Senior Tanner Johnshoy epitomizes Prior Lake's wrestling program. His work ethic is first-rate as he looks to improve each time he takes to the mat, whether in practice or during a meet.

That kind of commitment has taken the Lakers from the depths of the beginning of coach Joe Block's tenure to back-to-back third-place finishes in the Class 3A wrestling state tournament. They defeated Hastings 30-21 for third place a year ago.

"We have lost to [eventual state champion] Apple Valley in the semifinals at state the last two years," Block said.

"We came back with wins over Albert Lea and Hastings to finish the season, and that says a lot about our program. I'm very proud of the way we have finished the last two seasons."

That's a far cry from when Block took over a little more than a decade ago. The Lakers went 2-22 in dual meets in each of his first three seasons at the helm of the program.

"It was a struggle to get kids to come out for the team," said Block, who is in his 12th season at Prior Lake. He previously coached at Le Center. "It makes you question if what you're doing is right."

He got the answer he was looking for in 2006. It coincided with the school's initial appearance in the state tournament. It has since made the trek to St. Paul three more times as a team.

"That's when we started to turn the corner," Block said. "There was a little more interest in the program."

As numbers have risen in the high school, middle school and youth club, so has the Lakers' success.

"Our program is getting really good," Johnshoy said. "We would like to make it to the finals this year after finishing third the last two years."

Johnshoy is one wrestler whom Block is counting on every match. He has been the state runner-up in his weight class (103 pounds as a sophomore and 113 pounds as a junior) in the individual state tournament the past two years.

"He's a good leader, and always works hard in practice," Block said. "He's not a vocal leader, but instead leads through his actions. He doesn't like losing."

Johnshoy is wrestling at 120 pounds in his final year. Other state qualifiers returning for the Lakers are senior Ben Rock (132 pounds), junior Blake Carlsisle (138 pounds) and junior Sean O'Neil (160 pounds).

"We have been solid in the lower and middle weights, but our heavier wrestlers were somewhat inexperienced last year," Block said. "We are as balanced from top to bottom as we've ever been this year."

It's a trend that Block hopes stays with the Lakers' program for the foreseeable future. Prior Lake opened the season winning its first four matches, doubling its win total from those early years under Block.

"Every coach wants success overnight," Block said. "It just doesn't happen that way."