The Pitt wrestling team is coming off an impressive 2011-12 campaign where it captured its third consecutive EWL Dual Championship, second-straight EWL Tournament title and recorded a top-15 finish at Nationals. The Panthers have high expectations as they return an experienced bunch in 2012-13, including seven NCAA qualifiers and a retuning All-American in senior Matt Wilps.
Recently fourth year assistant coach Matt Kocher sat down with PittsburghPanthers.com to discuss the upcoming season.
PittsburghPanthers.com: What are the teams' goals heading into the season?
Coach Kocher: "We set our goals every year with our team to keep our guys motivated, and we always start with winning the conference. We want to win that both as a dual team and a tournament team. We think this is potentially our best team in a long time; maybe 60 years. I think if you look at the last three seasons, we've had a good amount of success and I think this will be our best one yet. We finished last year ranked ninth in the country, so our goal is to build upon that, at least be in the top-10 as a ranking, and get ourselves on the board at nationals."
PittsburghPanthers.com: Coming off three-consecutive EWL dual titles and two-straight EWL tournament titles. How does that motivate the guys in the room?
Coach Kocher: ""We've had three really good teams the past few years that have just come together and been able to do it. It's definitely a good stepping-stone to bigger things. The motivating part is they know it can be done. The challenge is not to overlook it. Just because you've won it the last couple of years doesn't mean you're going to win it again. It's always going to be tough. Those other guys in our conference are always going to be tough and they're chasing us now and I think that puts pressure on you to continue and rise to it. Just because you had success doesn't mean it's going to be easy."
PittsburghPanthers.com: The team has seven student-athletes with prior NCAA experience, including a returning All-American, how does that help some of the younger guys who haven't been there before?
Coach Kocher: ""Any time you have guys that have success in your room, it helps. You see a guy like Matt Wilps who finished fourth in the country and you see, well, `he's not any different than I am. I'm in doing the same thing, I'm in the same room, drilling the same moves. If he can do it, I can do it.' I think that's kind of the unique mentality and it's great, and I try and remind the young guys, the freshmen especially. Again, there are always challenges with that too. The challenge is keeping positive, our upper weights especially. You've got a lot of guys with a lot of experience and young guys wrestling with them can learn a lot, but especially coming in you're going to get your butt kicked and they've got to be able to pick themselves up and keep their heads up and know that if they stay with it, that's where they can get."
PittsburghPanthers.com: You have a pretty tough schedule, as always. Can you talk about the schedule you guys put together?
Coach Kocher: "Coming off of last season, we really believed looking into this season, if everything came into place, we were going to have one of our best teams that we've had in school history. We thought that's a very good possibility and that's where we see ourselves, so let's prove it. We'll wrestle traditionally some of the best wrestling schools in the country. That was our mindset. Let's prove how good we are. Pitt can be up there with those top-tier programs and I know our guys have the ability to do it."
PittsburghPanthers.com: Can you talk about some of the things you guys have been doing to get ready for the season?
Coach Kocher: "We got as much competition as we could. We got in as much wrestling as we could. In the fall, it's all about bringing them into reality and it's going to be tough. Summer's fun, and then you get to the fall and it's all about coming together as a team and pushing them and holding them accountable. I think that's a big thing we focused on this year, not giving an inch."
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