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Q and A with St. Cloud State coach Steve Costanzo

Steve Costanzo’s powerful St. Cloud State wrestling program continues to stockpile momentum and victories.

The Huskies are coming off their second straight National Duals title at the NCAA Division II level.

St. Cloud State is ranked No. 1 nationally. The Huskies finished second at the NCAA Division II Championships the past two seasons. St. Cloud State is seeking its first national tournament title in Division II.

The Huskies are led by top-ranked Andy Pokorny (133 pounds), and second-ranked Shamus O’Grady (184) and Jake Kahnke (285). Pokorny and Kahnke placed second in the national tournament last year and O’Grady was fourth at 174.

Costanzo is in his seventh season at St. Cloud State after leading Dana College (Neb.) to a NAIA national title.

Costanzo, a native of Bennington, Neb., was a three-time All-American under Hall of Fame coach Mike Denney at Nebraska-Omaha.

Costanzo took time out of his busy schedule to talk with USA Wrestling communications manager Craig Sesker about how his team is progressing this season.

How much of a rebuilding project was it when you came to St. Cloud State?

The two years before we came here they hadn’t won a dual meet. They obviously had been struggling. I was hired in July of 2006, so it was pretty late in terms of having time to recruit and bring people in. We only had 12 guys on the team. The cupboard was pretty bare. We were scrambling to get a lineup together at that time. I knew it was going to be a rough road that first year. At the same time, my first year here I had kids who wanted to learn and were enjoyable to work with.

How quickly were you able to start having success on the national level at St. Cloud State?

The second year here we went 13-2 in duals. Some of our kids started having some success. We qualified seven guys for the national tournament and we had three All-Americans, which was the most they had at St. Cloud State in a long time.

How were you able to turn your program’s fortunes around so quickly?

We started getting our alumni involved and engaged with the program again. Our administration was patient with us and supportive of what we were trying to do. We started to bring some good recruits in, and that helped us to be consistent and progress. We have a lot to offer – we are in a good area and we have good facilities. We really believed we could make an immediate impact in Division II. We just needed people to buy in and believe in the direction we were heading. We had some credibility with what we had done at Dana, but it did take some time and persistence when I got to St. Cloud State. It was tough in the beginning, but we believed we could do it.

What has it meant to your program to win the National Duals the past two years?

It’s been big for us. It’s obviously not everything because you want to win the national tournament at the end of the season. Winning the National Duals has really gotten people excited about what we’re doing and the success we’re having. It lets people know we are doing the right things and gets kids to believe in our philosophies.

Your team finished a close second behind Nebraska-Kearney at the 2012 NCAA tournament. What were your impressions of that event?

I wasn’t disappointed in our kids’ effort. There were a lot of things that could’ve gone our way that didn’t. Nebraska-Kearney wrestled an amazing tournament under their coach, Marc Bauer, a college teammate and a good friend of mine. We were down by 15 points going into Day 2 and we came back really strong. Our guys really were on a mission. Our guys did a great job fighting back and I was really proud of what they did all season. The only thing they didn’t win was NCAAs. They won 21 straight duals, won the conference and won the regional. It was a real good season for us.

How motivated is your team to win the NCAA tournament this year after finishing second the past two seasons?

It’s definitely a motivator. It’s been frustrating, being so close and not being able to capitalize on our opportunities. Our goal every year obviously is to win NCAAs. It’s not everything, but it’s pretty close to everything. Our kids have competed really well on a consistent basis and we are excited to see what we can do this year.

How impressed are you with the turnaround Andy Pokorny, a former starter for Nebraska, has made with your team?

Andy’s success has a lot to do with maturity. He’s really progressed, on and off the mat. He’s a really likeable person. He’s a smart kid. We both wrestled for the same high school in Bennington, Nebraska. His dad actually coached me. I have known Andy since he was a baby. He’s a student of the sport. He’s strong in all three positions. He’s an intelligent wrestler. He knows what’s going on. He has all the tools to be the best.

What has heavyweight Jake Kahnke meant to your program?

Jake’s done a great job. He’s been with us for four years. He’s been a big part of that building phase of our program and he’s been a big part of our success. He’s been a great leader. He’s had some injuries, but he’s held up pretty well this year. That’s a loaded weight class, but we are excited about Jake’s chances.

How much has Shamus O’Grady contributed to your program’s success?

Shamus is a three-time All-American. He has been a very consistent performer for us since his arrival. He was winning when he came in here. He’s up a weight class after wrestling 174 and he feels more comfortable at 184. He’s a great leader by example and he is wrestling well again this year.

Who are you some other wrestlers to watch on your team?

Clint Poster at 157. He is ranked eighth, and he has really come on for us. We are really expecting big things from him. He has exceeded our expectations. He’s a workhorse. His nickname is Concrete. He’s a redshirt freshman who has done a great job.

What do you believe it’s going to take for your team to win the national team title this year?

There are a lot of great teams in the mix. This year it is probably more wide open than it has ever been. Day 1 will be a pivotal day obviously. You need to keep as many kids alive for the second day as you can.

How much of an influence has Maryville (Mo.) coach Mike Denney, who won seven national titles at Nebraska-Omaha, had on you?

I try to emulate a lot of things that Coach Denney does. I wrestled for him for five years and then coached for a year under him. He’s just real special. He has a way to motivate like no other. His guys want to perform for him and make him proud. He’s a great people person. He’s so positive, and always turns a negative into a positive. Why wouldn’t you want to emulate someone like him? He has a very strong faith and always finds the good in people. Every guy on his team is important to him. I can’t say enough good things about him.
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