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Shane Tappe knows what it takes to bring a wrestling program back to life

Brian Basham/TRIBUNE Former Laker wrestling great Shane Tappe (right)?gives some words of encouragement to one of his Morris Area wrestlers. Tappe has been the Tigers' head wrestling coach for the last two seasons.

DETROIT LAKES - When Morris Area head wrestling coach Shane Tappe entered the Detroit Lakes High School's Ralph Anderson Gym last Tuesday, he was in very familiar territory.

Tappe once ruled the Laker mat, becoming DL's all-time leader in victories with 165 wins and the only school wrestler to reach the state championship match, where he finished as a runner-up.

But the 2002 DLHS graduate also garnered some other valuable experiences during his time as a Laker, which he is now applying towards his first head wrestling coaching job at Morris.

"We are a young and inexperienced team right now," Tappe said of his Morris team, of which he is currently in his second year as head coach. "My ultimate goal is to have a successful team, but it will not happen overnight.

"We were in the same place (in DL) when I started out as we are in Morris now."

Tappe was one of the originators of the Lakers' rebuilding push in the late 1990s, which was headed by head coach Rob Ullyott.

As a seventh grader, Tappe quickly became a starter on a team that was undergoing major changes and helping with a building process that started from the ground up.

Coincidentally, Tappe's seventh grade season was Ullyott's first year, as well.

In essence, Tappe and Ullyott saw the Laker wrestling program blossom together, with the apex coming a year after Tappe graduated when DL earned a berth in the Class 2A team state tournament.

"I noticed here in DL my senior year that we really turned things around," Tappe said. "Although I never got to experience the state tournament on a team, my brother Shad did, and that's something he will never forget."

Ultimately, it is those rebuilding steps Tappe experienced from seventh grade through his senior season that he wants to repeat in Morris.

In Tuesday's duel against the Lakers, the Tigers had three open weights and had only one senior on the active roster in a 59-12 loss.

But it's a process, as Tappe found out first-hand in DL and one he is undertaking as a Tiger.

After coaching Tappe for six years, Ullyott believes his former wrestler is the man for the job.

"Shane has a young program (in Morris) and he has already helped begin building it," Ullyott said. "He is a hard worker and is very dedicated in what he does. As a coach, I take some pride in seeing a former wrestler give back to the sport like Shane is."

From being on the mat to the head man

After Tappe graduated from DLHS as the Laker all-time winning leader (since then Brent Eidenschink tied him for that honor), he moved on to wrestle for the St. Cloud State University men's wrestling team.

He was a contributor on the SCSU for four years, before graduating in 2007 with his teaching degree.

Two weeks after Morris High School hired Tappe as the industrial arts teacher, the head wrestling positioned opened up.

So, he was offered the job.

"It just kind of fell into place," Tappe said of landing his first wrestling head coaching job right out of college.

Tappe's previous coaching experience came from running freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling camps in DL and Royalton.

Coaching -- as Tappe quickly realized -- had many responsibilities besides teaching the sport.

"What a lot of people don't realize being a coach is you have to be a father-figure, a friend, an organizer and having have to do a lot of paperwork," Tappe added. "People don't see behind the scenes work, like making sure all your wrestlers are eligible.

"I wasn't expecting all of that."

But much like his wrestling career at DL, Tappe evolved and transitioned well from being a wrestler to a head coach.

One challenge for Tappe was to adapt to what he had on the mat -- meaning trying to fit the system to the kids' abilities, not fit the kids to a system.

"You teach the core stuff and tailor the techniques around the kids," Tappe said.

Another challenge is passing along a hard work ethic and a loftier level of dedication that makes wrestlers above and beyond average.

"There are some things you can't teach, like being mentally prepared," Tappe said. "Wrestling is a sport where the best athlete doesn't always win. It's hard work and focus."

One positive to taking over a program that's in rebuilding mode is Tappe can shape it to his vision, not someone else's.

"I'm trying to develop it to what I feel makes a good team," Tappe said. "You have to develop it to your values. Everyone has to put in their time."

Ullyott, who helped resurrect the Lakers program out of the ashes and bring DL to a pair of state berths, believes Morris has the right man to do just what happened in DL.

"If I was a wrestling parent (in Morris), I would feel fortunate having Shane as a head coach," Ullyott said. "Shane has had a little taste (of how to rebuild a program)."

Tappe has a good start to building up his feeder youth program, with 56 elementary students out for wrestling.

As far as his Laker days, Tappe is proud to have his name inked in the DL wrestling record books -- even though he wouldn't mind seeing someone break his all-time win record.

"Records are made to be broken," he said. "I hope someone down the road breaks it.

"I enjoyed my days in Detroit Lakes, but now my roots are in Morris (with his wife Holly and two-year-old son Colbe)."

And it's those roots Tappe hopes to cultivate into a growing program at Morris and repeat the success he helped create for the DL wrestling team.