Taking successful strides - Laker wrestling becoming an elite team at DLHS
The Detroit Lakes wrestling team set high marks this season winning a program record 27 duals and sending a record seven wrestlers to the individual state tournament culminating in junior Isaiah Thompson’s second consecutive state championship.
Thompson’s success has been a highlight for the team the past two seasons and has helped the program gain attention in the community and around the state.
“He brought a lot of awareness of our activity to the community,” head coach Rob Ullyott said. “I don’t know how many people that have started talking wrestling with me or people who have never talked wrestling with me because of Isaiah.”
Nothing attracts kids to a program like winning and DL wrestling has joined other successful Laker programs like gymnastics, swimming and golf in making consistent noise at the state level.
“It’s always a numbers game,” said Ullyott. “We started with about 40 kids and finished with around 35-36. That’s where we want to be. It gives you some depth and with weight classes you need bodies. It takes 14 wrestlers to run a wrestling program and that’s just to start; you have to have the right weights. It takes everybody and we’ve tried to find the right fit and blend where the kids still get time to refresh themselves mentally, yet we still work them hard where we’re learning and getting better and able to improve our situation.”
The Lakers had 13 wrestlers place at individual sections with 11 reaching the semifinals and seven moving on to the state tournament.
The team’s successful culture is based on togetherness more than competitiveness. The coaching staff stresses friendships, getting along and participating in group activities as ways to build that cohesiveness as a unit.
Wrestling is rather unique in that the varsity team consists of a group of 40+ kids from seventh grade through 12th grade.
“It makes it very unique in that way,” said Ullyott. “When we sit down and talk to our leaders, we’ve got a form they have to fill out that talks about leadership and expectations. One of the things we talk about is getting to know all the kids. They’re good friends with each other and we’ve got a really good culture on how we get along.”
While winning is important to every team, it is not the end-all, be-all for this Laker program.
“The No. 1 reason kids participate in activities is they want to be with their friends,” said Ullyott. “It isn’t about winning, or I want to be better at this or I want to win a championship. That stuff comes later. We’re lucky we have some really great kids. They’re good people and have great character. I think they see how work ethic equates into results and they’ve bought into that and we’ve got parents that are very supportive. This is such a great group of people and we’ve had such great support.”
The Lakers are improving with that support and continue to strive for a section title that has eluded DL in recent years because of the Perham Yellowjackets.
Under head coach Robb Moser, the Jackets have captured the last five 8AA team titles. The Lakers have been section runners-up five of the last six years.
Moser recently announced his retirement and rumors out of Frazee have Clay Nagel potentially stepping down prior to next season making Ullyott one of the longest tenured wrestling head coaches in the region.
He began coaching in DL three years after the program was rejuvenated beginning in 1992 and just completed his 29th year of coaching overall. For nearly two decades, he’s been joined by assistant coach Todd Jackson who was a first-time Section 8AA assistant coach of the year this season.
“I thought it was a well-deserved honor. He does an awful lot,” said Ullyott. “He runs a lot of our practices. He’s a very passionate coach. Loves the sport of wrestling and he’s been working with me for at least 17-18 years. He works with our varsity and a lot with our elementary program. He’s got his fingers in just about everything we do.”
Ullyott and his staff use a hands-off approach in the off season encouraging players to lift weights and enjoy family time, much like the team does over the holiday break in-season when family time is stressed more than tournaments.
The summer program consists of a team camp working on technique and competing at a 64-team camp in Wisconsin Dells. DL won that tournament in 2017 and placed third in 2018.
“I think we need to get away from what we do sometimes,” Ullyott said. “The mental part of athletics is so important that I want them coming into practice saying, ‘I want to be here.’ I don’t want them burned out.”
Early season practices take dedication attending twice a day from 6:30-7:30 a.m. before school from the beginning of the season until Christmas, along with practice after school. The team adjusts practices after the holidays when the schedule kicks into high gear and again as the postseason nears.
“It changes up your practices, shortens them up a bit and the practices are more intense and more live,” Ullyott said.
The Lakers also employ a 20-30 minute practice before weigh-ins on match day. Ullyott stresses the worst match is the first match and the team uses that time before duals to get that out of the way and be ready to compete, something that has caught on with the wrestlers.
“Some kids complain if we don’t do it,” said Ullyott.
