Steve Garland says being the wrestling coach at Virginia isn't a job. It's a calling.
"I think if anybody spends enough time around our staff they realize, "Man, those guys just seem to have a lot of fun,"" Garland said before practice this week.
Garland is now in his eighth season as head coach at his alma mater. His Cavaliers are currently 8-2 and ranked 13th in the country, but haven't competed since a seventh-place finish at the Las Vegas Invitational two weeks ago.
Garland's says he is "at peace" as a wrestling coach this time of year -- with two practices a day, but no matches to worry about. But he admits that it's a different story on competition days.
"I'm going to tell you the truth," he says. "Competition days are a rough day for me."
"We leave him completely alone on competition days," fifth-year senior wrestler Stephen Doty says with a wide smile. "He's so high-strung and so nervous. Especially after five years, I've learned that you leave Coach Garland alone."
Garland has also been known to get emotional after wins -- like last month, when UVa snapped its eight-match losing streak to cross-state rival Virginia Tech.
"I mean, for me it was such a weight off my back, and off the program's back," Garland admits.
"And one of the things that gets me so emotional after matches is when my guys tell me things like, "Coach, I'm so happy for you. Coach, man, you deserve this,"" he says. "I think that's pretty special."
Doty says wrestling for Garland is "a lot of fun," and agrees that winning for their coach pushes the Cavaliers.
"He's the one that kind of is holding this whole thing together," Doty says. "Like, he's the guy that's bringing in the recruits. He's the guy that's in the room coaching us. He'll get out here and wrestle when he can."
Virginia Tech was ranked eighth in the country when they came to Charlottesville last month, making the Hokies the highest-ranked team the UVa wrestling team has ever beaten. The win also bumped UVa up to 11th in the country, matching the highest national ranking in program history.
Garland credits the support of both the administration and alumni as big reasons for the wrestling program's growth in his time as coach. But he says most of the Cavaliers' success stems from the guys on the mat.
"In order to be a top program, you have to have the top talent. You have to have the right guys," he says. "And so all the credit, I think, in terms of especially the last few years, what's rapidly happened, is the effort of the athletes in the wrestling room. I give the credit to our guys, the student-athletes, and what they've been able to do to turn this thing around."
"Just kind of looking at the younger guys, and kind of who's being recruited now here. They're great kids, and really tough wrestlers," Doty says. "And guys that really work hard. So that's been neat, just seeing how it's developed."
In his first seven seasons, Garland has coached the Cavaliers to one ACC title, and four additional second-place finishes. Six UVa wrestlers have earned All-America status in his time.
Now, Garland says the Cavaliers are aiming for the biggest prize in the sport.
"We realistically want to get a team trophy at the national championship," he says. "That would be an absolute dream come true. Our guys believe it; they're bought in. Our staff believes it; they're bought in. Our administration believes it, and they're bought in. So that's where we're going."
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