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|Q and A with Air Force coach Joel Sharratt|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
Joel Sharratt’s Air Force Academy wrestling program continues to make progress and gain momentum.
Sharratt, 41, is in his seventh season as the head coach for the Falcons and his team is off to a strong start.
Air Force is coming off an eighth-place finish at the rugged Southern Scuffle event in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The Falcons had three placewinners at the Southern Scuffle. Senior Cole VonOhlen placed second at 149 pounds, freshman Josh Martinez took fourth at 125 and senior Josh Mohr was eighth at 197.
VonOhlen beat 2012 NCAA runner-up Dylan Ness of Minnesota in the semifinals before losing to NCAA champion Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State in the finals. VonOhlen is ranked No. 4 nationally at 149.
Last season, VonOhlen and teammate Josh Kreimier (157) reached the round of 12 at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis. Both wrestlers finished just one win short of All-American honors. Their respective finishes were the best for Air Force since 2003 when Kevin Hoy was a national runner-up.
Air Force has brought in a number of top recruits from Colorado, including Martinez (Colorado Springs) and Kreimier (Fort Collins).
The Falcons have a big weekend of wrestling coming up at home at Clune Arena in Colorado Springs.
Air Force faces No. 10 Oregon State at 7 p.m. Friday before battling Northern Iowa and Mexico Highlands on Sunday. The Falcons will wrestle UNI at 2 p.m. with the dual against New Mexico Highlands to follow
Sharratt, a Minnesota native, was an NCAA champion for Iowa while wrestling for the legendary Dan Gable.
Sharratt took time out of his busy schedule to talk with USA Wrestling communications manager Craig Sesker about how his team is progressing this season.
How do you feel your team is performing heading into the second half of the season?
There have been some real positive results coming out of this program with the guys who are competing for us. We are starting to produce some positive results on the national level, which is very encouraging. We are very excited about what we’ve done. We know we have a lot of work to do, but we are making very good progress.
What did your team gain from competing in a loaded event like the Southern Scuffle that featured No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 3 Minnesota?
It was definitely a great event to be a part of. We had an opportunity to see a lot of highly ranked wrestlers and we had a chance to compete against some of the best wrestlers in the country. It was great to see some of our guys going toe-to-toe with the highest ranked guys in country. That just shows the expectations we have for our program.
How impressed have you been with newcomer Josh Martinez, who is now ranked 11th nationally?
Josh is a freshman who came out of a real good high school program at Pine Creek in Colorado Springs. He’s a real talented kid and a tenacious competitor. He placed third at the Cliff Keen in Vegas and fourth in the Scuffle. The success he’s had is not a surprise to us. We knew he was a real strong kid coming in here. Colorado is producing kids who are capable of competing immediately in college right out of high school. Another kid from Colorado Springs, Gabe Martinez, placed sixth in Vegas. It’s great to have Colorado kids doing well for us. It provides our local fans a chance to see them excelling at the college level.
How has Josh Kreimier followed up his strong finish to last season?
Josh hurt his knee in the fall, so he hasn’t had a tremendous amount of mat time this season. We are working on getting Josh back to that level of competitiveness where he was in March last year. He is 100 percent healthy now, and he just needs to get some more matches in. He’s very coachable and very confident in his ability. It’s good to have him back in the lineup.
Cole VonOhlen has been highly ranked his whole career, but has come up just short of being an All-American. How is he progressing this season for your team?
Cole’s been a standout performer for us for four years. He has picked up the Air Force wrestling flag and carried it for four years. He led by example his first three years. His work ethic and dedication in achieving everything academically, militarily and athletically here has been very impressive. He has almost 120 wins in his career. This year, he’s become a verbal leader and has really helped our young guys. He is fully capable of being an All-American and placing very high at the NCAA tournament. He’s beat the highest ranked guys in his career. He just has to go out and produce the result his body and mind are capable of.
How excited are you about the upcoming home duals with Oregon State and Northern Iowa?
It’s going to be a great weekend of wrestling. Our team balance has gotten much better. We have three guys in the national rankings and our team is stronger than it has been. Hopefully, we will have a great turnout at Clune Arena. It’s a great opportunity for us to wrestle some good teams.
What has your experience at Air Force been like?
It’s been a great experience for me. It’s been a process trying to build this program, and the school has supported us step-by-step. We’ve slowly attracted better talent and we are producing better results. We feel good about what we are doing with recruiting. We feel like we offer high school seniors an incredible opportunity with what we offer at Air Force.
What kind of an impact have assistant coaches Bart Horton and Sam Barber had on your program’s development?
Our staff has been completely committed to the development of the program. Recruiting, promotion, off-the-mat counseling with our guys, working with guys in practice, those guys have really stepped up in all of those areas. It’s a total team effort from our coaching staff down to the athletes and up to our administration. Bart and Sam have done a real good job. Our last recruiting class was ranked in the top 25 in the country.
What kind of student-athlete are you looking to recruit to the Air Force Academy?
We are looking for kids who want a great education and want a great experience competing for a top Division I wrestling program. Our athletes have a lot of demands on their time being at the Air Force Academy, but they have more than enough time to train. Our job is to produce leaders of character, and I’ve challenged my team to do that. We have 50 guys on the team. Every one of them is a quality kid from our senior captain Cole VonOhlen on down to the kid who is No. 50 on our depth chart. They are committed to the lifestyle here and doing the right things. We have smart, dedicated kids who are articulate and responsible.
How important would it be for Air Force to have its first All-American since 2003?
That’s what we are shooting for, but I don’t think there is any extra pressure on us to do that. Being an All-American obviously validates the result of what you are doing. I am happy with the effort we’ve put in and it is nice to have some of our wrestlers being recognized in the rankings. Ultimately, we want to put guys on the top of the podium and we want guys who have a burning desire to get there. We are training to be at the level of producing All-Americans and it is a fact that it is going to happen here. We feel like there is an exciting time ahead for the Air Force wrestling program.