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BEA’s Wirtjes earns state wrestling coach of the year honors

STATE’S BEST — Blue Earth Area head wrestling coach Randy Wirtjes (right) and Bucs’ assistant coach Dave Pfaffinger discuss strategy during the Class A state team wrestling tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Wirtjes was named as the Minnesota State High School League’s Class A head wrestling coach of the year. (Photo by Greg Abel)

BLUE EARTH — Blue Earth Area head wrestling coach Randy Wirtjes came home with more than just the Class A third-place plaque from the MSHSL state wrestling team tournament.

He also was named Class A head coach of the year.

“It’s really nice to win the award,” Wirtjes said. “I’ve told people, we have got great assistant coaches and great athletes. We’ve got great support from the school, from the booster club and from the parents. It kind of all fits into one. Everyone deserves a bit of that. It’s a great honor.”

Wirtjes’ Bucs returned to the state tournament as a team for the first time since 2002 after a 19-5 dual-meet record during the regular season. The Bucs then reached the Section 2 team finals, facing four-time champ Kenyon-Wanamingo, and coming out with a 39-23 win to qualify for state.

“That was the best,” Wirtjes said of being part of the tournament’s Day 1 team portion. “It had been 18 years and you just don’t want to take it for granted because it can be really hard to get back there. That was the case for us. Jackson (County Central) had some really good teams over the years and then Kenyon got in our section and had really good teams. So for us to get there, I was not only happy for the wrestlers and the coaches, but for the town and the fans. That was a big deal.”

The Bucs went on to beat Grand Meadow/LeRoy-Ostrander/Southland, 34-32, in the state team quarterfinals, fell to eventual Class A champion Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville, 39-19, and beat Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove, 36-26, in the third-place matchup.

It was Wirtjes’ sixth team appearance as the head coach at BEA, finishing second in 1998 and winning back-to-back championships in 2001 and 2002.

Through Wirtjes’ 32 years in Blue Earth, he’s coached teams and individuals to many successful seasons. He said having a strong youth program and keeping the season fun are two major factors in sustaining program’s success.

“You’ve got to have strong numbers,” Wirtjes said. “You’ve got to have a good elementary program to keep your numbers strong. You’ve got to work hard, but keep it enjoyable. If you have kids that stick it out through their whole career, through their senior year, you’re gonna do OK.”

Part of what Wirtjes said he thinks keeps the season enjoyable are certain activities he tries to incorporate every year. He said year to year there are a couple of key things he has wrestlers do such as creating both individual and team goals for the season and celebrating success throughout the year.

“We try to do some things that are kind of fun as a team,” Wirtjes said. “Sometimes during the year, we’ll just give them a night off. We always get posters made and hand those out. Sometimes we’ll have practice and maybe play warball after a win, just let them have fun with that, maybe just shut down early and hand posters out. Just try to mix it up and keep it different so that it’s not the same old grind every time.”

Through the years, Wirtjes said he has changed how he works with wrestlers. He said as he’s made it through three decades, he’s focused on giving more power to the athletes. He said he has also noticed a small change in the kids.

“It’s changed,” Wirtjes said of his coaching philosophy. “I think when I was younger, you wanted to be more of a grinder and really get after the guys, but now you focus on technique and trying to keep it fun. Let them have a good time and let them be part of the decision making, they’re the big part of the team. That’s been a key to what’s really helped us. Trying to keep it different, keep it light, but yet work hard.

“Things have changed over the course of time and as a teacher I would say the same thing, but the kids that want to be there, they’re going to work hard for you. Maybe a little change, but pretty much the same.”

Wirtjes said he begins preparing for each new season in October so he doesn’t feel rushed when practices begin in November. He said he works with BEA head football coach Randy Kuechenmeister in the weightroom with their athletes three days a week to make sure they’re strong and ready for both football and wrestling. He said that is a big part of his preparation and helps set expectations for the season.

Through the preparation, hard work and fun, Wirtjes said there is one major thing that keeps him coaching year after year.

“No doubt the relationship with the guys, with the wrestlers,” Wirtjes said. “It’s just fun. When they get out of school and come back to practice or at the state tournament you see a lot of them there, you kind of rekindle that relationship a little bit and it’s just fun to talk with them.”

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