Peaking in Postseason: Penn State’s Wright won big with small victories few saw

Updated: March 12, 2012

    Editor’s Note: Most people will say the way to win national championships is to learn how to peak when it matters most. Penn State’s Quentin Wright did that last year when the Nittany Lion struggled during the regular season — partly because of an injury — but ended the year winning both the Big Tens and NCAAs as No. 8 and 9 seeds. Wright spoke to WIN Editor Mike Finn about what it takes to accomplish such a feat.

WIN:Did you consider last season’s post-season performance a surprise?

Quentin Wright, barely over .500 at the end of the regular season, won his final nine bouts to win both the Big Ten and NCAA championships for Penn State in 2011.

Wright: I think most thought of me as a surprise champ. There were a few who believed in me the whole time. I had a belief deep down inside. Just because I had a few rough moments and a few bad things happened to me, I just made the choice I was going to change things and I chose to win.

WIN: What leads to peaking more: external things like coaching or internal, what’s inside you?
Wright: If I had to put a number to it, I’d say it’s about 75 percent internal. I had to make a choice inside of what I wanted to do. But it was also the support of my teammates, who were supporting me the whole time. They believed I could win and kept me in a positive attitude and in a positive frame of mind.

WIN: At what point of last year did you truly start believing you could win the national championship?
Wright: Probably the week before the Big Tens. Things just started clicking for me. Coming off the injury, I was gaining momentum. I may have not won as much but I was seeing little bits of improvement every single time I wrestled.
I was building off those little improvements. It was two weeks before the Big Ten tournament that I was strategizing, practicing hard and all of a sudden everything started clicking.         When I made a choice to do something (on the mat), I was able to accomplish that. Whether I said, I’m not going to get taken down the last 30 seconds or I have five seconds to get a takedown and I’m going to get it. I was able to make it happen.
Coach (Cael) Sanderson saw that improvement and said, “You’re going to win the Big Ten title.” And I said, “Yes sir, I’m going to win it.”

WIN: What improved more: your offense or your defense?
Wright: To be in big matches, you have to have a good defense. But in order to win those matches, you have to have an offense that you can take anyone down.
I made the choice that I’m not going to give up any defensive positions. My arm was pretty weak and it was a target. But what put me over the top and won matches was developing an offense that I could take down anyone I wrestled.
I had to figure how to wrestle with that particular weakness. That was probably the hardest part. I had to change up my wrestling style a little bit and do things a little bit smarter to accomplish it.

WIN: Did you simply put away the pain?
Wright: Pretty much. I had to make a no-excuse attitude towards myself and be completely realistic and not make any excuses why I did not win. Once I told myself that I choose to win, I found a way to do it.

WIN: What recommendations would you make to someone who was going through what you did?
 Wright: Stay positive every day. It may be a struggle, but find one good thing you did that day and take that as a win. Even when I was losing, I’d come to practice and find one small piece and considered it a victory for that day. When I did that, I kept putting them together and it was a compound effect. Suddenly, I started having so many victories at once — and one of those victories was not giving up a takedown when I was dead tired.

WIN: What did you learn about yourself last year that you did not know?
Wright: My determination and the power to be determined to do something. Also, I learned I had to rely on others and not just myself for help. Last year, I really had to lean on people who were around me in order for me to accomplish my goals.

WIN: What was worse last year: the physical pain or overcoming any self doubt?
Wright: The doubt is definitely the worst because even when you’re not injured you have doubt. That’s the hardest part of wrestling; not letting those doubts control you. My injury made me weaker but having those doubts inflated the whole injury. I was using my injury as an excuse to not win. After the Iowa match (in late January), when we lost as a team and I had a pretty bad loss, I said to myself I am no longer going to use my injuries as a reason I lost.
Once I made that choice of not letting some unfortunate circumstance be the reason for my success or failure, that’s when things started to change.

WIN: After winning the NCAA title and the way you did it, how different is your mental make up this season?
Wright: I would say I’m a lot more mature than I was last year when I thought I would roll over everybody. This year, I realized everyone was going to be out there to beat me so I have to wrestle smart and have that same determination that got me to the top last year.

 WIN: If someone said you were a master at peaking last year, what would that mean to you?
 Wright: That just means I knew when to win.