Team Takes Priority for Virginia Wrestlers
Nov. 4, 2015
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When Steve Garland got married nearly a decade later, his best man was P.J. Bory. On this day in 1996, though, Garland and Bory squared off on the mat in a match whose winner would start at 126 pounds for the University of Virginia wrestling team.
Garland, a sophomore, and Bory, a freshman, were former high school rivals who had become best friends at UVA.
“I was supposed to be [a weight class] below him, and I just got big and P.J. dropped a weight, and it was like, `What are we going to do?’ ” recalled Garland, now in his 10th season as head coach at his alma mater.
Lenny Bernstein, then the Cavaliers’ coach, had the answer, and he called Garland into his office.
“He goes, `Steve, it’s really kind of awkward. I get how close you two are, but we need the best guy in there for our team. You gotta put it aside, and you gotta try to beat him, and he’s gotta try to beat you, because we need the best guy in there. We’re trying to win,’ ” Garland said. “And I finally understood that this is not just about me. This is about the program.”
And so Garland and Bory met on the mat, amid palpable tension.
“Neither one of us talked to each other,” Garland said. “We just warmed up and wrestled off. I won in the last 15 seconds of the match.
“He runs out of the room. Breaks a door. Goes crazy. I hear the cussing in the hallway. And the awkward thing is, the whole team’s just kind of acting like they didn’t see it, because everybody’s friends with everybody. And then P.J. comes back in, completely composed, and goes, `Hey, you want to drill?’ “
So it goes in wrestling. It’s a sport where, unlike in basketball or football or baseball, head-to-head bouts between teammates help decide starting jobs, after which the loser is expected to push the winner every day in practice.
“That’s what true team players do,” Garland said. “Selfish kids call up their parents, they get the high school coach involved, they throw a tantrum, they demand answers, they want what they want.
“Kids who actually are mature enough to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them, they accept it. They’re not happy about it, but they say, `You know what? This is going to drive me, and I’m going to do the servanthood thing. So I’m going to push [the winner], and if he gets hurt, I’m the guy. Or if something happens, I’m going to be ready for my chance, but every step of the way I’m going to help him.’ “
Consider Patrick Gillen. As a redshirt sophomore in 2013-14, in a wrestle-off at 197 pounds, Gillen lost in triple overtime to Zach Nye, who went on to compile a 21-11 record as the Wahoos’ starter that season.
“To not be the starter, it was definitely [a blow],” Gillen recalled, “and it’s one of my proudest accomplishments at UVa, I think, dealing with that.
“I was almost surprised how much I supported Zach and wanted him to truly be successful. That’s why I trained with him as hard as I could. I could have very easily been, `Oh, my knee hurts, I gotta sit, Zach’s starting, I’m not the guy.’ But every single day I’d go in the [wrestling] room and try to beat the heck out of him. It became everything for me to have him be successful if I couldn’t.”
For the Cavaliers, a similar scenario may unfold this season at heavyweight, where Gillen and fellow fifth-year senior Ethan Hayes are vying for the starting job.
In 2014-15, when injuries limited Hayes to three matches, Gillen placed fourth in the heavyweight division at the ACC tournament to help the `Hoos win the team title. The 5-9, 260-pound Hayes finished third in the ACC as a freshman in 2011-12. He redshirted in 2012-13 and then posted a 15-16 record in 2013-14, when shoulder problems limited his effectiveness.
When both Gillen and Hayes are healthy, each is fully capable of defeating the other.
“Every time they wrestle it’s really close,” Garland said.
Hayes said: “It’s a difficult situation to be in. You obviously want to be the starter, and that’s my goal for the season, to be the starter. But with Gillen, if it does play out that way, we’re still going to be there for each other.
“At the end of the day, we’re friends. But with wrestling, it’s definitely a sore subject when we’re going against each other one on one. It’s hard to kind of distinguish between the lines. Once we’re in the room, we know it’s time to get down to business and we’re going hard. And then once we’re outside the room, it’s like, `Hey, let’s go get something to eat,’ or `Let’s hang out.’ “
The `Hoos opened their 2015-16 season Sunday in Pennsylvania at the Clarion Open, where Gillen placed third at heavyweight. Hayes, recovering from an injury, did not compete, but he may be available this weekend for UVA’s dual meet at North Dakota State (Friday) and quad meet at Minnesota (Saturday).
