When the cooperative between Dassel-Cokato and Litchfield wrestling teams was announced, there was some awkwardness about it amongst the wrestlers.
The teams had been intense rivals each eliminating the other from section tournaments in prior seasons. Suddenly, they were teammates.
But after the first few practices, the group knew they were capable of achieving something great. That's exactly what they did Friday night, defeating Becker 35-22 to capture the Section 6AA championship.
“Just seeing how hard these guys work in the room,” Jackson Martin of Dassel-Cokato said, “I knew there was always a chance from the start just from how they were working right from the beginning.
“Ever since we started hearing rumors last year about it, me and my dad are geeks about it,” Noah Halonen said. “(We) talked about the potential lineups, and once you start talking about it, we knew this team could do great things.”
DCL took care of Annandale/Maple Lake in the semifinal, winning the first seven matches and racking up bonus points along the way as it powered to a 41-21 victory to advance to the final and face Becker, the No. 1 seed.
In the final, DCL really flexed its muscle. The team won its first five matches with Andrew Joedeman, Victor Franco and Devin Steinhaus all earning bonus points. Becker made a small comeback in the middle of the dual, winning four of the next six matches.
As the wall was closing in on the Bulldogs, they needed a win at 195 to keep their hopes alive. But DCL's Beau Nelson, one of the best 195-pound wrestlers in the state, made sure that didn't happen with and 8-1 decision to seal the championship.
“It feels good to get it off our chest” Steinhaus said of being champions. “Just to break that plane and now we’re there. And now we’re going to have to wrestle hard at state too.”
This season has been impressive for DCL wrestlers. They haven’t lost a dual meet since they fell to Becker in mid-December.
“Our coaches tell us not to wrestle for ourselves,” Halonen said. “Not to wrestle for (Bryan) Clemen, (Dan) Buker, but to wrestle for your brothers, for your teammates.”
As they look on to the individual section tournament next weekend, based on how they wrestled at the team section tournament, DCL wrestlers are confident they will send some teammates to the individual state tournament as well.
“It would obviously be cool to send a lot of guys to individual,” Martin said. “Just a great team, a lot of great guys here. A lot of them have a good chance of going as individuals.”
How much will this win impact the program one year into the co-op? A lot of team members say the section title will help raise the youth wrestling numbers for future generations.
“All the little kids see this and they want to do it,” Steinhaus said. “Then they want to almost copy us, and we’re like idols to them.”
“It’s so much fun to be able to go back to the state tournament again,” Halonen said after he and members of the D-C football team played at state this past fall. “This is unreal.”