There have been 16 state champion wrestlers at Forest Lake. James Pleski wants to make it 17.
Pleski, a senior, finished in third place at 138 pounds at last year’s Class 3A tournament. He lost only to Apple Valley’s Seth Gross, a three-time state champion who is now at Iowa. This year Pleski is ranked No. 1 at 145 pounds.
“I definitely want to win the state championship,” said Pleski, who is 14-1 this season and recently won his 150th career match. “I’ve thought about it since last year. That’s the goal.”
Second-year Forest Lake coach Joe Kunshier has been an assistant with the Rangers since 2002. He’s coached Pleski since he was in the youth program.
“He’s the most talented and consistent kid that I’ve coached,” Kunshier said. “He’s right there with anybody who’s ever wrestled in this program.”
Ben Morgan, Forest Lake’s career leader with 235 victories, is the last Ranger to win a state title. Morgan, now with the Gophers, earned two state titles at Forest Lake. Pleski was Morgan’s wrestling partner at times.
“Watching Ben Morgan win his state championships, I wanted to do that some day,” said Pleski, who is shooting for a fifth consecutive trip to state this season. “There’s been a lot of great wrestlers to look up to here. I hope I can be the next one.”
Wrestling runs in the Pleski family. James started wrestling at age 5. He followed the lead of his older brother Mike, father Troy and his grandfather, also named James. Mike Pleski wrestled for Forest Lake, placing third at state as a senior in 2012. Pleski’s younger brother, Troy — called “Peanut” by James — is a seventh-grade wrestler at Forest Lake.
“We’re definitely a wrestling family,” Pleski said. “I’ve been wrestling as long as I can remember. My grandpa, my dad and my brother were really big influences on me.”
James said there’s been quite a bit of grappling around the Pleski house.
“We used to mess around a lot more than we do now,” he said. “Even my sister would get into it.”
The Pleski clan is more of the rule rather than the exception at Forest Lake, where wrestling has often been a family affair. A long list of brothers sharing names like Fraley, Schmidt, Moore, Marr, Menne and now Pleski fill the Forest Lake record books. Their photos line the walls of the Rangers wrestling room.
Kunshier, a Forest Lake 1998 graduate, was a two-time state place-winner. He said there’s a rich tradition at Forest Lake and each successful wrestler there had another wrestler to show them the ropes.
Pleski said he looked up to Morgan, but now he is trying to be the role model.
“I’ve always had somebody to look up to here,” Pleski said. “The last couple of years, I’ve tried to be the one the younger kids can look up to.”
Kunshier called Pleski a legitimate Division I prospect, the first at Forest Lake since Morgan. On the mat, Kunshier said, Pleski is “constantly moving” and “has very heavy hands.”
“Opponents are just awed by his strength and his intensity,” Kunshier said.
In addition to the physical domination, Kunshier said, Pleski consistently wins the mental chess match on the mat.
“He’s two or three steps ahead of people at all times,” Kunshier said. “He always has a plan in mind. His setups are very fluid and smooth. He has a plan when he goes out there. It’s amazing to watch it unfold.”
Kunshier said Pleski is quiet and leads by example with a workmanlike attitude. He said he’s watched Pleski go from above-average to elite over the past two years through hard work and dedication. He’s now a wrestler who people have to stop and watch, Kunshier said.
“I believe he’s going to be a state champion this year,” Kunshier said. “More importantly, he believes it, which is awesome.”