The newly minted 2022 regular season SoCon champs Head Coach breaks down all things Mountaineers.
What makes you smile the most about Appalachian State and why?
“I think it’s just the culture. We have a pretty special place with a unique fan base. Wrestlings a big deal here, so the smile comes to my face when people recognize Appalachian State. It’s not just a local brand but a national brand.”
You’re the Dean of SoCon Coaches. Would you share some things, both good and bad, that you’ve seen change the most in your years in Boone?
“I think the qualifying system has really helped our conference. When I first came here to Appalachian (all the NCAA Qualifying procedures) were based on historical data. I think that moving it to a system that rewards current data has definitely helped the Southern Conference qualify more bids to the NCAA Tournament. A lot of the schools in our conference are investing more money and resources in the sport of wrestling so I think that’s why you’re seeing more teams that are competitive not just on the conference but the national level as well.”
This is year two of a revamped coaching staff. What has the hiring of Ian Miller and the promotion of Randall Diabe done for the team?
“It’s been great! Our staff is very close. Our philosophies are aligned. [Yet] it’s good to have different perspectives. You have Coach Miller who wrestled at Kent State and coached at Oregon State so…he wrestled at another mid-major and had tremendous success as a college athlete himself with different perspectives that he can bring to the table. Obviously he’s still a tremendous wrestler in his own right. He can wrestle with our guys on a daily basis. Having him here with the same philosophy as me has been very good. Randall brings such a tremendous dynamic to our team. I recruited him and he wrestled here at Appalachian State. He bleeds Black and Gold. He gives such a great perspective to our recruits and their parents and our current wrestlers because he’s been through the program. I think having someone, one of your own, on your staff is a pretty special thing.”
How do you stand on the RTC [Regional Training Center] situation and where do you see it taking wrestling?
“We are excited. Our RTC is now up and off the ground. We are raising money currently and I think it will allow this program to do some things that currently are not possible. We will be able to attract and retain quality coaches and keep them here longer. It will help financially with that. I think it’s going to help bring in training partners for our current college guys. They’ll have a lot of different workout partners. It benefits the entire area of Western North Carolina. This RTC is going to bring a lot of opportunities to the youth and high school wrestlers of this area as well.”
You’ve lost key starters for good portions of time, one for the season. Being the preseason favorite brought the pressure. How do you feel you negotiated the season?
“Its obviously been a roller coaster. We started the year off with the guys projected to be in our lineup including five returning SoCon champions. Of that predicted lineup three are not in there currently. We’ve had two injuries. Obviously you have [197 lb] Mason Fiscella having a season ending injury to his knee. Anthony Brito, 141lb returning Conference champ, has been battling injuries in his own right, and then [defending conference champ] Sean Carter is behind Codi Russell at 133. When you look at that, yeah, it’s been tough. I don’t think anyone that predicted us to win the Southern Conference thought that maybe we might have two defending conference champs not in the lineup. Then obviously losing Mason with the kind of season that he was having was a big blow to our lineup. I’m just proud of how our guys have responded. We always talk in this program how it’s not about one individual. It’s about the team and I think this year more than any year in recent memory has been a true testament to that philosophy. We’ve had some things happen, some injuries and things that were unfortunate but it’s next guy up. Our guys have to buy into the program and know that their opportunity may come at unexpected times.”
Wrestling is huge in North Carolina with 7 D1 teams. Are recruits suprised by that?
“Yeah, I think out of state recruits are. In North Carolina we are one of the few states that have a lot of D1 programs. Wrestling is growing and gaining more notoriety and a bigger fan following. When out of state recruits see what our fan following is like and see the rivalries we have with the in state schools they are taken aback a little bit. I don’t think it’s something they expect.”
Besides more wins, more tournament placings, and more NCAA qualifiers, what metrics will define success for App State this season?
“I think national recognition. Obviously we’ve got a lot of guys that have high hopes, high expectations. We want to win a conference championship each and every year. It’s something we want to do, and then being recognized on a national level. We’d like to achieve a Top 25 ranking this year and have some All Americans. Those are our goals at the end of the season that will determine success this year and I think we’ve got the guys that can do it.”
MANY thanks to Coach Bentley, Mark Strelow, and the App State Athletics Department. We hope to share Coach Bentleys views on how his deep Carolina roots and strong faith shaped the entirety of his life, and maybe pry a home area food stop favorite or two away from the Mountaineers BHHHC (1), in a later column.
There was an idea. To take an unvarnished look at all the D1 wrestling results for the season. To remove the aura of team names/uniforms and the hoary sanctity of certain conferences and lay bare the underlying bias towards certain uniforms and conferences. And then, that fount of grappling knowledge known as Wrestling by Pirate did it for you/us/everybody with one lead-in sentence. AND some very telling who earned what for which conference statistics. Find his eye-opening breakdown in Jason Bryant’s Mat Talk Online newsletter. We HIGHLY recommend measuring the distribution of bids at 184 as a leading example.
See you sometime soon!
(1) Bald Headed Hero Head Coach, a highly visible and highly successful subset of D1 wrestling coaches.