Wrestling is one of the most intense individual sports. Once a wrestler steps into the circle to compete, there is no help from a teammate. There are no timeouts. There is only training to fall back on and an opponent to attempt to defeat.
You win and lose as a wrestling team based on the sum of the work of individuals. Some wrestling teams, though, embrace the concept of togetherness — as opposed to merely being a group of individuals — more than others. Two of them were this year’s St. Cloud State and Augsburg teams, and both were rewarded with NCAA championships this past weekend as a result.
St. Cloud State won the Division II title — the first team national championship in any sport in school history — while Augsburg won the Division III title, the 12th for the wrestling program but the first since 2010.
St. Cloud State won the title in St. Louis, had a party in the team hotel Saturday, then embarked Sunday on a 10-hour bus ride back to Minnesota.
“I think that bus ride felt like just an hour,” said Steve Costanzo, St. Cloud State’s coach. “Probably the most enjoyable bus ride I’ve ever had. … We were national runners-up in 2011, 12 and 13, and those were probably better teams than we had this year. But I think the difference was the team chemistry, not just among those who went to nationals but everyone this year.
Jim Moulsoff, who took over as Augsburg’s interim head coach in July, echoed those sentiments. Augsburg won its title with individual champions but also with wrestlers earning bonus points in the consolation round — the perfect mix.
“They just believed,” Moulsoff said. “It turned out to be a total team effort. … One of our mottos is, ‘one percent improvement every day.’ They bought into it. As we were going through the season, we got beat here or there, but they always turned it around into a positive — how do we improve from here?”
The Gophers will try to make it a clean sweep for Minnesota teams across the three NCAA divisions. The Gophers will go into Thursday’s Division I meet among the favorites, though also needing an exceptional team performance to take home the title. If so, it would be quite a statement for the state. Already, though, the message is loud and clear.
“High school wrestling in Minnesota is very, very healthy,” Moulsoff said. “We’re fortunate in this state to have such a deep and strong wrestling tradition, and good coaching at the high school level.”