The state wrestling tournament is a hotbed of raw emotion, with a never-ending supply of screaming from the stands, high-wire encouragement from coaches and for the wrestlers, a very fine line between success and the end of the road as the season comes to a close.
But let’s go back to the first day of wrestling practice last November, when another kind of emotional scene played out in a very peaceful spot. The scene was a cemetery in Belgrade, Minnesota. That’s where the wrestling team from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa went to visit their former coach as the season began.
Rich Vos was 38 years old and riding his bicycle in the early-morning darkness on Oct. 16 when he was struck by a semi-trailer and killed. Since that day, nothing has been the same for the B-B-E Jaguars.
Before beginning their first practice of the season, the wrestlers ran to St. Francis DeSales Catholic Cemetery, about a mile from the high school. Waiting for them there was Rich’s widow, Beth, a mother of two young children. She and the wrestlers gathered at the gravesite and she read them a letter. Beth tried to put into words what the coach would have said to the team if he could have done the writing.
“She wrote about what Rich would have wanted this year, what he thought we could accomplish,” Jaguars senior Tyler Tensen told me Friday at Xcel Energy Center. “How it would be awesome if we would dedicate this year to him. And of course we did.”
Rich has been listed as the team’s head coach all season. The mats inside the high school gym carry the words “Always in Your Corner.” The coaches have Rich’s name printed on the back of their shirts. The wrestlers have t-shirts that say “His Vision, Our Mission/ In Memory of Coach Vos.”
“It was definitely hard,” said Tyler, one of three Jaguars to qualify for the state tournament. “The whole season, not having him was hard. Losing him was definitely a big motivator through the year, that’s for sure. And it was certainly hard not having a good friend and a coach around.”
Assistant coach Brian Friedrichs, who took over as head coach, works as a National Guard Readiness NCO in Sauk Centre. He was on his way to Camp Ripley for a staff meeting when he learned that Vos had been killed.
“That evening I went to see the family and the next day we talked to wrestlers, to see how they were doing,” he said.
Right after Vos died, many of his wrestlers who also played football had to play the final regular-season game.
“They had to think about finishing the regular season that next day, on MEA Wednesday, and then the playoffs,” B-B-E athletic director Rick Gossen said. “Talk about an emotional roller coaster for 16-17-18-year-old kids.
“I think the students and staff supported each other very well. They had a chance to grieve and heal. It’s one of those things that never leaves you. You never stop feeling that loss, especially for the wrestlers that were closest to him.”
--Tensen (126 pounds) and fellow senior Patrick Rooney (182) each won two matches Friday to advance to Saturday’s semifinals. Sophomore Josey Tensen lost in the opening round at 106 pounds.
SETTING UP FOR THE SEMIFINALS
Every defending state champion won in the first round of the state tournament Friday, but the number was whittled a bit in the second round.
Friday’s marquee match came in Class 2A at 126 pounds. Simley senior Juan Torres, last year’s champion at that weight, won a 5-4 decision in the quarterfinals over Rockford junior Ty Griffin, who was the 2012 champ at 120 pounds.
--St. Cloud Apollo senior Mitch Bengston, a three-time champion, is on track for another 3A title. He will meet Blake Carlisle of Prior Lake in Saturday’s semifinals.
--In Saturday’s 3A semifinals, Apple Valley will have eight wrestlers and St. Michael-Albertville will have seven. Apple Valley had 14 individual qualify for state and the Knights had 12; they tied for the 3A team championship on Thursday night.
Semifinal matches will take place Saturday morning, with title matches scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
--To see a photo gallery from the tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Diet Coke Count: 3 for the day, 7 for the tournament, 19 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 488
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,239
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn