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UMD wrestling club growing

Members of the Minnesota Duluth club wrestling team include, front row (from left): Dylan Bethke, Mike Martchev, Brent Louis, Colton Ocker and Scott Pucko. Middle row: T.J. Lewis, John Grygelko, Taylor Nordgren, Carl Maiers, Connor Pariseau, Kenny Rietz, Sam Hise and Ryan Karl. Back row: Ryan Silbernick and Ben Ulrich. Submitted photo

Last school year, Fargo, N.D., native Dom Vasquez answered an ad looking for a wrestling coach at the University of Minnesota Duluth. After coaching at the high school level for six years, he thought his experiences were just what the UMD program needed to rise to the next level.

But when he arrived to discuss the job, he found himself meeting with a few members of the team who told him it was just a student organization and that he was going to be the only member of the coaching staff.

"We started with that," Vasquez said. "I kind of got thrown into it on a whim."

Since that time, Vasquez has helped the team grow from a student organization to a club team in a city where there is no real wrestling base.

"It's definitely weird (that Duluth doesn't have wrestling)," Vasquez said. "In central and southern Minnesota, it's huge. There's just a few towns around here that have it."

But even with the lack of wrestling around the Northland other than in towns such as Cloquet, Grand Rapids, Virginia, Superior and Maple, it hasn't deterred Vasquez from working on his team.

"You can look at every aspect of the club," he said. "Everything has doubled or tripled in size."

In the past, only a handful of wrestlers from UMD have competed at regionals. This season the team sent 12. Besides the growth at regionals, the Bulldogs were able to host two home meets this year, including bringing back alumni to be recognized at the second event.

Part of that success, Vasquez said, is due to the wrestlers' year-round commitment.

"The guys that are here have been solid all year long," he said. "They don't come here only to wrestle. They really do a good job of keeping the encouragement all year long. We've had our up weeks and down weeks, but it's going really well."

Also, as this is the first year as a club sport, the team has been able to gain a number of donations from alumni to help with any major costs the team may incur, and Vasquez added a strength and conditioning coach as well as an assistant coach.

Currently, everybody on the team has prior wrestling experience, but that doesn't mean the Bulldogs are opposed to introducing folks to the sport.

"Where we're at now and down the road, the more guys in the room the better," Vasquez said. "I'd love to give someone that's never done it a chance to do it. I'd be more than happy to help him."