Edina. Wrestling school.
Hockey, of course. And tennis. But the combination of “Edina’’ and “wrestling’’ seems to go together about as well as Minnesota and palm trees.
For the past two decades, Edina and Richfield fielded a cooperative wrestling program, the Rampage. Low numbers of wrestlers at each school forced the joint venture, which never rose above mediocre. The team never reached the state meet.
Unlike Richfield, which had state champion wrestlers before the joint venture, Edina, with 118 team state titles before this school year, has not had an individual state champion in the tournament’s 78 years.
Wrestling at Edina? In terms of relevance, it might as well have been surfing.
If Josh Burhans has anything to say about it, that perception is due to change.
Burhans is head coach for Edina’s fledgling program, which split off from Richfield this season in hopes of establishing community roots. The affable redhead, who coached the Rampage for four years before this season, said there were signs that wrestling in one of the Twin Cities’ toniest suburbs had grown up and was ready stand on its own.
“Having a separate program had been on the table for some time, but the timing had to be right,” Burhans said. “We didn’t want to do it too early or too late and have trouble sustaining numbers. Last year, each school had 20, 22 wrestlers, so the conversations got more serious.”
Athletic Director Troy Stein recognized the need for Edina to develop its own program if it hoped to remain competitive, but credited Burhans with being the catalyst.
“No doubt, Josh has been the driving force,” Stein said. “He has the passion to do this. And as our numbers were growing, we felt we could do this here if we provided the resources instead of asking the kids to drive to Richfield on their own to practice.”
Numbers have been good, if not better than expected. More than 30 wrestlers showed up for Edina’s first practice, and nearly all have remained.
“We’re right about 30 right now,” Burhans said.
To senior 132-pounder Hayden Vosbeek, representing his school has been an invigorating experience.
“I feel like this year, we have more spirit,” Vosbeek said. “This year, when we’re breaking down before a match and we all yell ‘Hornets,’ it’s a different feeling.”
It’s also gone a long way toward helping wrestlers feel as if they’re an integral part of the school’s athletic scene.
“When we were combined, you’d rarely see a wrestler in the halls of the school because it was split between two schools,” said senior 195-pounder Sam Benkowski, one of Edina’s top wrestlers with a 16-3 record. “Now, you see other wrestlers periodically.”
As with any new venture, success rarely comes quickly. Edina got off to a strong start, winning its first two matches over St. Croix Lutheran and Minnehaha Academy/DeLaSalle, and added victories over St. Paul Como Park and Irondale.
But reality has hit home in recent weeks as the Hornets’ schedule has toughened. In Edina’s three most recent dual meets, all losses, opponents have scored at least 60 points each time.
“We expected things like that,” Burhans said. “We’ve tried not to have win-loss goals for the team. All I can ask for is for 100 percent effort. Our focus is on improving each day and working on appreciating the sport.”
Taking a few beatings was something he expected, Vosbeek said, and something the team is willing to endure as it tries to lay a foundation.
“You start small and you work from there,” he said. “That’s why this year is so important. We’re out to make a name for ourselves.”
It’s all about setting the groundwork for the future. And from perspective, Edina wrestling appears to have found solid footing.
“It feels good to be starting up this program,” Benkowski said. “What I want to be is a good role model for the freshmen on this team. And maybe, when they’re in my position in a few years, they’ll want to be that same role model.”