Former Penn State wrestler Cary Kolat — who competed in the 2000 summer Olympics and was a three-time World Cup gold medalist — has been plenty busy with the sport over the years.
He was a four-time state champ at Jefferson-Morgan High School, the Big Ten Wrestler of the Year as a sophomore in 1994 and a two-time national champ after transferring to Lock Haven as a junior. He’s since taken over the reigns of Campbell University’s wrestling program, right outside of Raleigh, N.C.
Amid a busy wrestling schedule, preparing his team for the Reno Tournament of Champions on Sunday, Kolat took some time to talk to the Centre Daily Times about the current Nittany Lions, the rise of the Bald Eagles and more. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: People might say that as a wrestler, you were pretty “unconventional” because of your penchant for making new moves. The current Nittany Lions also include some “unconventional” wrestlers, like Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf. What are your thoughts on them and their wrestling style?
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A: It’s hard not to say Penn State has it going on right now. They have some of the best athletes in the sport. When you have guys like that who are constantly being creative and trying new things, it really helps enhance and grow the sport of wrestling. Their versatility inspires others to try new things. People might have said that I was “unconventional,” but not like these guys. I might have had some tricks and done some things that people had never seen, but today’s wrestlers are at a higher level and way beyond where we were then.
Q: You came to Penn State after a a perfect high school record and four state titles, then narrowly missed out on the national title twice. As a wrestler, how did you deal with that disappointment and move on to win two national titles down the road?
A: It was tough, but at some point, you have to put it in the past and move on. The first time (losing in the NCAA finals as a Penn State freshman in 1993), it was easier to move on. But the next year, I was fully expecting to win the national championship. That was hard because I came so close (losing in overtime in the national semifinals), and because of all the time and resources I put into reaching that goal. You definitely carry that loss with you, but you can’t let it affect you. After that I just regrouped and refocused on the direction I wanted to go as a wrestler.
Q: Is coaching something you always knew you wanted to do?
A: No. I never really thought about coaching while I was competing. At the time, I was kind of selfishly absorbed in focusing on myself and my career. After I was done competing, I stepped away from wrestling for awhile. I tried some other things, like business, then decided I wanted to come back the sport as a coach. I had coached some while training for the Olympic and World teams, then had assistant jobs at Lock Haven, Lehigh, West Virginia, North Carloina and Wisconsin. A combination of all of that stuff, as well as coaching camps and my own wrestling career at the collegiate and Olympic level, contributed to where I am today.
Q: How was it to coach this season against your former teammate Kerry McCoy and the University of Maryland?
A: It was cool. Kerry and I wrestled together at Penn State and on the Olympic team. It was cool to sit across from him as a coach. I wasn’t happy with the result, losing in overtime on criteria, but it’s always nice to see guys I used to wrestle and coach with. I run into the Hughes brothers a lot, and Pat Santoro at Lehigh. We all stay in touch.
Q: What are your thoughts on the current Bald Eagles — upsetting Rutgers, cracking the rankings for the first time since 2002 and dominating the PSACs last weekend?
A: They’re doing really well, and it’s nice to see those guys doing what they need to do with what they got. They are limited in terms of resources, but with guys like Chance Marsteller and Ronnie Perry, they have a lot of talent and show promise for the program in years to come.