Ellsworth’s Matzek leads fabled Augsburg College wrestling programMINNEAPOLIS — It wasn’t the greatest of debuts at the box office. The Christmas movie classic It’s A Wonderful Life didn’t make too much money in the theaters when it came out in 1946.
By: Sean Scallon, Pierce County Herald
MINNEAPOLIS — It wasn’t the greatest of debuts at the box office.
The Christmas movie classic It’s A Wonderful Life didn’t make too much money in the theaters when it came out in 1946.
And Mark Matzek’s first collegiate wrestling dual meet as head coach of the Augsburg College wrestling program, was a dud too.
The Auggies, the traditional power of NCAA Division II wrestling, lost to St. John’s University 18-13, a school it had not lost to on the wrestling mat in over 20 years.
So many winning streaks were broken at Matzek’s feet that Wednesday evening at Si Melby Hall on the Augsburg campus.
But over time It’s a Wonderful Life became a Christmas season classic and over time – a short period of time - the two-time NCAA champion for the Auggies and two-time state champion for Ellsworth High School hopes to have the “interim” tag taken off his title of head wrestling coach.
“Last time I checked they don’t give out national championships in December,” Matzek said.
It’s a good thing the NCAA doesn’t award national titles right now because the Auggies are still trying to set their line-up in place and bring-up to speed a lot of younger wrestlers, including a huge freshman class.
Matzek was pleased to see the Auggies improve their performance last weekend at the Dragon Open hosted by Minnesota State-Moorhead. Augsburg, still ranked No. 2 in the nation despite the loss to No. 7 ranked Johnnies, had three champions and 12 place winners at the meet.
“We were knocked on our butts after the St. John’s dual but we got up and got better,” Matzek said. “We had good practices since then and it was reflected in the way we preformed Saturday.”
All coaches have to deal with adversity of some kind during their tenures and Matzek’s came awfully fast.
“It was disappointing,” Matzek said. “We all were disappointed by the outcome. But by midnight Thursday we let it go. We had two ways we go from there, either dwell on the loss or get better. Our motto here is ‘one percent better’ each day and we’ve followed it.” This was easy to do because the head coach didn’t want to dwell on the loss either.
“The best advice I’ve gotten so far is you can’t take setbacks personally,” Matzek said. “Now as a wrestler that’s not true because you take each loss personally. But as a coach and leader you have to have a wider perspective. Now that doesn’t mean you accept losing but, you don’t let consume you. One of the things I take comfort in so far is that I’ve been able to keep my work at work and not take it home with my family. I don’t talk about wrestling when I’m at home. I’ve tried to keep a balanced life.”
Mark Matzek jokes to Willy Holst about Ara Engeset. Holst jokes to Matzek about Justin Murphy, wrestlers from opposing Pierce County high schools who gave them infamous losses.
Once upon a time, both wrestlers were in high school at the same time, Matzek at Ellsworth and Holst at Prescott.
Now Matzek’s a coach and Holst is one his wrestlers.
Holst has one semester of eligibility left and is taking it next year in hopes of winning the national title both for himself and the team.
“He respects me as the coach and we’re both working together for the same goal, getting that top spot on the podium.”
Holst’s return to the line-upon the National Duals in Cedar Falls, Iowa on Jan. 10-11 has Matzek confident the Auggies will be ready to compete for the national title again. Last year the Auggies finished a disappointing, by their standards, third in the national meet.
“Willy is going to solidify our line-up with his experience and talent,” Matzek said. “You add him with defending champ Seth Flodeen and Travis Lang, both of whom are having great seasons so far, and we’re going to be a contender. We have the talent to do so.”
Matzek, at 26, is one of the youngest coaches in collegiate sports at any level. In some cases not much older than the athletes he’s coaching. But Matzek has made sure to gain his athlete’s respect.
“It’s a good thing that I’ve been a coach for all the wrestlers on the team (Matzek was an assistant for the past three seasons.),’ Matzek said. “I also help to recruit much of the freshman class we have. But I’ve worked hard and have been organized the way good coaches do to truly earn their respect.”
Matzek has also, helped a large staff of assistant coaches and trainers, including some of the best minds in wrestling like former Augsburg head coach and current AD Jeff Swenson, Olympic champion John Peterson, and former Minnesota/USA Cadet coach Jim Moulsoff.
“It’s a great staff with great wrestling minds and experience,” Matzek said. “They know how to train great wrestlers. I think where my assistant Jared Evans, who’s a couple years younger than me, and I come in is having insight on the minds of younger athletes. We know their breaking points and personalities and we’re there for them as they go through college.”
Matzek hopes to get the interim tag removed from his title with success this season but whatever happens he’s enjoying satisfaction of seeing others succeed.
“Dan Gable once said he got more satisfaction seeing others succeed than himself and that’s the way I feel right now, especially as a head coach.”
Augsburg takes on Southwest, Minn. State in a dual meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Si Melby Hall.