On the Mat with Mike Salopek
Mike Salopek entered the 2009-10 wrestling season with the unenviable task of replacing three-time ACC champion Rocco Caponi in the 184-pound weight class. The transition has been nearly seamless for the redshirt freshman, though. Salopek has already racked up a 20-6 record and is coming off two straight strong competitions – a third-place finish at the Southern Scuffle and a 4-1 mark at the Virginia Duals. He also has earned his first national ranking and currently is ranked No. 20 by W.I.N. Salopek sat down with VirginiaSports.com to discuss his season as well as a plethora of other items.
Talk about last weekend at the Virginia Duals.
Salopek: The team wrestled really well. Obviously Virginia Tech was a disappointing match not only for the team, but for myself. I lost to Tommy Spellman. I beat him at the Southern Scuffle and then gave up a takedown late (with about 15 seconds left) at the Virginia Duals. I’m definitely looking forward to a rematch with them.You bounced back pretty well from that loss with a win against Michigan.
Salopek: That was also a guy I had wrestled at the Southern Scuffle, so I kind of knew his style of wrestling.
Tell us about your redshirt season and getting to learn from Rocco Caponi (three-time ACC champion, four-time NCAA qualifier).
Salopek: The redshirt year helped me out tremendously for this year, especially wrestling under Rocco, who was a fifth-year senior. He was able to help me out with a lot of things. I saw him at the Southern Scuffle and it was kind of funny because we got to talking and I was telling him how much he had helped me with certain situations that I have noticed have been my stronger points this year.
What’s it been like for you to be in the mix this year, rather than sitting out and watching as a redshirt?
Salopek: It’s a great feeling. I’ve been looking forward to it since I got here. Last year I was on the side a little bit, but I was able to gain a lot of experience which has really helped me this year.
What has been the main reason for your strong start this year?
Salopek: My biggest strength is on my feet. I have been wrestling really well on my feet. I’ve been able to get the guys moving a lot, and when I wrestle my style and I’m moving my hands and feet and get the other guys moving, that’s when my shots open up and it makes the takedowns a lot easier.
Does being a taller wrestler (6-feet-3) provide any benefits for you?
Salopek: In certain situations, I think I have a little more leverage. Coach Garland has always been harping on me to use my length and when I’m wrestling on my feet to keep my hands out in front of me and keep the guy away from me. I’m long enough to reach them but they can’t reach me.
What are you working on improving right now?
Salopek: The big thing I need to improve on is finishing my takedowns. My double leg is doing pretty well, but my single leg finishes are where I’m struggling, so I need to work on that. I also would like to get some work on my turns on top.
Talk about your style of wrestling.
Salopek: I always like to think of myself as a hard-nosed kind of guy who likes to go at people. What really has helped me out a lot is Coach Moore wrestled like that and he has that same mentality as a coach, so his coaching style really helps me out with that.
How did you get your start in wrestling?
Salopek: I was six years old and my whole family was basketball players. My dad was a pretty good basketball player and my older brother played basketball too. My uncle wrestled in high school and college and he had always talked to me about it. I wrestled around with him at family get-togethers and one year I just decided to do it and I stuck to it.
Everyone seems to have one interesting story about their early days in wrestling. Do you have one?
Salopek: For some reason, everyone thinks that if a kid has nice new shoes and cool kneepads, then he’s the best kid. The first guy I wrestled had these fancy shoes, kneepads and headgear. I was thinking that I was going to get killed. Then I went out there and the kid wasn’t even that good and I beat him.
What do you like most about wrestling at Virginia?
Salopek: When I was here on my visit, you could really tell how much that Coach Garland and Coach Moore really stressed that the program was on the rise and that they were going to accomplish big things, and that was something I wanted to be a part of. When I got here you could really see that, and with the recruits we keep getting in here, that will keep adding to things. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of.
Spot on Grounds: During the season, probably the library.
Wrestling memory: from high school, my junior year at the state tournament, I had a really disappointing loss in the state semifinals where I lost with no time left on the clock. I bounced back and beat a returning state champion in the third-place match and that was a turning point in my career.
Class: Computer science
TV show: The Office
Music: Country – Toby Keith, Tim McGraw
Movie: The Hangover
Sports Team: I’m a Pittsburgh guy, so Steelers and Penguins
Celebrity: Brian Urlacher