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Derek Valenti is a prototypical wrestler, plain and simple. He is one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave every day at practice. It’s ingrained in him and has been since a young age. He comes from a passionate wrestling family. His two older brothers each went on to wrestle at Penn – Matt was a two-time NCAA champion, while Andy was a four-year letterwinner and graduated last season. Derek, after going 24-10 last year, is off to a strong start after posting two dominating wins last week at 141 pounds in the Cavaliers’ season-opening matches. He talks with about the 2009-10 season about the UVa team, his family and much more.

Tell us about the first weekend and getting back out competitively on the mat.
It was a great feeling. It was nice to finally be back out on the mat. We spend so long beating up on each other in practice leading up to this, so it’s great to finally get out and wrestle somebody else and have fun with it.

What was the offseason like for you in getting prepped for the season?
I was here for a good portion of the summer. My main focus was on drilling – not going live so much but working more on my technique, especially on my feet. I think that was my biggest weakness last year.

What would you say is your biggest strength right now?
Right now I would say my top wrestling. On bottom, I don’t think anyone can hold me, but being on top is most important for me right now.

Tell us about having Nick Nelson and Matt Bonson (each a previous NCAA qualifier) to wrestle against day in and day out.
It’s great – I can’t ask for anything better. They are both looking out for me. If Nick is watching me wrestle, he’s always pointing stuff out that can make me better. We have a great camaraderie. Every time we go out there, we wrestle our hardest but at the same time as soon as we step off the mat we are showing each other what we need to work on to improve.

What was it like growing up in your family with two older brothers who went on to become Division I wrestlers?
For me it was awesome. I loved being a part of it. For the most part, Matt and Andy were the two big wrestlers back in elementary school and high school and I was more of the kid who would come around and was their biggest fan. I didn’t wrestle as much when I was littler – I was actually kind of chunky back in the day. I was wrestling 135 in the eighth grade. Watching Matt and Andy and their success back in high school and college, it inspired me to do what I love and come out and wrestle.

How did you get started in wrestling?
Everyone said that my brothers and I were born with wrestling shoes in our hands. Watching them all the time, I knew that it was something I loved so I kept on at it.

What are your goals for this year?
All-American and NCAA champion – same as everyone else here. I want to do big things and go out there every day and wrestle my hardest. I’m doing what I love, so I can’t complain.

Your favorites:
My mom’s homemade eggplant parmesan
Spot on Grounds: The Wrestling Room in good old Onesty Hall
Wrestling memory: My freshman year of high school, being able to wrestle with my brother, Andy, back-to-back. I was 103 and he was 112.
Class: I’m an environmental science major, so anything that has to do with environmental science. I knew in high school that I wanted to do that, and there is no better school for environmental science.
TV show: Dexter
Website: Facebook
Music: I’m more of a country fan.
Movie: School of Rock
Sports teams: Mets and Jets – heartbreak teams.
Celebrity: Megan Fox

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