For Tom Guhlke, 28 years of high school head coaching experience was followed by a five-year stint as the head wrestling coach at Ridgewater College.
When the coach’s wife retired from teaching in Hutchinson, Gruhlke stepped away from Ridgewater. They purchased a townhouse in Eden Prairie and sold their lake home in west central Minnesota. One week before the start of the high school wrestling season, Gruhlke returned to Eden Prairie High School as the Eagles’ head coach.
It happened that fast.
“I thought I would just walk into a wrestling room and volunteer,” said Gruhlke.
Note: Gruhlke was Eden Prairie’s head coach during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.
When asked about his Eden Prairie memories, he talks of “incredibly good kids.”
He mentions Sam Brancale’s state championship and Travis Cripe’s transformation.
“I met Travis at an Eden Prairie meet and greet when I first started,” said Gruhlke. “He came up to me after the event and asked, ‘What do I have to do to make the team?’ He weighed about 240. I told him he might have to lose about 50 pounds.
“He worked his tail off,” he added. “At Eau Claire, he wrestled for a national championship, at 174. It’s one of those great feel good stories.”
At Eden Prairie, Gruhlke inherits a talented group of assistant coaches and a roster that “shades north” of 40.
“We have a really good bunch of young men,” said the coach. “I don’t know all their names yet, but I’m learning.”
He adds that there’s a large group of ninth-graders trying wrestling for the first time.
“That’s the biggest difference between rural schools and city schools,” said Gruhlke. “At a rural school, kids come out for wrestling in second grade. By the time they’re seventh-graders, they’ve had four or five years under their belts.”
That’s not necessarily the case at Eden Prairie, or schools like it.
“The first thing we do with new wrestlers is to get them acclimated to the workouts,” said Gruhlke. “We then focus on basics and fundamentals. When we know who’s sticking around, we’ll speed up the progression.
“Key is understanding the movement of the move,” he added. “Once they get that, they can build new skills.”
At first glance, the coach said this year’s Eden Prairie team should have “really good” kids through the first six weights.
This includes returning state qualifiers Jacory Bates (106 pounds) and Bryce Dagel (126 pounds).
Captains Sam Fuchs (138) and Jordan Todd (152) figure into the middle of the Eagles’ lineup. Its back features eighth-grader Will Sather, who could wrestle at 220 pounds.
“I’ve been on the mat with Will,” said Gruhlke, “and I haven’t seen too many eighth-graders like him. His footwork is great.”
The coach is also high on the potential of newcomer Xavier Urena.
“He’s not ready yet, but by the end of the year, he could be our heavyweight,” said Gruhlke.
Section realignment moved Waconia from Section 2AA to Section 6AAA.
In 2019, Waconia won a Section 2AA championship. In 2019, Eden Prairie won a Section 6AAA title.
“That’s one great program,” said Gruhlke, of Waconia. “We’re not at their level, at least not yet.
“If we’re going to get to state in a section that includes a program like Waconia,” he added, “we’re going to have to work for it and earn it.”
Eden Prairie opens its season on Thursday, Dec. 5, with a home invitational.