Former Forest Lake wrestler Kunshier seeks champion culture as coach

  • Article by: AARON PAITICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 30, 2013 - 4:36 PM

Ex-Forest Lake wrestling star Joe Kunshier hopes to rekindle a championship mentality as coach.

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Rangers coach Joe Kunshier explained a move to several wrestlers at a recent practice. He was a Forest Lake wrestler once, too.

Photo: Ann Heisenfelt • Special to the Star Tribune,

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Joe Kunshier was in seventh grade in 1993, the year Forest Lake won its last team state championship in wrestling. The youngster was destined for his own great wrestling achievements but recalls observing the upperclassmen that season was something special.

“Just those core group of kids. They fought for each other,” Kunshier said. “As a seventh-grader, when I was seeing this, it was just really neat to watch.”

Kunshier was a two-time captain and state entrant himself. He placed second in state as a junior in 1997 and third as a senior in 1998, which earned him a spot on the Rangers’ treasured poster wall in the wrestling room. He then helped Augsburg College win three NCAA Division III national titles from 2000-2004.

This year he’s taken over as head coach of the Rangers with the hopes of recreating that state championship culture and mentality from top to bottom.

Kunshier served as a part-time assistant coach at Forest Lake for two seasons before being hired as a full-time assistant in 2004. He’s been involved in the youth program since 1999. While he attended Augsburg, he would drive from Minneapolis to Forest Lake on Tuesday and Thursday nights to give back to the community and stay involved with the program.

 

Dettmer in his corner

Kunshier applied for the head coaching job six years ago, but Billy Pierce was chosen over him. This time he got the job. It certainly didn’t hurt to have former head coach Bob Dettmer on his side. Dettmer, a legendary Forest Lake wrestling figure who coached the team from 1975-2007, wrote a glowing letter of recommendation.

“Kids know that he really cares. He has a heart for the sport,” Dettmer said. “He’s a good teacher, a good educator. You don’t make a living coaching. You make a living in the classroom and being a good teacher and a good mentor.”

Kunshier has brought Dettmer back into the program as an assistant. Dettmer coached Kunshier and most of the other coaches within the program, but that doesn’t mean this is Dettmer’s team again.

Kunshier might still call Dettmer “coach,’’ he said, “but I have no problem telling him what to do now.”

This year’s captains include two-time state entrant James Pleski and seniors Kyle Winberg and Luke Niemczyk.

Niemczyk appreciates the enthusiasm and pride Kunshier has shown. The program is equally important to the senior captain.

“It’s something that, for me, runs especially deep. My father and all my uncles wrestled. My father was part of the 1983 state team and my cousin was on the 1993 state team,” Niemczyk said.

“The theme of our team is ‘Raised in Tradition,’ and that holds especially true for me because my family and my family friends have all wrestled and have been very successful through their career here. I’m hoping to carry on their tradition in some way in my high school career here.”

It’s a young squad, but the future looks bright at Forest Lake all the way through the junior high and youth programs.

“The core group of kids definitely has that capability if they buy into a team aspect that I’m trying to purvey to them,” Kunshier said. “Wrestle for each other, and they’re in control of their own destiny. I think we can really build on that and bring another team to the state tournament.

“Long term, I’d love to bring another state championship back like the one in 1993.”

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