Wrestling Coach Alex Whitney is turning to ‘The Cadet Way’ to revamp program

A Norwich wrestler goes for a pin in a match this winter.

A Norwich wrestler goes for a pin in a match this winter.

The Norwich University Wrestling team has overcome great obstacles over the last decade. From 10 years of decline, to nearly having the program canceled as a whole, the team is making a comeback.

This past 2013-2014 season has shown the first glimmering signals of hope of what the program once was, and can be again. Clear signals of a change in culture, and an improved 5-7 record and individual honors mark the changes.

The newfound success can be attributed to new head wrestling Coach Alex Whitney ’08, a Norwich Wrestling alumnus. In two years at the helm of the program, Whitney has sparked an impressive turnaround.

Over the past two seasons, there has been a noticeable increase in participation, exposure, and all-around success. “I just wanted to get the program back on the right track—the Cadet Way. That means excelling and trying your hardest in all phases of life, and wrestling as a whole is great for that,” Whitney said.

Whitney has also laid out his 5, 10, and 20-year plans for the program. “An aspiration without a specific goal is like a ship without a rudder. It goes nowhere. Early on I wanted to lay the foundation and establish our mantra, the ‘Cadet Way,’ and redefine what our team stands for and renew a sense of pride.” Whitney credits the wrestlers themselves for much of the recent success saying “the kids have definitely bought-in, and worked their butts off.”

Steven Maldonado is a junior engineering management major from Nyack, N.Y., and one of next season’s heavyweights and one of the captains. “Since Coach Whitney has come on board, I have definitely noticed a change from [my freshman year]. There has absolutely been a renewed sense of pride and commitment,” he said.

Maldonado added that “wrestling requires discipline, and it is something that the sport has taught me. It is something that is really improving our team. But at the same time, these coaches listen to our input and make the best decisions for the program. They are always looking for ways to improve our team and make changes when needed.”

Maldonado credited the coaching change two years ago as the catalyst for improvements. “Under our previous coach, my freshman year it wasn’t like it is now. We found our identity,” he said.

Wrestling is not a big spectator sport. Long hours of practices, training, and a strict adherence to dieting and weight standards often goes unappreciated and unnoticed. A strong and tradition-bound brotherhood and a desire to build something special together has elevated the Norwich Wrestling team to much more optimistic levels.

Norwich hockey and football seem to be the main priority for the Norwich faithful, so the team gets minimum exposure. But this has only spurred on the team to be more committed to each other as a family, and the program as a whole. This, coupled with a fresh coaching mind-set with ambitious goals for the program, has turned the team around.

Evan Poole, Senior 157-pounder and criminal justice major from Milford, N.J., explained, “Since my freshman year, NU wrestling has come a long way. We have significantly progressed and have come together as a family.

“It feels so good to know that our team is finding success both on the mat and in the classroom. It also feels good to know that I played a role in getting this team back on that track of success. I am so proud to have wrestled for Norwich,” said Poole.

Poole did play a significant role, being in a starting lineup and a part of a senior class that contributed greatly to the culture change. However, as much as Coach Whitney tips his cap to his wrestlers, they always seem to credit him for a majority of the success.

“Coach Whitney has redefined NU Wrestling as a whole. In the past two years of Coach Whitney being head coach, we as a team have become stronger as a result of his hard work.”

“Whitney and [assistant coach] Connor Keating bring some much knowledge and experience to the wrestling room, but at the same time you can see them always trying to refine their skills and become better coaches,” stated Poole.

After major improvements in the nucleus of the team, The Cadets saw a swing up in wins, taking 5 of 11 dual meets and competing in large-scale national tournaments.

“We really used this season to establish our identity on and off the mat,” said Maldonado. When Maldonado speaks of off-the-mat success, he is referring to the three academic All-Americans the wrestling team boasted. “Dave Pinto, Anthony Joyce, and myself all received the honor. With all the time and traveling we spend with wrestling, and at a difficult school like Norwich, this is huge for our program,” elaborated Maldonado.

This is all a part of Whitney’s plan. “The ‘Cadet Way’ built this program to what it once was. We were ranked as high as 7th in the nation, and it was my first goal to establish that as our mind-set to restore our program to our former glory. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in my first two years. I’m grateful for the kids we’ve had, but to take the next step the young kids have to step up.”

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