On the Mat with Joe Spisak
The Virginia wrestling team has relied heavily on its freshman class this season. Some of that has been necessitated because of injuries, but at 133 pounds, there was an opening from the start. Joe Spisak earned the starting spot in the opening week of the season and has not given it up. He has been impressive along the way, racking up a 17-10 record as well as a team-high seven falls. The Boiling Springs, Pa., native sat down this week to talk about his transition to college, how he got started in wrestling and much more.
What attracted you to UVa?
Spisak: There’s so many things on the list. The main attraction was Coach Garland. He’s such a positive guy with an upbeat attitude. He really fuels my work ethic and keeps me going throughout the day. In addition to him, the education that the University of Virginia provides is top of the line. There aren’t many other schools that can compete with UVa. Right there, those two things were very important to me. In addition to that, when I came on my official visit and met the guys, they were so close. My dad has always said that if you want to be the best, then you need to surround yourself with the best and I don’t think there’s a better example than this team. We really push each other to the limit.
You talk about being the best of the best – what was the first month was like here when you stepped into the wrestling room at UVa?
Spisak: The first month – even now – it’s a reality check and it’s very humbling to come in the room and wrestle guys like Matt Snyder, Gabe Gomez, Nicky Gordon, Derek Valenti and all the lightweights. Any guy I wrestle, it’s going to be back and forth. I’ll do well here and there and sometimes you just get destroyed, but that’s what is going to get you better. That’s why we’re here – to be the best and be national champions.
Are you happy with where you stand right now, about three months into the season?
Spisak: I’m pleased with how I’m doing but at the same time I’m not satisfied. I don’t think you can ever be satisfied until you get that national title, and after that there still are more levels you can reach. I’m happy I’m doing well and that I’m in the lineup and I’m so thankful that I’m healthy – knock on wood – but the key is that I’m never satisfied.
Talk about the group of guys in your freshman class.
Spisak: I think interesting is a good way to describe it. We all just clicked right away. We’re all like brothers. I can speak for all of us when I say that we all have each other’s back at all times. We all hang out every day, so you’re kind of forced to become brothers and become family. I’m so happy that I’m surrounded by such a great group of guys. I could come in every day and be with guys that I don’t like, but fortunately for me I’m with guys that I love, so it just makes me train and work that much harder.
How did you get started in wrestling?
Spisak: I started when I was about four or five years old. My dad wrestled in New Jersey and then in college at Shippensburg when it was still Division I. My dad’s dad was a referee in New Jersey. My dad never forced me into wrestling, but he was the high school coach back in my hometown and still to this day he is my biggest inspiration on and off the mat and he just set the groundwork for me to start wrestling and I just picked up and fell in love with it, and here I am today.
How tough is it to be the coach’s son?
Spisak: It’s tough because you always feel like he’s on you and that he’s harder on you just to make an example of you, but at the same time it just made me love him that much more because we have this relationship and being coached by him and winning matches under him was the best feeling in the world.
You played football as well?
Spisak: I had played football since about the fifth grade. My junior year, my fourth game in, I broke my ankle and got pretty extensive surgery done on my ankle, but luckily I healed up and came back just in time for the start of my junior season for wrestling and after that I sat down and talked with my dad and told him that I didn’t see much of a career for myself in football with my size, so I decided to focus on wrestling my senior year and things ended up paying off thankfully.
You won the Pennsylvania 130-pound championship as a senior, but you also came close before. Talk about your pursuit of a championship and what it took to get there.
Spisak: I think Coach Garland says it best that wrestling is ups and downs. You can never get too high and you can never get too low. My freshman year I got sixth at states and my sophomore year I got second – I lost a close one in the finals – and after that I really hit a low point mentally in my wrestling. Physically, I was wrestling pretty well, but mentally it was really tough on me. I rebounded and played football, and that was just another low. You just have to keep bouncing back. If you want it, you have to keep going hard and thankfully it paid off.
What made you want to get back at it?
Spisak: When you get in the finals like that, you get that little taste of victory and you’re so close to reaching the goals that you’ve been fighting for all your life and if you’re that close, you might as well go for it.
What was your first semester like as a student at Virginia?
Spisak: It’s a huge adaptation coming here and being with the smartest of the smartest. It was a great first semester. I was really happy with how I finished, but overall I was even more proud of how our whole team finished. Everybody did really well. We’re all proud of the effort we put in.
Food: Out of season, it’s Taco Bell
Spot on Grounds: The Lawn
Wrestling Memory: winning states my senior year
Class: I had a writing class last semester, called Writing about Popular Music. I had a great professor, Michael Bishop. I feel like I got a lot out of the class and I really enjoyed it.
TV Show: SportsCenter
Band/Music: I listen to a lot of rap and a lot of remixes. Chris Henrich got me into a band called Ratatat. I’ve been listening to them a lot.
Celebrity: Derek Jeter