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.

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Online Access. Current subscribers log in.

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.

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Online Access. Current subscribers log in.

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.

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Online Access. Current subscribers log in.

Culture Starts In The Room

Wes Hanson and Crookston Wrestling

By Brian Jerzak

In any sport, success doesn’t start during a competition. Success begins in the offseason and during practice. To have practices that lead to success, the athletes need to buy into what the coaching staff is selling. That process starts by establishing a culture that begins not on the mat but in the practice room. Crookston head wrestling coach Wes Hanson has taken the Pirates from a sub-.500 program to a team that has had back-to-back-to-back winning seasons and might be on the verge of their best season in years. Hanson and his staff have done it by establishing a culture of hard work, not only in competition but in the practice room.

Hanson’s father was a successful wrestler and started his son down the wrestling path.

“My dad wrestled and ended up wrestling at Bemidji State. He introduced me and did some coaching. I started at a young age. Right away, it was enjoyable for me, and once I started competing, I liked the individual nature of the sport. It was a lot of fun.”

His dad started him in wrestling, but Hanson’s friends were instrumental in stoking a passion for wrestling.

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Online Access. Current subscribers log in.

Mini-Wins Lead to Major Growth

Matt Everson and Saint Thomas Academy

By Brian Jerzak

For programs that are not traditional wrestling powers, traditional victories don’t always come right away. Improvements start with more subtle victories. New Saint Thomas Academy co-head coach Matt Everson used mini-wins to help build the East Ridge program into a section champion. Now, he hopes to do something similar at STA.

Everson is a second-generation wrestler.

“I was four years old when I started wrestling. My dad wrestled in high school and a little bit in college. His brother was a national runner-up for an NAIA school – Northern State University – in Aberdeen, South Dakota. I have an older brother and a younger brother; we all wrestled growing up. Wrestling became part of our DNA.”

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Online Access. Current subscribers log in.

Family Ties – Bennett Berge

By Brian Jerzak

Not many wrestlers have the built-in coaching staff of Kasson-Mantorville’s Bennett Berge. As a youth, Berge would go to wrestling tournaments and, on a given day, could have a future two-time state champion or a future four-time state champion in his corner. Even with Berge’s built-in support, the now senior still had to put in the time and effort. Berge has held up his end of the bargain – winning three straight state titles. He will be going for his fourth straight this season.

Berge and his brothers are second-generation wrestlers.

“My dad wrestled in high school,” Berge said. “I think he was a state placer his senior year. Then, my brothers, Brock, was a two-time state champ, and Brady was a four-timer, so wrestling was in my family.”

Bennett started wrestling early, but not by the Berge family standards.

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Online Access. Current subscribers log in.

The Benefits of Change – Garrison Solliday

By Brian Jerzak

There have been plenty of times when St. Thomas Academy senior Garrison Solliday could have quit wrestling. He has been at a crossroads in his wrestling life more than once. Each time, teammates helped him decide to stick with the sport and stick with his school. They were decisions that benefited Solliday, benefited his teammates, and benefited the entire school.

Solliday’s father grew up knowing the benefits of wrestling.

“My dad wrestled for a little bit, but he ended up playing basketball,” Solliday said. “He grew up in a small town in Iowa, and wrestling was the thing that everyone did. He was very exposed to wrestling right away. He always liked wrestling. I was in third grade and wasn’t in a winter sport, so he decided to put me in wrestling – just for a year to see if I liked it. Wrestling and I were very compatible. It requires a lot of hard work and dedication, and I enjoyed the season. That is when my dad realized I had some potential, so he started to get me more involved in wrestling – going to more camps and tournaments. I ended up liking it.”

View exclusive subscriber content with The Guillotine Online Access. Current subscribers log in.