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Q and A with Purdue coach Scott Hinkel

Scott Hinkel has led his Purdue Boilermakers into the nation’s top 20 this season.

Purdue has enjoyed a strong season despite competing in the rugged Big Ten Conference.

The No. 17 Boilermakers have recorded their first winning Big Ten dual-meet season since 1998. Purdue is 14-5 overall and 5-3 in league duals. The 14 wins are the most for the Boilermakers under Hinkel and their most overall since 2004.

Purdue will compete in the National Wrestling Coaches Association Regional Duals on Sunday in Columbia, Mo. The Boilermakers are the No. 2 seed in the Missouri Regional and will face No. 3 Wyoming in the first round. Top-seeded Missouri and No. 4 Maryland also are in the field.

Hinkel is in his sixth season as the head coach at Purdue after being a long-time assistant coach in the program. He was an All-American wrestler for the Boilermakers and an Academic All-Big Ten selection.

Hinkel’s athletes have excelled in the classroom, earning 12 NWCA All-Academic honors and 29 Academic All-Big Ten honors.

Purdue has ranked wrestlers this season in Ivan Lopouchanski (10th at 149 pounds), Cashe Quiroga (11th at 133), Braden Atwood (16th at 197) and Camden Eppert (19th at 125).

Quiroga earned All-American honors at 125 in 2010. Lopouchanski, Atwood and Eppert also have NCAA tournament experience.

Hinkel 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 impressed are you by the way your team has wrestled this season?

We’ve had a real good season. It’s not an easy conference, as everybody knows. Our administrators understand that and they’ve been very supportive of our program. We still have a pretty young team. We had a pretty radical coaching change after last season and that’s helped us in the room. The pieces have come together. We don’t want it to be a one-time thing. The guys have really bought into what we are trying to accomplish.

What is your formula for succeeding at Purdue?

We really want to make sure our guys graduate and excel in the classroom. On the mat, we expect to win. We are changing the mindset and the culture here where our expectations are to win and compete at a high level. We want the athletes to represent the school, the sport and their family the best that they can.

How exciting was your final home dual against Indiana on Monday night?

We had a great crowd – we had almost full capacity. We worked really hard to get that place packed. It was a good move to change up the timing, plus the Big Ten Network televised our dual live which was huge for us. We have a rivalry with Indiana and we were able to draw a big crowd. It was great. (Assistant coach) Chris Fleeger came up with the big foam hand with two fingers held up that we gave to the fans. We had the dance team perform at halftime. And it was our Senior Night. We had a lot going on, but it seemed to go well.

What did it mean to have Purdue president Mitch Daniels in attendance for your dual on Monday?

That was huge to have him there. He was the governor of Indiana, and he’s obviously a pretty prominent figure. When he first came to Purdue, I wanted to have him as an honorary captain. That was a bonus when we found out he was a wrestler. I didn’t know he had a wrestling background. You have to build those relationships. To have him come out and sit on our bench, that was huge for us to have his support. We were excited to have him there. All of our guys sent him a handwritten note to thank him for coming.

Your YouTube promotional video has received a lot of attention. How did that idea develop?

We were in a duck blind. It was with me and Calvin Williams, who is associate athletic director in charge of wrestling. He played football here and in the NFL. We talked about having a promotional video that Chris Fleeger came up with. It had a neat theme. In the video, I say, I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of ducks lately. Calvin blows the duck caller and then we show videos of wrestlers doing duck-unders. Then it comes back to me, and I shake my head and say, I don’t think those are the kind of ducks I had in mind. They played the video at the Purdue-Indiana basketball game, and it was pretty cool.

How much of an impact has the addition of assistant coach Chris Fleeger had on your team?

Chris Fleeger is one of the best wrestlers in Purdue history. What he did on the mat was incredible. He placed second, second and third at the NCAAs. His accomplishments were tremendous. He’s evolved into a great coach. He’s bringing a lot to the table as an administrator as well. He was a head coach at Darton Junior College in Georgia. He’s the whole package. He can work out with so many guys and he runs a lot of practices. He’s a great technician. He’s brought recruiting up a notch. It’s been a real boost to the program.

How proud are you of your team’s academic achievements?

When I recruit kids, the first thing I talk about is academics. We make it very clear that we want all of our wrestlers to graduate. It’s a very challenging school academically and we think the degree from Purdue is very prestigious. We’ve tried to raise the bar in the classroom. We have a team goal of getting a 3.0 grade-point average as a team with 31 guys. Once you have a degree from here, it will open a lot of doors for you. Our kids have done really well in school. We set goals academically as well as athletically. It’s exciting and makes you proud to see the kids doing well in the classroom.

What is it going to take for your team to excel at the NWCA Regional Duals this weekend?

We’ve wrestled two of the three schools, and they both beat us. We lost to Missouri and Maryland this season. We are just focused on Wyoming right now, and hoping to continue to do what we’re doing. Wyoming is a good program. It’s going to be a good challenge. Maryland beat us by a point, but our starter was out at heavyweight. Missouri beat us pretty soundly, but we had a couple of kids out for that dual. We have our lineup together now and we feel like we have the team that is capable of winning that region.

How is Cashe Quiroga coming along after missing much of the season?

Cashe has had a rough road. He had a staph infection in his hip this summer that was pretty bad. He actually had to learn to walk again. It was very severe. It took its toll on him. He is starting to get healthy again and starting to click again for us. He’s only had about eight matches this season. He’s certainly capable of a great finish to the season. He’s an exciting wrestler.

What kind of contributions has Ivan Lopouchanski made to your team?

Ivan transferred here from UNC Greensboro when they dropped wrestling. He’s been real consistent for us. What you see is what you get. He’s made some good adjustments. He’s a good leader. He has kind of an unorthodox style and he’s very good in his positions. He hasn’t been wrestling for that long. He started wrestling in high school to improve his judo. He was born in Russia and he moved to the U.S. when he was 9 or 10.

What is the key for your team as we close in on the end of the season?

The key for us is trying to maintain how we wrestle. We are in great shape and we are pretty healthy for the most part. I want them to relax and enjoy this, and keep everything in perspective. This is fun and it’s a unique opportunity. They are prepared. We believe in them and they believe in themselves.

What will be the key for your team at the NCAAs after a number of wrestlers fell just short of All-American honors last season?

I hope it drives these guys. We don’t have any guys ranked in the top eight nationally, but I think we have a great team. We want All-Americans and national champions, and that’s what we are shooting for. The individuals are going to have to take over and carry the team on their shoulders at nationals. Our guys have some high goals for the end of the season. We’re excited. We’ve had a lot of good things happen this season. We’ve had great support from our school and our alumni. We are hoping to finish strong.
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