It may be common for the upper echelon of high school wrestlers to approach a new season hoping that they can survive a whole year without suffering a single loss, but only a select few are ever able to follow through with that goal.
This year the area had three wrestlers put together undefeated seasons, earning all three co-honors as the 2013 All-Journal Wrestlers of the Year.
Sibley East junior Nathan Rose reeled off his second consecutive undefeated season with a 45-0 record, earning his second straight Class A state title at 195 pounds in the process. Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther's Adam Cooling (44-0) and River Valley's Lance Briard (37-0) each capped off their senior seasons by finishing with a perfect record for the first time in their careers, with Cooling winning the Class A title at 160 pounds for his second state championship and Briard winning his first state title by winning the Class A championship at 285 pounds.
Staff photo and photo illustration by Steve Muscatello
River Valley senior Lance Briard was the Class A state champion at 285 pounds and finished the season with a 37-0 record.
Briard fulfills his dream
Like everyone with aspirations of being a state champion, Briard faced a lot of pressure when he set himself the goal of achieving nothing short of a state title his senior season.
Luckily, he had a lot of people in his camp that shared his goal with him, helping him make his dream a reality.
"I had a lot of support through it, so it made it a lot easier, but obviously winning a state championship isn't exactly easy," Briard said. "It all feels really well worth it, I still feel excited about it, and smile every day about it."
Briard first set his sights on a state championship after watching teammate Tony Vaske win the Class A title at 140 pounds in 2010, Briard's freshman season. Briard formally planned out his goal with his dad Jeff - an assistant coach for the Wildcats.
"The week after [Vaske's title], I just was talking with my dad, and I was like, 'You know, I think I can do this,'" Briard said. "At that moment we set each other a goal for ourselves that I was going to get a state championship, and from then on we've been working ever since for it."
River Valley head coach Todd Bertram didn't initially see Briard's state title hopes as being a sure-fire thing. However, after Briard fought through two excruciatingly close losses in the 2012 state tournament to earn a fifth-place finish, Bertram saw that Briard possessed the determination to make him a strong candidate for a state title in his senior season.
"I think those [losses] gave him a lot of fuel, kind of pushed him to work harder and make sure that those things didn't happen," Bertram said. "I think he did a nice job of using those defeats, or kind of some tough breaks - he broke his wrist in his sophomore year - to try to make his body as strong as possible and to prepare himself for full seasons of wrestling."
Briard's state title was the third for River Valley in four years, with Jacob Anderson having won the state title at 138 pounds last season.
Briard received some special help from assistant coach T.J. Brown on the way to his state title. Since Briard was at least 60 pounds bigger than any of the other Wildcats wrestlers, he relied on Brown - heavier than Briard by about 20 pounds - as a sparring partner.
"That was probably Lance's toughest match all year long, is battling with our assistant coach," Bertram said.
Brown even worked around the birth of his daughter the night of the first day of the state tournament to be with Briard the next day.
"I was absolutely astonished when I saw him the next day," Briard said. "I changed into my running shoes, I was just about to go out and run for a warmup, and I tied my shoes and there he is staring at me."
Briard - who was also named the 2012 All Journal Defensive Player of the Year in football - is committed to joining both the wrestling and football teams at Division II Augustana College next year.
"I've been involved in both football and wrestling since I was able to walk, I guess, because my dad's been a coach for both of the two sports," Briard said. "The fact that I was wanted for both sports in the school that I wanted to go to, that made that whole decision so much easier."
Cooling shatters records
Cooling didn't leave himself much unfinished business entering his senior year, but by the end of the season he certainly checked off every goal he possibly could have imagined.
He ended the year with 44 wins for a total of 201 career victories, which are both school records. He also had 196 takedowns to finish with 613 career takedowns, another pair of school records.
"I accomplished what I wanted to this year, I don't see how the year could have went any better," Cooling said. "I'm pretty pleased with how it went. Now I'm just looking forward to the national tournament coming up soon and then transitioning into college."
Cooling will compete for the Minnesota State University, Mankato wrestling team next year.
M/T/ML head coach Darren Gifferson isn't surprised at Cooling's accomplishments after seeing the high bar he set for himself.
"He puts a lot of pressure on himself," Gifferson said. "He sets his goals that high - most people don't do that, because then if you don't achieve it, it's almost a letdown - but Adam has that habit of setting everything really high to try to achieve it, then he works to get to it."
Now that Cooling's career with the Jayhawks is over, Gifferson hopes that the younger wrestlers in the program will look to Cooling's career as an example of what is possible with the right amount of determination.
"He set the bar fairly high for kids coming up," Gifferson said. "It's definitely something to work for, and once they start to achieve some of their goals at a lower level, they'll set theirs a little higher and maybe go after some of the records that Adam has set."
Even with all the success he had in his high school career, it is a testament to Cooling's high standards that he still feels he could have done more, despite a total of five state tournament appearances and two state championships (he won the 145-pound title his junior season).
"I wish I could have got started going a little earlier, but I guess it was those last two years that I really started catching on to everything our coaches were preaching," Cooling said. "I started looking up to the guys before me and seeing everything they did, and wanting to accomplish just as much as they did, and I realized what I had to do to get there. I think it's pretty awesome to have accomplished all that, and I'm really looking forward to what I can do in college."
Rose reaches new level
Rose didn't have anything new to shoot for after an undefeated season last year. However, he admitted that putting together a perfect season was harder the second time around.
"Since I went undefeated last year, it made me kind of think I had to do it again this year, and hopefully do it all over again, which I did," Rose said.
Though Rose has always found time for additional training throughout his career, his recipe for success has been that when things get tougher, he trains even harder than he did before.
"I've been at Sibley East for three years, and he's always been that way," Sibley East head coach Chad Johnson said. "He wrestles all year long, has practices when practice is done. He wrestles 365 days a year in some capacity... It's his thing - everybody in the world has their thing, and wrestling is his. There's not a day that goes by that wrestling isn't a part of a conversation or a plan."
This year Rose wrestled at a whole new level even compared to his standards, dominating almost every one of his matches. He even handily defeated the No. 1 wrestler at 182 pounds in Class AAA, Ricky Briggs.
"I kind of did some extra stuff this year and wrestled quite a bit in the offseason at different tournaments, and it kind of just helped progress to dominating," Rose said. "There wasn't much too-close of matches, I only got taken down a couple times this year."
Johnson admits that Rose pretty much is able to take care of himself at this point when he hits the mat.
"Really I'm just along for the ride at this point," Johnson said. "He's past the high school level, and now you just kind of sit, and we just get a [front-row seat] of a fun show every time he steps on the mat."
Rose is currently not sure where he will wrestle in college, but Johnson is sure he will go to a Division I program, with his preference to be in the Big Ten. Johnson mentions that Rose would love to be recruited by the University of Minnesota, but is currently being recruited by at least four other Big Ten schools.
"It's a long-haul for him, and he's thinking about more two, three years down the road, how important it is to keep going and keep working and all those things," Johnson said. "He's got it figured out, he's doing it the right way."