“His issue has just been his body, being able to stay on the mat,” Garland said of Hayes. “He’s a 260-pound kid, so when he throws his body around, sometimes things get hurt.”
Hayes is from New Lebanon, Ohio, about 12 miles west of Dayton. A two-time state champion at 215 pounds at Dixie High School, Hayes experienced culture shock upon arriving at UVA in 2011.
New Lebanon is “a very small town,” Hayes said. “We might have two or three stoplights, if that, and they’re all right next to each other. So you know everybody in town, and coming from that background and then coming here, the University of Virginia is like a town in itself. So trying to figure that out and navigate that [was difficult].
“But the good thing was, on the wrestling team a bunch of people were from similar backgrounds, so it was very easy to kind of grab hold of friends and be assimilated into that kind of lifestyle.”
Hayes, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs, is enrolled in a master’s program in the Curry School of Education. He plans to become a teacher, perhaps in social studies.
Gillen, who’s from Shelton, Conn., about 10 miles west of New Haven, is in the Curry School too, also pursuing a master’s degree. He plans to teach physical education.
“Both my parents are teachers, and teaching’s my passion, really,” Gillen said. “I love working with kids.”
Gillen, who stands 6-2, was a two-time state champion at 215 pounds at Shelton High School. At UVA, Hayes quickly grew into a full-fledged heavyweight. Gillen’s role has been less clearly defined.
For much of his college career, Gillen has moved back and forth between 197 and heavyweight. He arrived at Virginia in 2011 weighing about 230 pounds and soon bulked up to 250. In 2011-12, when he redshirted, Gillen wrestled unattached as a heavyweight and posted a 13-7 record.
Near the end of his first year, though, Gillen had shoulder surgery, “and at the same time decided that I was going to go down to ’97 for the next year,” he recalled. “So I started rehabbing and trying to get my weight down.”
His plan required revision in 2012-13, because of injuries to the Cavaliers’ heavyweights. “So I went up and filled that gap and wrestled a lot of matches at heavyweight, weighing about 210, 215,” Gillen said.
In 2013-14, he returned to 197 pounds but lost the wrestle-off to Nye and competed in only nine matches all season.
Gillen was nothing if not stubborn, however, and he tried again at 197 in 2014-15, even with Nye back. But making weight at 197 had always been a struggle for him at UVA, and the problem worsened last year.
At one early-season tournament, Gillen recalled, “My family was there, and my girlfriend was there, and she said, `You look sick.’ My face was so sunken, and I was so sucked-out from making weight, and I was just not wrestling up to what I could do. So I sat down with the coaches [to discuss a move to heavyweight].”
Garland said: “Pat came in my office, and honestly it was one of the few times in my career where I’ve been absolutely and unbelievably relieved to hear a guy say, `Coach, I can’t make this weight anymore.’ Typically you’re frustrated, but I hugged him.”
Gillen wasn’t expected to compete much last season at heavyweight (285-pound limit), where the `Hoos had Hayes and Collin Campbell. Garland told Gillen to focus on adding muscle and solid weight while training. But when injuries sidelined Hayes and Campbell, “it was, `All right, you’re in there,’ ” Gillen said. “It was a good chance for me to get in there and compete, and I loved it.”
Gillen, competing at about 225 pounds, compiled a 15-12 record in 2014-15.
“I’m not surprised, because I know how much he cares,” Garland said. “With his work ethic and discipline and all the things he’s been doing right all these years, you had to think that at some point it was going to pay off. But if I’m being honest, I had no idea it was going to go down the way it did. Think about this: He was a ’97-pounder to start the year.”
Gillen said he’s now around 240 pounds, “which is a good weight for me. I think my body still looks like I want it to, and I still feel fast. I feel more athletic almost than when I was sucking weight.”
Like Hayes, Gillen wants to be the Cavaliers’ No. 1 heavyweight. But injuries are all too common in wrestling, and both know there’s no guarantee one will hold the starting job all season.
“You have to be ready to step in,” Hayes said. “I think that’s what’s great about having a partner like Gillen. We’re always pushing each other and we know that we’re trying to start, but at the same time we’re trying to get each other better. Within the room, we’re focusing on getting better, because we know at the end it’s not about beating each other, it’s about beating everybody else in the country.”