March 11, 2010

By Amy Farnum

University of Nebraska-Omaha head wrestling coach Mike Denney is thankful for the gift of Cody Garcia.

And, the 133-pounder from Hutchinson, Kan., has certainly given Denney many reasons to be grateful during his spectacular collegiate career, including 45-0 record and top seed in the 2010 NCAA Division II Championships in his senior campaign.

Garcia is one of 10 national qualifiers for the Mavericks that will be hosting the national tournament at Sapp Field House in Omaha, Neb., on March 12-13, as UNO seeks to defend last year's title and add to its' six first-place trophies.

As he concludes his final season this week, Garcia will be vying for his third NCAA title. He won the 125-pound championship in 2006 and 2008, but then placed third at nationals last year in the 133-pound weight class.

Not only has Garcia's wrestling career been successful, but it has been lengthy. The son of a former All-America wrestler at Central Missouri State, Garcia was drawn to the mat at just four years old at one of his father Mike's high school wrestling team's practices.

"He allowed me to start wrestling whenever I wanted to, but he almost had to hold me back a little bit because I wanted to get on the mats when I was really young," said Garcia. "He eased me into it. I've always enjoyed and still have a strong desire for the sport."

Garcia went on to wrestle for his father at Hutchinson H.S., winning three Kansas 6A State Tournament championships.

"He (his father) knew how to motivate me, and still today inspires me by the way he lives his life and carries himself," said Garcia. "That's what drew me to UNO - is that Coach Denney has a similar coaching style."

The advice Garcia receives from his father is taken to heart.

"There two things, especially recently, that have stuck with me," said Garcia. "One is that I've wrestled so much in my life that I should be confident and comfortable wrestling. It's something I've done my whole life, so if I'm not comfortable wrestling, I'm not going to be comfortable doing a whole lot. He's also told me before every match, 'just let it go and let it flow and enjoy it and put on a show.'"

Garcia has certainly learned how to put on a show for Maverick fans, especially this year with a single-season school record 29 pins.

"He's dynamic and explosive," said Denney. "He's technical. Some guys just have an innate ability to pin their opponents and he has done a lot of that. He can score those big points for you in a dual or a tournament. He's fun to watch and an exciting kind of wrestler - there's always something happening when he's wrestling."

Denney also appreciates the fact that Cody is a coach's son - one of eight on the squad - and believes they tend to have a broader perspective of things, seeing them from a team point of view.

"I've found that on the closest teams, the individuals perform the best," said Denney. "Team power is huge, and Cody has been a big part of that. He's a quiet leader, but leads by example and those are always the best leaders. He's like a coach on the mat, and the guys around him would say they're better because of working out with him every day."

Garcia, who also owns the school's all-time pins record with 82 career falls, is excited to put an exclamation point on his stellar career in front of a home crowd.

"It's a great opportunity to compete in our own gym with our own fans and actually a team that is confident and has a great chance to do something special," said Garcia.

Nebraska-Omaha won the national title the last time it hosted in 2004, and Denney is not only looking forward to a possible repeat performance, but also an enjoyable tournament for all of the visiting wrestlers and fans.

"When they walk in here, I want them say, 'wow'" said Garcia. "We try to add something new every time we've hosted that makes for more an exciting tournament."

Session one first-round action is set for 11 a.m. on Friday, March 12, while session two beginning that evening at 6 p.m. Saturday's morning session is slated for 10 a.m. with the finals set for an 8 p.m. start Saturday night. UNO is the only school to qualify all 10 of its wrestlers for the NCAA Championships.