Most high school wrestlers in Minnesota consider their careers a success if they simply qualify for the state tournament.
The elite wrestlers sometimes fight through many state tournament appearances in order to crown themselves with one state championship before they graduate.
Wrestlers that win multiple state titles put themselves on a whole different level, forging an almost legendary status in state wrestling lore.
Staff photos by Daniel Kerwin
Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther’s Adam Cooling (left) and Sibley East's Nathan Rose (right).
That's exactly what a pair of area wrestlers will attempt to do this season, with reigning Class A 145-pound champion Adam Cooling of Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther and Class A 195-pound champion Nathan Rose of Sibley East looking to defend their titles when the wrestling postseason kicks off later this month.
"There's a lot of people that make it to the state tournament, and that's quite an accomplishment, but not very many are state champions, and not very many are twice," M/T/ML head coach Darren Gifferson said.
At this time last year, both Cooling and Rose were eager to prove that they possessed the ability to win a state title. Now that their ability isn't in question, they've noticed some changes in how they're feeling compared to a year ago.
"I feel like I've got a lot more confidence since last year," said Cooling, who is in his senior season. "Winning state last year, and then some offseason tournaments, they've really gotten me to believe in myself more and be a more confident wrestler."
Although Rose - who is currently a junior - hasn't lost a match since the end of his freshman year, he's noticed that holding a state title has increased the size of the target on his back, bringing a bit of a different atmosphere to his matches this season.
"I probably felt more confident last year than this year," Rose said. "Last year I just went out there to wrestle, and when I won it was a big win against better people. Now it's more of I'm the one that's supposed to be coming back, and I'm the one to beat."
One thing that both Rose and Cooling have in common is that they haven't allowed themselves to rest on their laurels since winning their state titles.
Each wrestler possesses a work ethic that has allowed them to push their abilities even further this season. The result is that both wrestlers are currently undefeated this season and are ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes (Cooling at 160 pounds and Rose at 195).
"His attitude's great," Gifferson said of Cooling. "Every day after practice it's, 'What can I do better?' You watch him wrestle when he has a flawless match, he comes off the mat, 'What did I do wrong?' He's always looking to get better, and that really shows when he gets against the better opponents."
Cooling spent much of last season dealing with a lingering shoulder injury, so he knows how important it is to stay in peak physical condition during the season. He also feels that he has matured greatly in the mental aspects of wrestling since last year.
"I just feel like I've kind of moved up and I'm smarter now, and I'm starting to realize that I need to work harder," Cooling said. "I've been going a lot harder in practice, and in my after practice workouts I've been going pretty hard and just trying to get in the best shape I can."
Rose is not only driven by the potential to be a three-time state champion by the end of his high school career - he has dedicated a significant portion of his life to the pursuit of reaching the absolute pinnacle of the sport.
"He talks about college, he talks about Olympics, those are things that he has set in mind," Sibley East head coach Chad Johnson said. "But he also realizes that what he does now is what's going to determine his college and his Olympic dreams. It's something you can't just start in six years, you have to start now to get there in six years."
Rose routinely puts in extra time in the offseason to hone his skills, and even spends off days during the season getting in some extra training.
With very few wrestlers in the Sibley East wrestling room able to withstand training against him for significant periods of time, Rose often spends time training at Augsburg College with other elite high school wrestlers.
"As far as his work ethic, he's obviously exceptional," Johnson said. "He puts in the time. You don't become great by not doing anything, and he deserves everything he gets. If you just took mat time, there aren't a whole lot of people in Minnesota that could say they have as much mat time as him."
One thing that Rose has noticed about being a state champion is that he hasn't allowed his ego to get out of control. Though completely focused for the entire six minutes during his matches, he becomes laid back after the match is over, joking around with teammates and opponents alike.
"Before the match some people might think I'm kind of a prick, but usually after the match I'm usually the first one to talk to the kid and tell him he did a good job," Rose said.
Though Rose is humble enough to know that anything can happen when the section tournament comes around, Johnson feels that Rose will be very tough to beat.
"If a person is going to beat him, they're going to have to catch him and pin him, which is very tough to do," Johnson said. "Or else they're going to have to outscore him, and we've just never seen anybody that can do that."
Gifferson feels that Cooling also is a pretty good bet to retain his title this season.
"He's beaten the No. 2 rated kid, and if ratings mean anything, then that's a pretty good indication that he could quite possibly be a two-time state champion," Gifferson said.
Cooling has committed to wrestling at Minnesota State University, Mankato next year, a school that he has family ties to through M/T/ML assistant coach Andy Forstner, who is Cooling's cousin.
"It's close to home, and I like that, so that's kind of played a big role in it," Cooling said. "I know the coaches, I like the coaches, and it just seemed like a pretty good fit for me."
Although winning a second state title and reaching 200 wins (at his current pace, his state championship match could end up as his 200th victory) are his two main goals as he closes the book on his high school career, Cooling shares another quality with Rose - the kind of humility that champions are made of.
"I feel pretty happy with the way things have all played out," Cooling said. "There's still a few things I'm hoping to accomplish, like 200 wins and another state championship, but so far it's been a pretty awesome career. I'm pretty happy with the way I've wrestled throughout high school."