For the second time in his career, then-junior wrestler Danny Sabatello competed in the 2015 NCAA Championship wrestling tournament.
The feat was quite an accomplishment, especially since he joined Purdue graduate Nick Lawrence in being one of only two Boilermakers to advance to the third round. They were also the final two to bow out.
Though the Boilers came hungry, they scored 4.5 points, finishing 42nd out of 69 teams.
”I thought sending eight guys out of 10, which tied for the record at Purdue, was a great step,” said head coach Tony Ersland. “I thought we had guys who could get on the podium too, and we didn’t. So that kind of left a bit of a sour taste in our mouth.”
Saturday marked the first official practice of the 2015-16 season. Now Sabatello is a senior, and that “sour taste” has fueled him in the offseason to not only work harder but also become a team leader.
”Obviously we didn’t get what we wanted last year, so with that being said, I think that has a fire under me to come out and just feel great and just wrestle with no fear,” said Sabatello. “And that’s what I’ve been doing all summer, all preseason ... just coming out and attacking.”
Now that all five of the senior starters have left, some have pegged Sabatello as being the leader of the team due to his accomplishments. Out of the five seniors on the 2015-16 roster, Sabatello leads the group with an overall record of 61-32.
Though he may be one of the most successful wrestlers on the mat for the Boilermakers, his teammates and coaches fondly refer to him as “Sabby,” the quirky nickname fitting his very different personality.
Sabby holds such titles as “social media diva” and “practical joker extraordinaire,” and is largely accountable for the light mood that is felt by the team during practices.
But this year, Sabatello claims that things are different. He has recognized the expectation of being a leader and has already made strides to live up to it. When asked if he feels the pressure, he replied with a confident, “No.”
”If anything, it fires me up more just because I know it’s an incredible honor to be a leader of this team because we have so many hardworking, talented guys,” said Sabatello. “I know that if I’m the leader of the pack, then I have to lead by example and always be doing the right stuff for these guys.”
Sabatello claims he is doing just that. Since the end of his junior year, he has recognized where he needs to improve, noting the adjustment he has made to his maturity level.
”I’ve completely matured my whole entire lifestyle,” he said. “Obviously, you’re young and in college, there’s going to be distractions, not all of them bad, but I mean, you just have to come together as a man your senior year and just focus on what’s necessary and just getting it done and having your priorities right in front of you and attacking them.”
Ersland has recognized the growth in Sabatello.
”I think Danny is progressing in that way,” Ersland said. “It’s a bit of a mixed bag with Danny because he’s kind of a social diva and he keeps it light – he likes to have fun. But I have seen him embrace that leadership role more and that’s what I’ve asked of Danny, as well as the other seniors ... to embrace that leadership role, show these guys what it takes to have success, because the young freshmen are going to look around and they’re going to take cues from some of the older guys.”
Sabatello’s strides in leadership and motivation have resonated with freshman wrestler Nathaniel Alexander.
”Danny is always the guy who will finish – if not first – in the top three, and if we’re running a race, he’ll head back another quarter mile just to catch up and find the guys who are in the back and encourage them and run that extra half mile,” Alexander said. “He’ll run an extra three quarters of a mile just to find someone and encourage them, so I see him as being a great leader.”