When it was announced on July 11 that Litchfield and Dassel-Cokato would combine wrestling programs, there was a bit of awkwardness amongst the wrestlers.
They were now teammates after being rivals the year prior.
The cooperative agreement came as a result of dwindling numbers in both programs. Litchfield wrestling numbers were insufficient, unable to fill 14 roster spots, which forced some wrestlers into the lineup even if they were not ready for varsity.
At the end of the last season, coaches, activities directors, superintendents and parents agreed unanimously that a co-op was best for both of the programs. There might naturally be skepticism from the wrestlers about having to be teammates with the cross-county team.
“Kids are very quick to adapt nowadays,” head coach Bryan Clemen said, “which I think is a positive. So the worry of, ‘how are these kids that have been rivals for so long going to deal with being in the same locker room, riding on the same bus,’ all those things, the kids adapted to very quickly. The coaches adapted to it very quickly. It’s always a worry, but they’ve done a great job of that.”
The wrestlers did adapt fast. After being in the practice room for months before the season began, it all became routine quickly.
“I feel like it’s pretty good, it feels normal,” Litchfield wrestler Jerry Simes said. “It might have been quiet the first day, but it feels pretty normal now.”
It has been a successful first season under the co-op, with DCL posting a 6-2 record overall and 5-0 in conference mark. Earlier this season, DCL dominated the Delano Invite and had a top-five finish at the Redwood River Riot. The team has also won its last five dual meets.
The dramatic turnaround started in the practice room.
“It’s a very competitive practice room,” Clemen said. “Separate, you would have guys giving up 15 or 20 pounds or even more to even get a practice partner. Now, every guy can be in a group of four within five or six pounds of his weight class and you have a chance to work and get better.”
It took some Dassel-Cokato wrestlers extra time to adjust to the team, as they missed early practices because of their state football championship run.
“Once the football guys started to wrestle, it seemed like it was fine,” Beau Nelson said. “It’s pretty normal now.”
“It’s pretty normal now,” is a common theme among the wrestlers. They like having the opportunity to practice with competitors close to their weight. Combining programs also means there are twice the number of coaches on the team, which allows them to have more one-to-one coaching.
Winning solves everything, and that’s what DCL wrestling is doing. Any potential issues moving forward have been squashed with the newfound success.
“I don’t see any problems,” Nelson said. “I think we’re good.”
With a conference title and a possible section title looming in the near future, the team knows that the culture of these programs is something more than just what happens on the mat.
“They understand that we’re more than just different towns working together,” Clemen said. “We’re working hard to be one family.”