by Norm Newell
Photography by Janssen Photography
The West Central Area, Ashby and Brandon-Evansville wrestling team is enjoying unprecedented success this year. At the time of this writing the Knights have just finished their regular season with a 21-2 dual match record. They also finished second in the 36-team Big Bear Tournament and they recently won the Park Region Conference Tournament. They are currently ranked ninth in Class A in the state, the highest ranking of any team in their section, and believed to be the highest state ranking they have ever achieved as a team. The team also has four individual wrestlers ranked in the top seven in the state in their respective weight classes. Hunter Fick is ranked number one in the 195-pound class, Jake Nohre ranks second at the 106-pound level, Royal Crow is fifth at the 160-pound level, and Buzz Miller is ranked seventh in the 220-pound class. The Knights are preparing for the team sectional and individual tournaments, with a view toward qualifying the team as well as many individuals for the state tournament.
Two years ago, the Knights were 7-13 in dual matches and they finished 35th out of 36 teams at the Big Bear Tournament that year. What has been their recipe for success in turning the program around in those two years? Grab your cookbooks coaches, here’s how it’s done.
In nine years as the Knights head wrestling coach, Brandon Gruchow developed the recipe for his team’s success following a series of years where the team struggled to maintain enough wrestlers to be competitive.
Ingredient # 1: Build the youth program and get strong school and booster support. Coach Gruchow knew he had to do the late night and early morning work of going down into the youth levels and get more kids interested in the wrestling program. He has personally been involved in all levels of the youth programs, recruiting coaches, setting up practice routines, going to the youth sessions and demonstrating holds and maneuvers to make kids successful on the wrestling mat. Even though his varsity team has had 23 matches this season and varsity practices all other days, Coach Gruchow continues to go to as many youth practice sessions that he can. He points out he that wouldn’t be able to build the program without the support of numerous parents, coaches, administrators, and wrestling boosters.
Ingredient #2: Add energy and enthusiasm. Along with twenty-year assistant coach Nels Onstad and first year coach Kyle Owings, the coaching staff brings their energy and enthusiasm to all their wrestler contacts, whether in the youth program, the JV level or the varsity practices. The coaches have hit the practice mats themselves to challenge their wrestlers and help prepare them for top-level matches.
With the growth of the youth program, Coach Gruchow has put together a team of kids from each of the towns that participate in the Knight’s wrestling program. Jake Nohre attends Brandon-Evansville school, Hunter Fick attends Ashby and Royal Crow attends West
Central. Two years ago, the team was young, with all the current
wrestlers on the team wrestling
many of the varsity matches. That’s Ingredient #3: Build experience and put your leaders in an opportunity to be successful. Coach Gruchow recognized these athletes as team leaders and gave them the tools to demonstrate to the other wrestlers what success looks like.
Jake Nohre started as an eighth-grader and now as a sophomore, is ranked second in the state; making the state individual tournament last year.
Two years ago, Hunter Fick, then in his sophomore year and already a national champion in his age and weight class in weight lifting, decided to try wrestling for the first time. As a raw, untrained, new wrestler, Fick listened to his coaches, tried the techniques they demonstrated, and made the state individual tournament that first season. He also made state individuals as a junior, finishing fifth. Now a senior, he’s ranked number one in the state in his weight class.
In his sophomore season, two years ago, Royal Crow didn’t win a majority of his matches, but made it to state individuals, as he did also last year. In his senior season he’s ranked seventh in the state and reached the 100-career-win plateau this year.
You don’t go 21-2 as a team without good wrestlers in the other weight classes also. Hence, Ingredient #4:
Build the skill level of all team members. Working on skills, maneuvers, and match strategies, the coaching staff has built the team’s skill level across all the weight classes. Brothers Levi Larkin at 120 pounds (9th grade) and Jake Larkin at 145 pounds (11th grade) continued their improvement and also made state last year, with Jake taking his 100th career win this year. Drake Swanson, a sophomore at the 113-pound-class has made great improvement and is a pin leader on the team this year. 8th-grader Wyatt Olson at 126, sophomore Keaton Long at 132 and sophomore Tyler Onstad at 138 have also improved and won their share of matches. Seniors Kyle Mickelson at the 152 pound class and Koel Seifert at 170 have finished high in their tournament matches this year as well as winning a majority of their dual matches. Juniors Blake Amundson (182 pounds), Buzz Miller (220 pounds) and Sid Kamarath (285 pounds) also have finished high in tournaments and hold down the important last weight class levels in dual matches. Miller is ranked seventh in the state in his weight class.
All these wrestlers have what Coach Gruchow considers another main Ingredient for success #5: Securing really good kids who are willing to work hard, put in the time, listen to the coaches and want to do well, more for their team than for themselves. “These kids are all good students from good family upbringings, making it a joy to work with them,” notes Coach Gruchow.
Ingredient #6: Build the “team-first” culture. Last summer, Coach Gruchow took all team members who were able to go, to Texas where they wrestled fifteen duals in two days, then had a relaxing day at a water park. The match experiences and the team building on the trip were invaluable in molding these kids from different towns and schools into a team of comrades. It helped them understand they are wrestling more for their teammates, and as Knights, than they are for themselves.
Conversations with team leaders Jake Nohre, Royal Crow and Hunter Fick, all lead one to note that all of the ingredients are present. Nohre has been in wrestling since he was pre-school. He’s had to make his way from Evansville to either Ashby or Barrett for practices since he can remember. He says the coaching staff has worked hard with him to help him be successful and to make state; and he’s grateful. He enjoys his parents Tim and Julie’s support and is excited that the team is doing so well. He also plays baseball, but makes time for weightlifting throughout the summer and wrestling’s off-season.
Crow also enjoys his parent’s, Kyle and Tammy Olson, support. He cites Coach Gruchow as being an excellent coach and counselor to him and the other wrestlers. He’s appreciative of what wrestling has done for him, and the opportunities he’s had to go to the state tournament. He hasn’t experienced this type of winning team in the past and is thoroughly enjoying the success of the Knights wrestling program this season. He is also a football player and was captain at West Central.
Fick, with the support of his parents Kevin and Dori, agreed to give wrestling a try and credits Coach Gruchow with taking the time to teach him the techniques and moves he would need to be successful; and also for being a person you can talk to. He appreciates the team aspects of wrestling, but likes the fact it’s up to you individually in your match to get the job done. He weight lifts three to four times a week, often going to the school weight room an hour and a half before school. He admits there is pressure in being ranked number one, but the coaches have impressed on him that you do your best with a smile on your face and go for it. He would be excited for the team to bring home a section trophy. Hunter is also a highly-rated football linebacker for Ashby.
Coach Gruchow preaches that in every practice and every match his wrestlers should strive to get one-percent better, with the final result being that you peak at season’s end and state tournament time. His wrestlers are taking it to heart and the team is enjoying unprecedented success. As the buzz is picking up around the school and the communities that make up the Knights wrestling squad, he says now is the time for the team to add the last important
Ingredient to success #7:
Focus on the fundamental task at hand.
“The kids have put in the time and the effort, but with the sections coming up we’ll work as much on mental focus as anything now. Whatever happens, I’m extremely proud of these kids and the effort they have put in to achieve the successes they have had.”
With their win-loss record, it’s obvious the Knights wrestling recipe has the right ingredients for success…and they are cooking up a season to remember.