Prep wrestling: Jaguars fulfill Vos’ vision
On the first day of practice last fall, the Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa wrestling team took off on a run to the cemetery to pay their respects at the gravesite of their coach, a man they knew as a mentor, father figure, brother, friend and all-around great guy.
It was a fitting first-day team activity for a group of athletes and coaches still trying to deal with the untimely death of Jaguars head coach Rich Vos and keep his values and ethics fresh in their minds as they prepared for what they knew could be one of the best seasons in school history.
“We dedicated our year to him,” said Jaguars’ 126-pound senior Tyler Tensen, who is one of three BBE athletes competing in the Minnesota State Wrestling Tournament beginning Friday.
“We told him we’d give it our all because that’s what he would have wanted,” Tensen said. “He always said, ‘Keep on pushing,’ because there’s nobody out there to help you when you’re out on the mat. Do it for yourself and keep going.”
So the Jaguars did. Through the sadness, they kept pushing, wearing T-shirts with the slogan “His Vision. Our Mission” on the backs.
Vos died Oct. 16, 2012 in an early morning bike-truck collision on U.S. Highway 71 outside of Belgrade. The Arlington native began teaching math and coaching at BBE in 1998 and he became head wrestling coach in 2001.
His wrestlers recalled arriving at school that day and receiving the news.
“My heart kind of sank,” said Josey Tensen, a BBE state tournament entrant at 106 pounds. “I asked an assistant coach, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and he said, ‘Nope. I wish I was.’ ”
“I didn’t believe it right away,” said Jaguar state entrant Patrick Rooney, the second-ranked Class A 182-pounder who placed third in the state at 170 pounds last year. “The day dragged on forever. Pretty soon, we had to accept it.”
BBE was loaded with seasoned seniors and, in honor of Vos, the team made it a goal to earn a berth in the state team tournament.
Brian “BJ” Friedrichs, entering his third year with the program, took over as head coach. An Army Sergeant and National Guard Readiness NCO, the former Sauk Centre and University of Minnesota, Morris wrestler worked out the details with his military superiors, approached the BBE administration and offered his services.
“We knew we had a good team and I didn’t want an outsider coming in and changing everything up,” Friedrichs said.
The wrestlers and staff trusted Friedrichs and while the circumstances were difficult, the transition was not.
“I’m amazed how well they pulled it together,” Friedrichs said. “We had great leadership from the seniors. They were on a mission to have a great year. Everything fell into place.”
The team and coaches put in extra work, in honor of Vos and his motto. They showed up for early morning practices. On snow days, some would head to the Tensen farm, fire up the heaters in a barn and wrestle on two mats the family brought in (one purchased from wrestling great Brock Lesner).
“We all had a fire lit up from underneath us,” Josey Tensen said. “Instead of 100 percent we wanted even more; 100 percent wasn’t enough. We had to torque it up. After that, it was time to go.”
The team saved inspirational posters Vos had made and posted them on walls, and Vos’ wife, Beth, gave them photographs they put on their lockers and other visible spots in the locker room, to remind them constantly.
Vos’ family made a point of getting to Jaguars’ matches and interacting with the team as much as possible. Recently, the team went to the Vos home to help son Clay celebrate his fifth birthday.
“We all had a purpose,” Rooney said. “It wasn’t all individual, it was a team purpose. We had to fulfill his vision.”
And they did, both as young men and competitors.
The Jaguars finished with a 14-5 record without one of their top stars, Ross Rath, who missed much of the season because of an injury. But the Jaguars fell short of making the state meet as a team.
BBE lost to Kimball 35-27 in the Section 5A semifinals on Feb. 15. Later that day, the Cubs narrowly lost, 34-27, to section champ ACGC.
“They took Kimball down to the last match,” said BBE Activities Director Rick Gossen. “If a couple of things go differently, they easily could have been in the finals and when you get that far, who knows what can happen. The kids did well and we’ve got three going to state.”
It was a loose but, at the same time, intense atmosphere the Jaguars tried to maintain throughout the season. That, too, came from Vos.
“The nice thing about him was you could sit around and joke with him and he’d try to make you laugh,” Josey Tensen said. “But when it was time to get serious, you got serious.”
The Jaguars are intent on sustaining the inspiration they fostered and Friedrichs said he’d like to return as head coach next season to begin another “mission.”
“When you think about what happened, those guys that stepped up to take over faced a tall order,” Gossen said. “But with heavy hearts, they stepped up. They tried to keep things going the way Rich would’ve done it. He’s gone but he’s still with us. It’s still his team but Brian earned the respect of those guys and we’re very proud of what the kids accomplished.”