March 5, 2009

By Amy Farnum Novin

Taking over a dynasty would be daunting for any coach, but Augsburg’s first-year head coach Mark Maztek seems to be handling the program that carries enormous expectations with relative ease.

Augsburg has won more Division III wrestling championships (10) than any other program, all coming under the direction of Jeff Swenson, who after 25 years retired in 2007 from his head coaching position to concentrate on his duties of Athletic Director at the college.  Sam Barber took the reins for one season, but stepped down in July 2008 to pursue other opportunities, and Matzek, a former Auggie wrestler and three-year assistant coach accepted the head coaching position at just 26 years old.

“I was nervous, especially the night after I agreed to take the position,” said Matzek.  “I sat down and told my wife, and at that point I realized what I agreed to.  It was a little overwhelming.  I was anxious, but I been doing everything within my own power to do my best.”

The season began like the many before it as the Auggies were ranked No. 2 nationally after defending NCAA champion Wartburg.  Matzek’s squad opened the year with eight individual champions at the Auggie Brute/adidas Open they hosted on Nov. 22. 

A few days later, however, the results were not so typical.  The Auggies were stunned by St. John’s (Minn.), 18-13, on Nov. 26 – a school they had not lost to in over 20 years.

“I think what I learned and the team learned is that just because you are part of Augsburg wrestling doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to win,” said Matzek.  “You have to prepare for each match like it is the national finals.  You need to prepare yourself, and I, as a coach, have to be prepared for each opponent.  That was a wake-up call.”

The Auggies regrouped and after the winter break, they returned to the mat to score a 21-20 victory over then-No. 1 Wartburg in the finals of the NWCA/Cliff Keen Division III National Duals championship on Jan. 11.  Augsburg went on to qualify nine wrestlers for the NCAA Championships after winning the Great Lakes Regional on Feb. 21.

Matzek has had a lot of help making sure the program stays on top of the wrestling world.  The Auggies’ coaching staff has eight assistants, including his former mentor and current boss, Jeff Swenson. 

“It’s great to have all that experience and get their view points,” said Matzek.  “I’m not naïve enough to think that I know everything at the age of 26.  It’s nice to bounce ideas off the whole coaching staff.  We have many different age groups from Jeff Swenson down to our head assistant Jared Evans, who is 25 years old. 

“They give us a great coaching perspective, and those of us who are not too far removed from wrestling for the program can speak on the behalf of the athletes.  We’ve had some great discussions on how to train the guys this year at different times of the year and it’s proven to be effective.”

A former two-time NCAA champion, Matzek knows what to expect at the Division III Championships this weekend, and will share that experience with his wrestlers.

“They need to treat every match like it is the national championship, because in essence, it is,” said Matzek.  “I feel it will be a really close team race and each point that they can get our team will count.”

Four Augsburg wrestlers won regional titles -- top-ranked 149-pounder Willy Holst, No. 4-ranked 157-pounder Jason Adams, No. 7-ranked 174-pounder Zach Molitor and No. 2-ranked 197-pounder Jared Massey.  Also qualifying for nationals are No. 5-ranked 125-pounder Seth Flodeen, No. 1-ranked 133-pounder Travis Lang, No. 7-ranked heavyweight Andy Witzel and No. 4-ranked 141-pounder Tony Valek.

The national tournament will be held at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on March 6-7.  Augsburg has won 10 of the last 18 NCAA titles.

“I think my stamp on the program will be developed over time and right now I’m just focusing on keeping that strong, winning tradition going, and keeping all 48 student-athletes on the roster involved to really create a team atmosphere like I was brought up in,” said Matzek.