By RJ Sepich
In his first season as head coach of the Pitt wrestling team, Jason Peters led the Panthers to an undefeated dual meet record in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the outright regular season conference championship.
With the Pitt wrestling team ranked No. 10 in the nation heading into the ACC Tournament at Virginia Tech on Saturday, March 8, we sat down with Coach Peters to discuss winning the ACC Dual Meet Championship and his hopes for the Panthers in the postseason at the ACC and NCAA Championships.
Q: After setting the goal at the beginning of the season to win an ACC Championship, how good did it feel to achieve that after beating North Carolina last Saturday?
JP: Anytime you can win a championship it's exciting. It was great to see our guys embrace the goal throughout the season and put in the work necessary to achieve that goal. We have great assistant coaches that helped us do it as well. We're still getting ready for the conference tournament now, so we can't celebrate too soon. We've got to stay focused on what we're trying to do every day at practice: get better at wrestling. Hopefully we can carry that success into the postseason.
Q: How exciting was it to win a championship in your first season as head coach?
JP: Yeah, it's pretty cool. I don't know if it matters if it's in my first year or not - any time you win a championship, it's exciting. Championships are championships. I enjoyed the championships we won during my 10 years as an assistant coach here. It's exciting and fun to win championships. It's been good to continue the winning tradition of Pitt wrestling.
Q: And being the first team on campus to bring back an ACC Championship to Pittsburgh, is that something you take pride in as a program?
JP: That's definitely pretty neat. We talked about it as a staff and team that no one will ever have the opportunity to do this again. We won't have another first year in the ACC, so we wanted to make the most of it. And we were fortunate enough to bring the first ACC trophy back to Pittsburgh, which is pretty cool.
Q: Did it feel good to show the other ACC programs that your team more than belonged in this traditionally tough wrestling conference?
JP: Yeah, it felt great. I think they knew we were coming to wrestle when we joined the conference. And we did a good job of following through and winning a championship. Now we want another one at the ACC Tournament.
Q: Now heading to that ACC Tournament next weekend, does the points system that rewards pins, technical falls and major decisions affect the way your guys wrestle?
JP: In the postseason, you can get points for winning big, but you also get points for how well you place in your weight class at the tournament. We have a few guys vying for top seeds and competing for individual championships. The format may be different, but not much changes with what we're trying to do. We're going to work really, really hard to prepare to win as many bouts as we can. If we can do that and win the close contests like we did in the dual meets, we can win another trophy at the ACC Tournament and send seven or eight guys to the NCAA Championships.
Q: With five guys on the team who won Eastern Wrestling League individual championships, how important is it to have that kind of experience heading into the postseason?
JP: It's great to have guys who won early in their careers and still have an opportunity to win more championships towards the end of their careers. Anytime you have several guys who've had success in Division I wrestling that can help mold and lead the underclassmen, that can only help your program. We have guys who've won individual championships that want to win more, but we also have guys like Edgar Bright who want to win their first individual championship as a freshman. It's nice to have that balance of experience and youth.
Q: Finally, in wrestling, these guys work so hard for their entire careers for a chance to get on the podium as an All-American at Nationals and to compete for a national championship. What will you tell your guys that qualify for NCAAs before they go out onto the mat for that opportunity of a lifetime?
JP: We want to finish strong and add to the great history Pitt has built in wrestling. I believe the sky's the limit for our team. The goal is to win. That's what I've told them from the first day of practice, and that's what I'll tell them at NCAAs. That committed mindset of winning that everyone has here - the coaches and wrestlers - gives us a good chance at having success.