Wrestling is not for everyone. It requires an all-around toughness. Recent success is helping keep the participation numbers at the required level to succeed and Ullyott understands kids have plenty of easier things they could be doing in the winter.
“When it comes to recruiting, we’re a big school,” he said. “Kids have plenty of options and I wonder how many kids know Isaiah Thompson was a state champ this year. In a bigger school district with standalone elementaries it’s a challenge to create that culture there. We’re trying to find ways to do that.”
The main way is getting the varsity team in front of and involved with the youth programs. The staff encourages the varsity wrestlers to attend at least six practices at the youth level.
“They make that connection as the kids are coming up through the elementary,” said Ullyott. The other part is we’re a grade 7-12 practice room so they’re around each other quite a bit.”
The team is continually taking steps to make sure everyone is included and much of that leadership falls on each season’s senior class.
“The Brennen Sathers and Noah Olds, Fabyon (Greer) and Charles (Barnett) have really embraced that this year,” said Ullyott. “There is a lot of learning in how to be a leader.”
This season’s team had a bunch of leaders with winning records starting with a pair of eighth-graders in the lowest weights in Cade Okeson and Cade Jackson. In Minnesota wrestling, where duals always begin at 106 pounds, a lot of stress can fall on the youngest kids to get the team off to a strong start. Okeson and Jackson, along with sophomore Brody Ullyott, freshman Bradly Swiers, junior Blake Weber and sophomore Blaine Henderson did that helping set up the meat of the lineup.
“Our lower end of the lineup did a great job,” said Ullyott. “Cade Okeson went from a JV wrestler to 35 wins and a state entrant. Cade Jackson had experience last year but was much improved record-wise and a state entrant. Bradly Swiers came through for us this year. They all started us off really good.”
The state meet, aside from Thompson’s second straight undefeated run through the 170-pound bracket, was a tough ending to the year after the team battled illnesses during team sections and the six other state wrestlers struggled to find wins in St. Paul.
“Our whole thing is let’s do our best,” said Ullyott. “We don’t talk about first, second, third place. If you do that, things are going to work out.”
Next season will provide a number of changes with the defending champs in Perham under a new head coach and this is also a section realignment year where class sizes will determine who remains in 8AA.
Early word is Park Rapids will move and potentially Bemidji could return.
The Lakers return a strong, core group and have the potential to return to the state team tournament for the first time since back-to-back trips in 2004-05.
“We’ve got six kids with state wrestling experience back and it’s going to depend on how much we can improve before next year,” Ullyott said. “We’re going to have a balanced team. I’m hoping that our senior group is excited for next year.”
Detroit Lakes wrestling season information:
Gold academic award for a cumulative team grade point average of 3.69.
Fabyon Greer (MSUM) 30-5, Career 126-49
Noah Olds 41-11, Career 119-47
Charles Barnett 30-12, Career 70-53
Brennen Sather 32-20, Career 63-56
Cade Okeson (8) 35-9
Cade Jackson (8) 36-12
Brody Ullyott (10) 36-13
Bradly Swiers (9) 24-12
Clint Andresen (9) 4-7
Blake Weber (11) 35-11
Blaine Henderson (10) 28-18
Garett Nelson (10) 17-21
Isaiah Thompson (11) 45-3
Andrew Annette (10) 21-23
Jordan Skadsem (11) 33-12
Andreas Barnett (10) 9-6
Thad Schlauderaff (10) 1-7
Cale Abraham (8) 5-7
Jacob Ehnert (9) 0-3
Nolan Mann (10) 6-5
Lee Omdahl (11) 0-3
Tyson Ullyott (8) 3-3
Carson Wold (10) 8-7
Okeson, Jackson, B. Ullyott, Weber, Greer, Henderson, Thompson, Olds, Skadsem, Barnett, Swiers (Honorable Mention)
Individual Section results (*-state qualifier)
106 Okeson runner-up*
113 Jackson Champion*
120 Swiers runner-up*
126 B. Ullyott 3rd
132 Weber 3rd
138 Greer Champion*
145 Henderson 3rd
152 Nelson DNP
160 Sather 4th
170 Thompson Champion* (State champion)
182 Olds runner-up*
195 Skadsem 3rd
220 Annette 5th
285 Barnett runner-up*