It’s not hard to tell that Binghamton head coach Matt Dernlan used to wrestle. His form mirrors that of the athletes in the Bearcats lineup, and when he’s on the sideline during a match shouting words of encouragement and instruction, it’s as if he were in the circle himself.
For Dernlan, who qualified for the NCAA Championships as a 126-pound college sophomore, wrestling boils down to a singular concept: effort. Since he took the helm of the Bearcats’ program in 2012, his message has never wavered.
“[Wrestling] is not a results-oriented process, it’s an effort process and an attitude process,” Dernlan said.
That effort has led to consistently impressive results for the Bearcats during Dernlan’s tenure. He has advanced at least two wrestlers to the NCAA Championships in each of his five seasons with BU.
“That consistency is really important to the building process,” Dernlan said. “There is an expectation that if you can get into our lineup, we believe you should be making it to the NCAA Tournament.”
Prior to Dernlan’s arrival, BU’s program was far from struggling. In the 2011-12 season, the Bearcats came in second in the Colonial Athletic Association Wrestling Championship and boasted five NCAA qualifiers. Following the season, former head coach Pat Popolizio departed for NC State along with two-time national champion Nick Gwiazdowski, setting in motion a search that brought Dernlan to BU.
In his first season, Dernlan helped prepare the Bearcats for a transition to the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) — widely considered the second-best wrestling conference in the nation.
“That was my goal once we got here, getting us in the most competitive conference possible,” he said. “Every match we face [in the EIWA] is against an upper echelon guy in the country, so when we get [to the NCAAs] … [we’re] prepared.”
Dernlan is no stranger to the spotlight. Before joining the staff at BU, Dernlan served for seven years at Penn State, mentoring a team that went on to win back-to-back NCAA Championship titles shortly after his departure. He went on to coach one season at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where he led the Golden Eagles to an 18th-place finish at the NCAAs in 2012. According to Dernlan, his years on the sideline, especially at Penn State, have helped him instill a winning culture at BU.
“There’s just a basic philosophy about how you need to compete [and] how you need to prepare yourself,” he said. “There’s definite parallels that I’ve brought from Penn State that we’ve instilled in the program.”
This season serves as further proof that Dernlan’s winning culture has already been established. At the EIWA Championships earlier this month, the Bearcats recorded eight place-winners — their highest total since joining the conference. BU also had eight of 10 wrestlers earn a top-10 seed for the conference tournament.
According to former conference heavyweight champion Tyler Deuel, who advanced to the NCAAs in 2015, Dernlan’s presence has been the principal force behind the team’s success.
“The program has grown and evolved every year that he’s been there,” Deuel said. “He’s different because he really cares about each guy individually, on and off the mat.”
Redshirt senior Dylan Caruana, who is set to make his first appearance at nationals, was recruited under Popolizio, but is grateful for his time under Dernlan’s guidance.
“I was really lucky to get coach Dernlan,” Caruana said. “He’s always believed in me, so I was blessed to have him.”
While Dernlan has already made an impact, he hopes to bring the program to its full potential, which includes recruiting a talented crop of rookies every season.
“If you look at the group we have coming in, this is hands-down the best recruiting class the University has ever gotten from a wrestling standpoint,” he said.
Although the future looks bright, so is the present. Caruana and junior Steve Schneider are set to compete at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Missouri on Thursday. Dernlan, as usual, is focused on getting his guys in the best position to succeed.
“All we have to do is internalize everything, focus on the process, focus on our effort, focus on our attitude,” he said. “If we do that, we’re going to be happy with the results one way or the other.”