Jan. 21, 2017

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — As a wrestler at Blair High School in Nebraska, he captured four state championships, winning at 145, 170 (twice) and 182 pounds. Then Will Schany joined the team at the University of Virginia, and his world flipped. Victories no longer came so regularly for him.

“It’s crazy. You come in here and can’t even win in the practice room,” Schany recalled. “It’s like the biggest wakeup call and the most humbling experience. It’s just a complete change.

“But I feel like there’s two ways you go from it. You either get discouraged and say, `Man, this sucks, and it’s really hard’ — because it is, it’s a really hard sport in general — or you can be like, `I just gotta keep working at it, and eventually I’ll be [successful].’ ”

Schany chose the second option. Now a redshirt sophomore, he’s the Cavaliers’ starting 184-pounder, and he’s coming off his best performance as a college wrestler.

At the Virginia Duals in Hampton last weekend, Schany won all four of his matches as UVA posted a 3-1 record. In his final two matches in Hampton — against Bucknell’s Garrett Hoffman and Lock Haven’s Corey Hazel — Schany beat wrestlers who had defeated him early in the season.

“The story of the weekend, in my opinion, was Will Schany,” head coach Steve Garland said.

Of avenging losses to Hoffman and Hazel, Schany said, “You never can really see the progress you’re making until you get [an opportunity] like that. Then you can actually test it and see how far you’ve come. So that was a great thing for me, especially against the Lock Haven kid. The match last time didn’t go how I wanted at all. I wrestled pretty poorly. This time out I felt like a completely different wrestler.”

Schany’s overall record this season is a modest 13-11, but a knee injury he suffered in the fall contributed to his slow start.

“At the beginning of the year, it was frustrating,” he said, “because I wasn’t wrestling how I wanted to be, and the coaches, I think, were frustrated too. I was coming back from injury, but at the same time I was ready to get right back into things. It took a little while.”

The injury was the second Schany has dealt with at Virginia. In 2014-15, he had an operation to repair a torn labrum and ended up redshirting. In 2015-16, Schany posted a 9-13 record at 184 pounds.

“He got banged up his freshman year and had that shoulder surgery, and that really hurt him,” Garland said. “It was a major, major surgery. And I also think he had to learn some real life skills. He had to learn what proper nutrition was, he had to learn how to control his weight, he had to learn how to lift properly, he had to learn how to transform his body.

“I’m not just picking on Will. Every high school kid goes through that. Ninety percent of the kids I recruit have terrible diets. It just is what it is, and he had to really dig into what we were preaching. … What we’re seeing now is what we expected from at the beginning of the year: a very competitive ’84-pounder, because we had seen his strides [in the offseason].”

Schany, a foreign affairs major, is not the first wrestler who, after dominating in high school, struggled early in his college career. There are exceptions, such as Virginia freshman Jack Mueller, who’s ranked No. 7 nationally at 125 pounds. But Garland noted that Nick Sulzer and Chris Henrich, who became two of the most decorated wrestlers in UVA history, had uneven freshman seasons.

“So I definitely think that what they went through is more the norm than not,” Garland said.

The NCAA runner-up at 125 pounds as a UVA senior, Garland said he remembers meeting with Schany “a lot his freshman year and saying, `We need more out of you and we want more out of you, and you should want more out of yourself, because you’re better than this, and you should want higher goals.’

“And he did. So he started making these slow and steady changes in his work on and off the mat and how he was treating his body and all those things.

“He got another setback this year with another injury and missed a lot of time, but this time around, because he’d developed all those great life habits, he handled it phenomenally. He didn’t miss a workout. He didn’t miss anything. He was just as engaged in the team as anybody else, even when he wasn’t allowed to [wrestle] live.”

Schany steadily improved as a redshirt freshman and then made more strides in the offseason. He spent part of last summer in Charlottesville, training and helping associate head coach Jordan Leen with youth camps at UVA.

When he wasn’t involved with wrestling, Schany could sometimes be found on the golf course. His athletic résumé is unusual for a college wrestler. At Blair High, he was a four-year letterman in golf.

He played football in the fall — Schany’s brother, Jake, is a former linebacker at Ohio University — and wrestled in the winter.

“So in spring time it was just the biggest break from butting heads with people and getting after it to just swing some some clubs,” said Schany, whose low round in competition was a 73.

“It was just a huge break. I really enjoyed it. I still play during the summer, especially because a lot of guys on the team like to go out and play.”

Garland laughed when asked about some of his wrestlers’ new hobby. “There are a lot worse things they could be doing, so I’m happy they’re golfing. What a cool thing for those guys to go do.”

Much like golf and wrestling are vastly different sports, Charlottesville and his hometown are vastly different places, Schany said. Blair, about 25 miles north of Omaha, has about 8,000 residents and a “pretty small-town Nebraska feel,” Schany said.

“You’re going to find cornfields just outside of the city limits, but for Nebraska it’s kind of suburbanized. I love the place.”

Schany had no connections to UVA, but was intrigued by Garland’s recruiting pitch. And so, after taking official visits to Iowa State and Nebraska, he flew east to Virginia.

“My dad didn’t even come with me,” Schany recalled. “I was like, `Dad, you don’t need to come. I’m just going to fly out there and see what it’s about.’ So I came out here and immediately [was impressed by] the team atmosphere.

“I went home and I was talking to my parents, and I was like, `I don’t know. I didn’t expect that. That might be where I’m going.’ I loved the coaches, loved the team, and it’s the best team atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of.”

Next up for Schany and his teammates is an ACC dual meet in Blacksburg. At 4 p.m. Sunday, No. 25 Virginia takes on No. 6 Virginia Tech.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for us, and it’s going to be incredibly motivating,” Garland said.

“No matter what happens, we’re going to walk out [of the dual meet] with an edge, and that’s a good thing. But it’s also freeing to go into an arena knowing that people don’t think you have a chance.”

Schany will wrestle Tech redshirt sophomore Zack Zavatsky, the defending ACC champion at 184, who’s ranked No. 4 nationally. This will be their first meeting.

“This is kind of like why you’re here,” Schany said. “You get to test yourself against the best in the country. There’s no better opportunity.”

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