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Chris Murphy, Published February 22 2014

'Business as usual' for Frazee despite coach's suspension for rest of season

GLYNDON, Minn. – Frazee’s wrestling team knows what losing feels like. The Hornets don’t do it often, however – just nine losses in 101 duals in the past five seasons – but when they do, it’s under the biggest spotlight.

Of those nine losses, two came in the 2010 and 2013 state championships and one came in the 2012 section championship as the top seed. Even the Hornets’ glory comes with a footnote, as their 2011 state title is a co-championship, thanks to a tie with Jackson County Central.

Frazee will have another loss to overcome heading into Thursday’s Minnesota Class 1A state wrestling tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

John Barlund, coach of the Hornets since 2005, was suspended for the remainder of the season Friday by school administrators for employee misconduct, after being put on administrative paid leave on Feb. 5. Assistant coach Marty Aho will take over as head coach for the remainder of the season.

A return next season is also in question for Barlund, as Frazee-Vergas Superintendent Terry Karger has said he has not thought that far ahead.

With its coach’s fate in doubt, Frazee continues on.

“The kids are motivated and know what’s ahead of them,” Aho said at the Class 1A, Section 8 individual section tournament at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton on Saturday. “They are focused on their season and that’s about it. They’ve been through the ups and downs of winning and losing.”

Frazee junior captain Garret Malstrom, who is ranked second at 285 pounds in Class 1A, is using the situation as motivation.

“It makes us work harder,” Malstrom said. “It fuels the fire. I think we’ve held it together really well. We just have to keep working, persevere and see it through.”

If there’s anyone that knows how to move on from disappointment, it’s Malstrom. He was ranked fifth at 285 pounds last season, but a concussion at practice three days before the individual section meet kept him from competing, leaving him without a chance to compete at state individually.

Malstrom responded with six hours of training five days a week.

“Hard work prevails over everything,” Malstrom said. “I just trained harder. Between lifting and speed training, it’s almost like a full-time job.”

There is a blind focus in the mind of a wrestler. They stare at goals, which can’t necessarily be seen in the weight room or on the scale, but they continue to work for them until they are within grasp on the mat.

Frazee doesn’t see its coach – who led the Hornets to state eight times, with four state runner-up finishes and one state championship – missing from the folded chair on the mat, based on an investigation which will be public record pending arbitration.

The Hornets see another loss to redeem.

“I think we can do better than a No. 2 seed,” said freshman Tanner Reetz, who is ranked third at 113 pounds in Class 1A. “I think we can take it. We pretty much just go out there and think like we can win and wrestle like we can. You just have to have the mind to do it.”

Aho didn’t need to say anything at wrestling practice on Feb. 5, the day Barlund received a letter telling him not to speak to anyone about the investigation except legal or union representation, not to contact any potential witness and not to come on school property without permission.

“It was business as usual,” Aho said. “They worked as hard as ever. Nothing seems to surprise these kids too much anymore. They go through a lot of adversity, so nothing is a really big change for them.”


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Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548