Stamped By Family

Doug Vaith and Lake City Wrestling

By Brian Jerzak

When high school athletics are done correctly, the focus is on the kids involved. As an extension of making the kids the centerpiece, families become almost as important. More than anything, family has shaped Doug Vaith's coaching career and, in turn, has shaped the path of the Lake City wrestling program.

As first-generation wrestlers, the Vaith family would soon put their stamp on Minnesota wrestling.

"My oldest brother played basketball, but my second oldest brother – Paul, who coaches in Hastings – got going in wrestling and four of my five brothers got into it," Vaith said. "We wrestled for Blooming Prairie; three of us ended up being state qualifiers. I started wrestling in fourth grade and was a state qualifier in 1981."

Although not wrestling people, Vaith's parents supported their sons' passion.

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The Best Is Yet To Come

Mounds View Wrestling

By Brian Jerzak

Minnesota wrestling fans are used to seeing some of the blue blood programs with a zero in the loss column late into the season. Programs like Simley, Kasson-Mantorville, Shakopee, and St. Michael-Albertville routinely post outstanding regular-season records. One team that stayed undefeated late into the regular season this year might surprise you. The Mounds View Mustangs won their first seventeen dual meets. The season is shaping up to be their most successful since the Mustangs took fourth place at the state tournament in 2007. The best thing for head coach Dan Engebretson – if they make it to State this year or not – is the best is yet to come.

"We are a young team," Engebretson said. "We have three ninth graders and three eighth-graders starting on varsity. We didn't know what to expect, and they are overproducing. They are performing great. Different wrestlers have been stepping up every week. It has been a fun ride so far."

The team is wrestling with confidence beyond their years.

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The Secret Weapon

Detroit Lakes' Garrett Nelson

By Brian Jerzak

If anyone ever tells you one guy can't make a difference on a wrestling team or any team, don't believe them. Detroit Lakes' senior Garrett Nelson proved one guy could make all the difference.

Coming into the 2019-20 season, the Detroit Lakes Lakers' wrestling team had not won a section tournament in over ten years. They had won just two in their history. Coming into the 2019 football season, things were looking great for the Lakers' wrestling team – then, not so much.

Two-time state champion Isiah Thompson injured his knee during the football season – ending his football season and his wrestling season. Before Detroit Lakes could wrestle a match, another starter from two seasons ago – Nelson – would not be able to wrestle.

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Overcoming Adversity and Near Misses Together

Rob Ullyott and Detroit Lakes Wrestling

By Brian Jerzak

When the Detroit Lakes Lakers' wrestling team won back-to-back section championships during the 2003-04 and the 2004-05 season, it was the first and second time in program history to win a section championship. Detroit Lakes had been wrestling – outside of a three-year period where they disbanded the program – since the '50s. Before head coach Rob Ullyott took the head job, the Lakers had only had one dual season in which they finished over the .500 mark. After taking the head job in 1996, the program has had only one losing season. Last season, the Lakers made it back to State for the third time. In between, the Lakers were forced to endure several near misses.

"We were there in 2004 and 2005; those were the first years we had been there," head coach Rob Ullyott said. "We had been in the section finals a number of years, but we weren't good enough to win. A lot of years, it was Perham, of course."

"We were in the section finals the past five years," Ullyott said about the Lakers' most recent run to State. "We had been in the hunt. We were young and had a really good team two years ago. Perham was just so good that year, but we knew we had an opportunity last year. Our weight classes filled in nicely and had most of our kids back. Then we had a terrible football injury. Isaiah Thompson was a two-time state champ, and he missed the season. We didn't know what to expect going into the season. He is a great kid and a leader – how was the team going to adjust? They just picked up and went. Nobody dwelled on it. They worked hard all year and had a great year."

One of the many reasons the program was able to overcome such a devastating start and still make it to State and to place third was because the program has laid a solid foundation where results are significant, but not the most important.

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The Natural – Dominik Vacura

By Brian Jerzak

Some people seem to be born to do certain things. Some kids are so good – athletically, artistically, musically – at an early age that success is almost a given. They seem to be naturals. When watching these types of kids, it is obvious that some success is virtually guaranteed even if they don't work at it. If – like Dominik Vacura – they put in the time to their craft, they will – like Vacura - be able to do some big things.

At every level of wrestling, Badger/Greenbush-Middle River's Vacura has had success almost right away. His natural talent and his work ethic have taken him to the edge of wrestling history. He is one championship away from becoming a three-time state champion and a solid senior season away from setting a school record that has stood for over twenty years.

The sport of wrestling took Vacura by surprise.

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Wrestling For Family – Derrick Cardinal

By Brian Jerzak

Family has always played a big role in Forest Lake senior Derrick Cardinal's wrestling career. He wanted to join his older brother on the mat before he was old enough for the youth program. His father has been coaching him since the beginning. His mom is not only his biggest supporter from the stands but is active in trying to find better and better opportunities to wrestle. Throughout his varsity career, Forest Lake head coach Joe Kunshier has been in the three-time state champion's corner – like a father figure. When his extended Forest Lake wrestling family was in need, Cardinal did what he always does – wrestle for his family.

"My dad wrestled in high school," Cardinal said. "When I was three and a half, my dad brought my older brother to practice, and I would go with my parents. They couldn't keep me off the mat. I couldn't start until I was four. Once I turned four, I went to every practice I could and have loved it ever since then."

"He is one of those kids that is self-directed," Kunshier said. "From the time he was a mini-mite in our program, his dad Tim would talk about how his older brother Stephen was old enough to join, and Derrick would tag along – they couldn't keep him off the mat."

Cardinal didn't participate in many tournaments his first couple of years, but that soon changed.

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