There is a very miniscule amount of difference between a lot of guys when you get those final 12 guys so making sure that you’re mentally ready to go and ready to fight is big.

We all know you are an Iowa man, having said that, how would you best describe your personal coaching philosophy?

Well, obviously I think I probably took something away from [Iowa]. I was there five years as an athlete and we won five national titles, so I’d be foolish not to take something away from that experience. I think I understand that toughness and that work ethic, but at the same time I think over the years I’ve been around a lot of great coaches, and I’ve worked with a lot of great coaches, and I’m currently working with some great coaches. I think my wrestling knowledge and IQ is pretty high right now just because all of the time I’ve put in. I think that, along with working hard, eventually turns into W’s.

I can’t say enough about Coach (Tony) Robie. He has meant so much to this program too. You know he and I have been elbow-to-elbow for seven years, so I can’t say enough about him and how quality he has become as a coach as well.

What are your personal inspirations that have impacted you the most over the years as you pursue your career in the sport of wrestling, whether it is a wrestler, coach, historic moment, etc.?

I don’t think there is any one person, you know obviously you see great coaches and great wrestlers, and there is not one person I could say, that guy is the reason I wrestle. I was just one of those guys as an athlete that wanted to, I don’t know if the right word is prove people wrong, or prove to people that I was the best guy. As a coach I like the challenge of doing things people say that you can’t do. That is a weird motivator for me, but I’ve always liked to go in an underdog situation and try to make the best out of the situation. Obviously coming to Virginia Tech we were in a pretty bad situation, so that was the perfect opportunity for me. It was kind of right up my alley. We still have a long ways to go, but I know that if I leave tomorrow whoever takes over this job is going to be in a great situation and that’s the way I like to leave things.

Talk about your transition from coaching at the high school level to coaching at the Division One level?

I think being a high school coach I had an advantage in certain areas, and then obviously some disadvantages. I think the advantage coming in was I had a lot of relationships with high school coaches. Also, I think every college coach needs to be a high school coach for at least five years because I think you learn how to do everything. When I was a high school coach I washed towels, I folded towels, I mopped mats, I set up this, I set up that, I got the mats ready to go. It gives you appreciation and I think it helps you enhance your college program. I already understood how to build a fan base and stuff like that because I had to do it. Obviously from the other side of things, yes the level of athleticism and the margin of error at the Division One versus high school is a huge difference. In high school rarely do you get those two guys, that are elite guys, that both want to beat the crap out of each other. That happens every weekend in college. Getting adjusted to the finer points of winning and losing at the college level was something I had to learn.

What can the wrestling nation expect from Virginia Tech wrestling come March 2013?

We just feel like we are going to be competitive. I’m not going to go and make promises that we are going to win the nationals or anything like that. We are just going to get better every week and we are going to put a good product out there. We are going to get great effort. Are we going to get our hand raised every time? Probably not, but you know what we are going to give great effort. That is what we preach and that’s how we coach so we are continuing to focus on that right now.
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